SHOULD amulets now be included in airport prohibitions?
As the controversy over the “tanim-bala (bullet planting)” racket is peaking, Sun.Star Cebu reported last Nov. 5 that the Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) confiscated 1,040 amulets from travelers since January this year.
That’s a rate of four discovered every day, reported Elias O. Baquero and Rebelander S. Basilan.
Amulets serve as talismans, which are ordinary objects believed to have the power to protect its owner. Not only thought to be imbued with powerful “white magic,” the amulet is also decorative and worn for embellishment.
Not mine. A friend packed incense powder in a small red pouch she sewed herself when I left for Manila. She knew my anxieties about that interlude. Because of its associations with my friend and the protection it promised, I wore the red pouch beneath my clothes until I lost it in Bohol.
So the next red pouch my friend gave me I secured inside a leather purse I kept in my pocket. Flying back to Cebu, I was asked to turn over the leather purse for inspection to a security worker at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
The lady pulled out the red pouch and turned it over several times before asking me.
“Anting-anting,” I blurted. She shrugged and returned the red pouch and purse to me. Later, I emptied the leather purse and found other items: a two-colored jade bi, two wooden crosses on a string, a woven bracelet, a wooden heart with a cross-stake and a glass core, a whistle, and a marble deformed into a lozenge.
Only the whistle was carried for a logical reason: for protection, women are advised to carry and use a whistle to summon help.
All the other items were carried for sentiment. Or a tricky memory: coming upon the marble while weeding in Silang, I wondered how much time had passed to change the buried marble from sphere to lozenge. Pocketing the marble, I forgot about it until the NAIA inspection.
Gauging from the inspector’s phlegmatic acceptance of the red pouch, I gathered many Filipinos accept, if not practice, the wearing or bringing of talismans.
Not all these objects are fanciful. While I now keep the leather pouch in my backpack at the airport, I’ve still been asked, after a body check, to explain other contents of my pockets: a small canister of eucalyptus balm, tinfoil-wrapped ginger root, which I said I take to soothe a sore throat.
To each his belief. Dud bullets are common in souvenir stalls in Baguio and Vigan, where I got my kamagong heart with the cross-stake. According to Sun.Star Cebu, MCIAA personnel confiscated the most number of bullet amulets in May.
Is it because more people travel during this merry month of fiestas? There is a whole slew of beliefs covering all possible emergencies during fiestas, from rituals to ensure the food doesn’t run out to protection from schemes to trap you into marriage (by local damsels dying to escape the barrio) or poison you (by jilted swains).
On the other hand, while others are still exploiting the anting-anting practice to stage an extortion racket or discredit the administration, it may be wiser to keep the talismans at home. Or wear something innocuous, such as the local version of the bulletproof vest, an undershirt printed with magical incantations.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's November 8, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, "Matamata"