Monday, March 05, 2007


I remember having gone with my Tiyang Inez to visit someone she knew who was at that time confined inside the mental hospital in Mandaluyong. I was a little boy then, no older than ten. There was another person with us who kept me company out in the grounds while Tiyang Inez was inside.

I thought about this incident upon coming across an essay by Ambeth Ocampo regarding madness during the nineteenth-century.

While poring over some bundles of documents at the National Archives pertaining to insanity as recorded by the Guardia Civil, Ambeth was surprised to discover that simply roaming the streets and acting weird was a good enough reason to be arrested and committed to the Real Hospicio de San Jose, an insane asylum in Manila.

Even more astounding was that not a single document indicated that these vagrants were committed by relatives or friends. In essence, it was the Guardia Civil who made all the arrests and eventual passing of judgment.

Through all these cases of innocuous Sisas, Ambeth highlighted a rather interesting case; that of Nicolas Umli Libanan. In April of 1895, the governor of Nueva Vizcaya received a letter of complaint about this man from the Capitan Municipal, the parish priest, and prominent citizens of the town of Dupax in Nueva Vizcaya. Supposedly, for two years, Nicolas Umli Libanan was observed to be suffering from dementia — speaking incoherently, or speaking in tongues, or resigned to long bouts of silence and then suddenly breaking into laughter or annoying guffaws. However, there were also times he would speak well and act timidly. Nonenetheless, he was restrained with an iron chain clamped to his leg.

A government doctor eventually declared him mentally ill with monomania religiosa, which meant he would mimic the actions of a priest. Thank God it wasn’t the actions of a nun that he was accused of mimicking; otherwise, Nicolas Umli Libanan might have been burnt at stake right there and then.

I’ve lived in New York for many years, and from my observations, folks of Manila, for the most part, are very normal and staid compared to certain characters of the Big Apple who would have absolutely worked the Guardia Civil in overtime.

Madness in the 19th Century
Bonifacio’s Bolo by Ambeth Ocampo
Anvil Publishing

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posted by Señor Enrique at 6:55 PM


Blogger Sebastiane said...

It's sad, isn't it for those who are diagnosed with mental illness?

March 05, 2007 9:31 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric, I love this pic.. black and white in contrast with the guy's red cap. Reminds me of Michael Jordan's movie Space Jam years back.

Many people afflicted with insanity are diagnosed to be escaping from reality. You know, when reality becomes too much for them to handle, they take refuge in the deepest recesses of their minds. Heartbreaking indeed. :(

March 05, 2007 9:57 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yes, you'd bump into all sorts of crazy people in New York... in the subway, at the village, in the park... or maybe they're just loud.

Very interesting trivia about how the guardia civil arrest supposedly insane people.

March 05, 2007 10:23 PM  

Blogger carlotta1924 said...

the image of the naked cowboy parading around times square comes to mind (though i know he's not crazy). =)

i'm not surprised at all with what the guardia civil did in those times, they have done lots of other despicable things i'm sure.

March 06, 2007 5:15 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Yes, it is, Kyels.

In Filipiniana, it was Jose Rizal's Sisa (Noli Me Tangere, now available in Penguin), who permeates our national consciousness as someone who had suffered from this dreadful disease.

March 06, 2007 6:19 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

That is true, Rhoda. When pain and misery become so overwhelming, there are those who would retreat into their own world in search of serenity.

March 06, 2007 6:21 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

The corner where I first lived in NYC, attracted a group of winos, Toe. They used to frighten me, especially when they'd get into a scuffle amongst themselves. But then I'd feel sorry whenever I see them with their bruises on their faces. They only dealt with each other; never speaking to the regular folks of the neighborhood.

The Guardia Civil did exercise an almost unlimited power especially towards the Indios back then.

March 06, 2007 6:25 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

There was also the Purple People, Carla -- the couple always dressed in purple and would ride their bikes in Manhattan in the afternoons. And the guy dressed as Tinkerbell replete with a wand who'd rollerskate all over town during the warm weather.

March 06, 2007 6:28 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not to make fun of people with mental illnesses but my friends from highschool, even today, often think that I'm disturbed because of the weird and wacky things I do at school.

I just retort back with a joke saying that "I was born in a mental institute." Strangely, some actually believe me.

