On the occasion of Halloween, various members of the ANCX staff crowdsourced on the only social platform with any kind of integrity left (Facebook, wink wink); we asked if anyone from our private networks had any real-life encounters with an aswang. We had multiple false leads, until a man turned up on one of our feeds and confessed to being an actual aswang. We had our doubts, of course, but Rogelio Mangingibig (not his real name) turned up and offered to be interviewed.
We met Rogelio a few days before Halloween in a coffee shop along Scout Esguerra. He was a slight man who looked to be in his early 40s. He had a tan and an awkward manner—he kept twiddling his thumbs and looking at our barista (who looked to be six or seven months along the family way). We wondered why someone apparently withdrawn and shy would offer to be interviewed—he also recoiled from the salt and pepper shakers at the center of the table and asked the waitress to take just the salt away. He said it was a quirk of his. He never looked us in the eye.
We ordered three flat whites (two for the interviewers, one for the interviewee) but only two arrived with swirly hearts. The waitress set the flat whites gingerly in front of the interviewers. In front of our guest, she’d laid out a tall Americano, black as sin, no flourishes and no additional love. When we told her that she’d gotten our order wrong, she refused to meet our eyes, and gave us a casual shrug before slinking away to the counter.
Our guest wore a black PNP bull cap. He wore a blue, button-down shirt with black epaulettes. Between his nose and mouth, there appeared to be no vertical indentations. We noticed the ripple of goosebumps on our pregnant barista’s arms when she laid our guest’s coffee out before him. We pretended not to notice and went ahead with our interview.
ANCX: So where are you from?
Mangingibig: My family was originally from Silay, Bacolod, but we moved to Manila in 2016.
ANCX: You claim to be an aswang. We know this is an umbrella term, and can mean anything from werewolves to vampires. Under what classification do you fall?
Manginigibig: I suppose, I’m a werebeast.
ANCX: Care to elaborate?
Mangingibig: During the day, I look like an average guy. At night, I change forms and become a seething black dog.
ANCX: As a “black dog”, what do you look for?
Manginigibg: I look to feed on hearts, mostly. Young, healthy hearts.
ANCX: Where do you find these hearts?
Mangingibig: In dark pockets in the metro. The slums, mostly.
ANCX: Any particular slum area you find yourself in regularly?
Mangingibig: That’s a professional secret.
ANCX: Tell us about your parents, and your parents’ parents.
Mangingibig: (in Tagalog) I suppose you can say that my kind have been around for centuries. During the Spanish period, you could say. I came from a village where we had to pay tributes to Spanish friars. You could say it was a controlled system.
ANCX: You mean an encomienda system?
Mangingibig: (in Tagalog) Yes. The priests needed locals to stay within their jurisdiction. This way, they could keep paying their tributes. They told locals that if they ventured further—deep into the forests, say, and you would find our kind prowling in the dark woodlands. The ruse worked and people stayed within their safe peripheries. But what the friars didn’t know was that their imaginations had made us real. We feasted on those fat hearts. They weren’t healthy, I can tell you that much.
ANCX: Sounds like you pretty much had it made in Silay. What made you move to Manila?
Mangingibig: Politicians who promised us plenty of hearts to feast on.
ANCX: Let us guess—“young, healthy hearts”?
ANCX: Isn’t that a bit, well, heartless?
Mangingibig: The kids we feast on don’t think that they have any hearts left. Call it a small mercy.
ANCX: How could they possibly think that?
Mangingibig: (In Tagalog) We remove their parents from the equation, see? Some of them are criminals, but most of them, well, it’s debatable. When they’re taken away, the young ones lose heart, figuratively. They walk around aimless. They don’t see us coming.
ANCX: Until when do you see yourself in Manila?
Mangingibig: I’m having the time of my life here, obviously. So maybe for the next four years or so. Maybe longer, if political friends stay in power.
It’s at this point that the ANCX interviewers excuse themselves. We pay for the bill and stride towards the door—but not before we see Rogelio leaving a little extra coin for the barista. “Anong pangalan mo, hija?” We hear him say, before we swing the door open into safety, into daylight.