University of Philippines Manila

UPM quincentennial commemoration opens with webinar on Filipino concept of healing

The commemoration of the 500th year of the first circumnavigation of the world and the victory of Lapu-Lapu and his troops in the Battle of Mactan was launched through the first of a five-part webinar series organized by UP Manila on the theme “The Filipino Concept of Healing” held on May 7, 2021.

Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, Executive Director of Health Futures Foundation, Inc and former Health Undersecretary, spoke on the first topic, Filipino Traditional Medicine (FTM) presenting its definition, causes of illnesses, therapies, research areas, and challenges. 

The former UPM National Institutes of Health Executive Director gave a review of the circumnavigation led by Magellan that started in Seville Spain in 1519  passing through the Philippines, including Mactan, where he was killed in 1521. He stated that the greatest circumnavigator, Pigafetta, already found traditional healing practices when he first arrived on Philippine shores.

He reiterated that FTM has been in practice for more than a thousand years as recorded in the annals of Asian travelers with traders and merchants from China, India, and Persia visiting the islands of Southeast Asia even before the year 1521.

Dr. Galvez-Tan and wife served in Mindanao from1980 to 1983 during which time they had  talks with traditional healers and herbolarios. From these talks and experiences in serving in the communities emerged the definition of health and wellness that he presented during the lecture.

Health and wellness is a state of harmony, balance, and synergy between humankind and the universe, humankind and nature, and between and among humankind and within the human body, mind, and spirit. This all encompassing view of health recognizes the link between the human body and everything around it.

Causes and Therapies of FTM

Dr. Galvez Tan identified the causes of illness in FTM as rooted in the concept of “hangin” or wind, whether in food, environment, and within the  body; of “bara” or energy block; of “pilay” or misalignment of energy channels; of “pasma” or musculo skeletal syndrome due to imbalance of hot or cool; and of “hilo” or poison; and effects of seasons, habitat, diet, ways of life, and days of the week.

Other causes he mentioned were “nabalis or nabati or transfer of energy from one person to another; “nakulam or nabarang” or transfer of negative energy from one person to another; “nagayuma” or increase of sexual attraction/energy; and “nasapian.”  A third group of causes consists of “nanuno or a person who disturbed nature spirits/nature guardians; “nagalit ang mga ninuno” or a person who violated the norms of ancestors/ancestral spirits; binangungot or sudden unexplained death syndrome; “nabinat o nabughat” or a person who has undergone severe psycho emotional physical stress and immediately goes back to normal daily activities, thus provoking a return to his previous pathological state. 

Dr. Galvez Tan detailed the FTM therapies still practiced today as follows: herbal medicine, animal medicine, mineral medicine, bentosa or cupping, food or animal offerings, prayers and oracionoslob or fumigation or steam inhalation with healing herbs, bathing practices, kurot or pinching, laway or use of saliva, “pamula” or skin abrasions through coins, “tapik kawayan” or bamboo tap, psychic healing/surgery, and angel healing. He stated that “suob” is now being used by some COVID-19 patients as an adjunct therapy.

As for FTM diagnostic tools, the community doctor cited pulse diagnosis or “pamulso;” tawas, and use of other diagnostic tools such as alum, eggs, bottles, dahon ng sagingpapel; use of animal sacrifices; use of salat or palpation; laying of the hands; and reading of aura.

On ancient prevention, anting anting or amulets, habak tied around the waist or wrist, panagang sa buyag; use of garlic or bawang, use of lana or coconut oil, prayers and offerings, and doing good to one another were the methods that Dr. Galvez Tan mentioned .

Research Areas and Challenges

Dr. Galvez-Tan expressed hope that the knowledge and inputs he shared with lead to more exhaustive researches on FTM in the following areas: Generation of Research Questions and Protocols; A More Robust Herbal Medicine Research; Inventory/survey of Filipino Healers in All Provinces; Bottom-up Code of Ethics or Standard of Practice;

Benefits of Integrating FTM with Conventional Medicine; and Development of Bioethics Research in FTM.

He posed the following challenges in developing and integrating FTM with modern medicine: 

  • Majority of Philippine medicinal plants with centuries of ethnomedical history remain untapped; increased investments, and technical assistance for medicinal plants development
  • Evidence supporting Filipino medicine practices is still in the early developmental stage; develop a corp of FTM researchers nationwide
  • Create stimulus to increase collaboration among research institutions, public, government, private sector, and academe
  • Lack of investments in research and development
  • Low support for FTM research in the academic community
  • Development of market and government incentives for medicinal plants line the ones given to rice, corn, coconut, sugar, bananas, pineapple, and mangoes
  • Need for standardized procedures/accreditation/recognition of FTM healers and their practices

The opening webinar tackled two other topics: Health and Wellbeing Practices of Indigenous People by College of Arts and Sciences professor, Teresita de Guzman and Imahe ng Babaylan Bilang Manggagamot  by another CAS professor, Mary Dorothy Jose.

Succeeding webinars will tackle the following themes: Institutions for Healing, Mga Sinaunang Pamayanan ng Kamaynilaan (circa 1521), Ermita: Arrabal (Suburb) of Manila; and Weather Forecasting in the Philippines.

The UP quincentennial commemoration involves multiple disciplines across UP campuses with varied activities organized by each UP constituent university and unit. Cynthia M. Villamor

Featured in the UP Manila Healthscape (Special COVID-19 issue No. 28, 30 June 2021)

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