Sometimes, a search-and-destroy approach is not the best course of action when you want to defeat your enemies. The use of a psychological approach in warfare is sometimes more effective than putting bullets in your adversaries’ bodies. Take CIA agent Edward Lansdale, who used this knowledge in culture and folklore and combined it with a psychological tactic to beat the Filipino insurgents after World War II. For the Filipinos at that time, what was worse than fighting off foreign troops in your country than having to face blood-sucking demons called ‘Aswang.’

Blood Suckers Of The Night

In Philippine folklore, aswang is the general term for different evil creatures like vampires, ghouls, witches, werewolves (or other animals like dogs, cats, even boars). Tales of aswang are popular in myths, stories, arts, and films. These mythological creatures are feared in the Philippines, even in the 16th century. They were specifically well-known in southern parts of Luzon and some parts of Mindanao, but most particularly in the province of Capiz in Visayas. The names of the creatures may vary, like the silagan in the island of Catanduanes, told to tear his victim’s liver and eat it. There’s also this manananggal, a woman with huge bat wings that could separate her upper and lower body from the waist so that it could fly and eat people during the night, while in the morning, she disguises herself as a beautiful lady. Then there’s this vampire aswang who could suck the blood of its victim through a proboscis-like tongue. Its cousin was called tiktik and is said to use the same proboscis-like tongue to suck fetuses out of their mothers’ wombs.


It’s also important to know the insurgents during that time called Hukbalahap (Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon) led by their guerilla leader named Luis Taruc. Taruc was pretty well-known as a hero to the rural masses by the time that the Philippines gained its independence after World War II ended. Hukbalahap was created at that time to fight the Japanese (Hapon) invaders in the Philippines, fighting side by side with the US forces until its liberation from the Japanese and the end of the war.  The Philippines were devastated by WWII and needed just about all of its infrastructure rebuilt including railways, waterworks, roads, bridges and powerplants. the Philippines also had vast natural resources, like timber, oil, and minerals but lacked the capital and heavy industrial ability to even get at them. Philippine law also forbad foreigners from owning any business operating in the islands which all but cut off any hope of foreign investment.  As a result, the Bell Trade Act was passed by Congress in 1946.  It gave the Philipines $800,000,000 in aid and tariff free trade between the U.S. and the Philippines for 12 years but required that Philippine law allow United States citizens to own companies on the islands as a way to attract foreign investments in their economy. To the Huks, this looked as if the Philippines were surrendering their sovereignty to a foreign power again as they did with Spain.  They pictured U.S. citizens owning vast swaths of their economy and this they didn’t like at all. President Roxas couldn’t care much, and so he basically kicked the Huks out and away from Congress. In turn, the WWII veterans Huks rebelled against both the Philippine government and the US forces. When Roxas died in 1948 due to a heart attack, he was replaced by Elpidio Quirino, whose administration was ineffective in fighting the Huks. The absence of a strong figure in national politics saw the CIA enter the scene to counter what was emerging as a Communist revolution lead by the Democratic Alliance Party, The CIA sent  Edward Lansdale, an ex-US Air Force turned-CIA officer who was also the Chief of Defense Ramon Magsaysay’s confidant.

Major General Edward Lansdale, 1963 (US Air Force, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Monsters Attacked

From 1948 to 1954, the CIA moved to stop the Huks. Lansdale’s brilliant idea was to use the Filipino culture against the Huks. And so, with their knowledge of Aswang and its supposed existence, they started working in the background, silently taking over the matter.

A pile of dead, mangled bodies, holes punctured on their necks resembling animal bites on the side of the road in a busy province area would definitely shock the soul out of the Huk members, leading them to believe that it was the evils of the night’s doings. Except, they did not know that the “evils of the nights” were really the CIA fighters abducting the Huk members, piercing their necks, and then hanging them upside down until their bodies were drained of blood. I mean, who would’ve suspected it was the Americans?

President Quirino shaking hands with Hukbalahap leader Luis Taruc. (Malacañang Palace, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The plan worked like a charm. The residents of Luzon lived in fear of being the Aswang’s next victim. They would retreat from one hill or town to another, trying to avoid these nighttime creatures. That, and the combination of logistical and factional problems, caused them to fracture and split internally. When the CIA noticed the psychological tactic was working, they combined it with a more intense search-and-destroy operation. The Hukbalahap members would surrender by 1954, accepting a pardon from the Philippine government. Magically for the Filipinos, the monsters stopped attacking too.