Sunday, July 14, 2019

Memories of the old Cogon Public Market

Seventy-one-year-old Flora Espejo was weeping as she looked  as the fire engulfed the whole building of a portion of the Cogon Public Market last Wednesday afternoon, July 10.

She wanted to save her vegetables, but to no avail.

Flora Espejo, a popular figure
at Cogon Public Market. Photo by Leo Udtohan
Cogon public market is considered a landmark in the city and a popular place for its tabo (market day) every Tuesday and Friday.

I felt sad for the occupants here as I watched the fire spreading quickly and devoured the building.  I regularly buy vegetables  and fish here aside visiting my favorite Plaza Marcela. Most vegetable and fish vendors here are my distant relatives and friends. They are Gaspara Pojas, 81, who sells native products since 1976, Maria Porlaris who sells rice, Wilma Bangalao and her daughter Juvy who sell “panakot” and Daday who sells the best sikwate in town.

But Flora is the most popular figure here.  Why? She is just one of the heiresses of the lot occupied by Cogon public market before it was donated to the local government.  Original owners of the lots were my grandfather Pantaleon Udtohan and his cousins, the Espejos and Ingkings.

If why occupants and some residents cried when the fire reduced the market, many of them grew up here to make a decent living. As a saying goes, some things will give way to something new.

As vendors and kibitzers were busy at the market, something strange happened at the Cogon High School Evening Session that night.

At past 7 p.m., classes were disrupted when at least 17 students were “possessed” by “evil spirits” and began to experience chest pains, difficulty breathing, cold sweat, body spasms and stiffening.

It all started when Grades 9 and 10 students complained of chest pains, and difficulty breathing, all of whom were female complained of the same symptoms. After a group of students started hysterical, students in the next classroom followed suit.

I am not an expert on spirit possession but I have had witnessed demonic possessions in the past.  Two of our female neighbors were possessed by evil spirits on different occasions.  As the priests began to pray, the woman slipped into a trance. She spoke in multiple voices-deep, guttural and masculine. When someone secretly sprinkled ordinary water on her, she didn't react. But when holy water was used, she screamed in pain. It took weeks for these women to be completely delivered from evil spirits.

Before and after: The Cogon Public Market is a
 popular landmark in Bohol province.
 Photos by Leo Udtohan
Last Friday, July 12, I had witnessed less than 10 students who were experiencing seizures alongside their horrifying hallucinations. They were taken to the principal’s office to calm down and wait for their parents to come to bring them home.

When students were “attacked”, I asked them what they saw. At first, they were silent for a second. When they regained consciousness, they answered they saw strange eyes and a black child with red eyes in the building.

The students looked liked they were afraid of something. It’s not really that they were rowdy, they just cried.  They started to show wild behavior which led us to think that maybe they were possessed by evil spirits.

In our Jewish and Christian faith, we believe demons are real. They do possess someone which serves as their “medium” that often elicits a response of fear.

In the case of Cogon High School Night, in my humble opinion, they were not possessed. Only one was genuinely “possessed” who served as the “medium” of the spirit world.  Other students just have contagious vision of the evil spirit. 

Anyone even faintly familiar with mental illnesses knows that individuals who think they are being attacked by malign spirits are generally experiencing nothing of the sort.

I spoke with psychologist Tina Agnes Bagaipo-Dumas and some teachers who found out that most of the students were depressed, stressed and skipped meals before going to school.

At 9 p.m., I got a call from our cousins to help a student who reportedly fainted after school. What was alarming she tried to cut her wrist because the spirit child at school told her.

At least 80 stalls were razed by fire last July 10. Photo by Leo Udtohan

To appease the worried parents, I accompanied the frightened student who was brought to the church for “deliverance” but the priest told us to see a doctor because the student showed no sign of “possession.”

I just told the young girl to pray before going to bed, eat on time and minimize watching horror and K-pop movies and using the mobile phone. 

Belief in possession exists in many religious traditions. Some people believe that possession is rare, but real. However, only a trained exorcist could tell if someone is possessed.

Doctors used to be widely skeptical and they argued that there's no empirical evidence that proves possession is real even though many cultures still believe that seemingly unprovoked acts of hysteria are caused by spirit possession.

Apart from spiritual modes of therapy, those exhibiting odd behavior should seek medical help.  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks to the importance of knowing the difference between mental illness and demonic actions.

 “The exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church,” it said.

“Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness,” it added.

 As of yet, there has been no rational or official explanation for the strange phenomenon.


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