March 06, 2007 7:06 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Be thankfful, Jhay, that you were born of this day and age. Had it been back then, I'm sure the Guardia Civil would be eyeing you with intense scrutiny.

March 06, 2007 7:11 AM  

Blogger Sidney said...

A very interesting history lesson.

Nowadays you have those unexplained and unresolved killings of leftists and journalists…
Are those killings committed by the descendants of the Guardia Civil…?

March 06, 2007 12:53 PM  

Blogger -= dave =- said...

Interesting people you have in New York, eh, you even remember them!

My father used to say that it's usually rich people who have a family member with a mental illness as an equalizer (but a recent forwarded email contrasting how the rich and poor view things hinted that the poor are just calling mental illness in different, more vulgar terms).

On the other hand, a mentally ill family member kept in the house is also believed to bring good luck as compensation for the care-giving hardships being endured. One case in point was our neighbor who won a luxury car in a big nationwide promo.

March 06, 2007 12:59 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Interesting point, Sidney. Though it may not be those afflicted with mental illness who are now the target but those with opposing political views.

But wasn't it Rizal who also reminded us that without the mental or intellectual evolution for the Indios, the country will remain plagued with tyrants and willing slaves, though the faces will change?

I guess, the key here then is never be afraid to stand up for what is "right and moral" even in what may seem to be trivial matters of our daily lives. Once we become willing victims, we become willing slaves as well.

March 06, 2007 2:46 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I am happy for your neighbor who won that luxury car, Dave!

Interesting point your father raised. The Kennedy Family also had a member with what seemed to be mental illness (John F. Kennedy's sister). She was sent to undergo a frontal lobotomy which was touted at that time as a miracle cure. Alas! It ony made her condition even worse after the operation.

But throughout history, prominent families have their share of mental illnesses, including the royals, which was attributed to in-breeding; to keep the wealth within the family.

March 06, 2007 3:01 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a dangerous time to be a street dweller in the 19th century; I bet a lot of them committed into the asylum were reasonably sane but just wanted to stroll along the streets while thinking about some momentary problems.

March 06, 2007 3:16 PM  

Blogger candlelight books said...

hey hey hey, how'd you do that red cap???


March 06, 2007 3:18 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

That's right, Major Tom -- just because they appeared to be vagrants. Reminds me of an incident once in a New York publi library.

A smelly (really stinking) vagrant walked into a library and proceeded to pull a book from a shelf and helped himself to a vacant seat. Lo and behold! It didn't take too long before many people walked away sickened by his stench. The library personnel was then obliged to remove him from the premises, which they were able to so with much prodding (though only verbally).

The vagrant sued the NY Public Library and won himself a couple of a hundred thousand dollars.

March 06, 2007 3:41 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Minnote! Our advanced photo workshop showed us some post processing/editing techniques through Photoshop and this was shown to us last weekend with the software's erase tool.

March 06, 2007 3:44 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wondering, Eric - do you plan to attend Film Making workshops after you're done with photo workshops?

Ang layo mo na - ako di pa nakapagumpisa... :(

March 06, 2007 4:35 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Filmmaking workshop? That would be amazing, Rhoda, but no plans at all. I intend to put more into practice what I've been learning so far from my photography classes. And if I were to deviate from that, I guess, it would be into creative writing as Dine (Sexy Mom) is doing. I'd want to gain or sharpen my skills in that area :)

March 06, 2007 4:50 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where I am the subway is one place you got to meet weirdos of all kinds :) Up to now I am still perplexed why the subway and not anywhere else???

March 07, 2007 1:06 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

The NY transit suthority does a good job of maintaining the subway facilities, BW. Come to think of it, a deranged person can easily push an unwitting passenger down the track of an oncoming train.

The subway stations where you are may offer these people the ideal shelter from the elements.

March 07, 2007 2:44 PM  

Blogger sheilamarie said...

Hola Eric! I posted a comment yesterday, but it seems to have gotten lost... or my fingers were just not working properly at that time :D

as part of our practicum, we had to spend a total of 100hours in a mental institution to study the patients confined. it was indeed very sad to see people with mental disorder. and scary too, when you encounter the ones who are prone to violent attacks. thank God i am small enough to fit and hide under the table when needed.

hehe... just kidding!

i feel sorry for the unsuspecting people who got picked up by the Guardia Civil. it must have been terrible, especially for those who were mistaken for a mental patient.

March 07, 2007 3:07 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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