History of Traditional Healing in the Philippines

Healing and the public health in the Philippines has a rich history that is influenced by native Filipino, Spanish and American practices.

Prior to 1565

Pre-spanish colonization

Babaylans were not only cultural and religious leaders but also managed the public health of their barangays or tribes. They held a high level of affluence and power that was equivalent to datus, the leaders of the barangays.

Botong Francisco, The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines (1/4), 1953

Noel Escultura, Filipino Heritage

Traditional Filipino medicine takes a holistic view of health.
A person's
physical,
mental,
emotional,
spiritual,
and
environmental
well-being
are interconnected.
Filipinos believed illnesses are an imbalance and disharmony with the spiritual world. They performed incantations, dances and ritual offers of food, clothing as well as blood sacrifices to make peace with the gods. Roots and seeds were also used to create remedies, treatments, and potions to treat the sick.

R. Aguilar, Babaylan

1565 – 1898

Spanish Colonialism

Babaylans were casted as evil witches and their practice was labeled as witchcraft. They were then shunned to the mountains and traditional practices were replaced by Christianity. However, Filipinos still continued to use their traditional healing alongside their Christian faith.

Casted as
evil witches

Saint Juan de Dios Hospital and Royal (calle Real) Street of Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, University of Michigan Library Special Collections

Botong Francisco, The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines (2/4), 1953

Hospital San Juan, The Legacy Book

1898 – 1918

American Occupation

When the Americans arrived, they brought the Western medical system and education, influencing the public health of the Philippines. The Americans built more hospitals and administered preventative measures to prevent the spread of illnesses. Filipinos received formal medical education and more medical benefits.

“The Americans built the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and Surgery in 1905 using the blueprint of the best medical school at that time, the Johns Hopkins University" (The Legacy Book).

University of Philippines Medical School, The Legacy Book

Botong Francisco, The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines (3/4), 1953

Present Day

Traditional Practices Meet Modern Medicine

Today, babaylans are known through the Spaniard name, albularyos. Many Filipinos still continue to use home remedies, hilot and other traditional practices.

Why is traditional healing still used in modern day Philippines?

Folklore and traditional practices are deeply ingrained in the pre-colonial Filipino’s psyche prior to Spanish colonization. These practices are passed down from generation to generation and become a part of family tradition.

Herbs practiced by albularyos have proven to have medical benefits which supports the credibility of its use.

Notable Moments

1992 The Department of Health of the Philippines published a list of the 10 scientifically validated Filipino medicinal plants (R.A. No. 8423 – Phil. Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care)

1997 The Institute for Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC) was established with the mission “to improve the quality and delivery of health care services to the Filipino people through the development of traditional and alternative health care and its integration into the national health care delivery system.“

2015 The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) created the ‘Albularyo’ Certification Program to promote the research and development of traditional herbs for the purpose of healing. DOST and PITAHC granted existing albularyos with official recognition as alternative healthcare providers.

Botong Francisco, The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines (4/4), 1953

Relearning and Preserving

Looking Towards the Future

Today, wellness surrounds us in forms of vitamin supplements, clean eating ads and juice trends. At the same time, we are surrounded by junk food marketing and processed foods. Both industries use branding and overused, friendly verbiage to lure consumers. Modern diets and the commercialization of wellness create a conflicting environment for consumers to make healthier choices for themselves.

What is the role of traditional healing and home remedies in the future?

Filipino Remedies is a resource designed to share traditional Filipino remedies as a response to mainstream health trends and the commercialization of food. It is vital to remember the cultural importance and health benefits of traditional healing and home remedies. The goal of this project suggests a return to natural processes and remedies which allow people to be more intentional about their consumption of food and health choices.