Our semi-regular Bulletproof Project today takes us to the southern Philippines, specifically the perpetually conflict-addled island of Mindanao. It is there that a family of quasi-Christian cults collectively known as the Tadtad (“Chop Chop”) flourish, and occasionally wreak bloody havoc on the unfortunate populace.
The Tadtad remind us a bit of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, in that they’ve combined Christian doctrine, ancient shamanism, and Fascist radicalism into one awful cocktail. Like the other movements we’ve chronicled in this series, the Tadtad is able to attract young recruits by promising them a comic-book power—the ability to render bullets harmless. The various groups that constitute the Tadtad whole each favors a different approach to granting this power—amulets made of human kneecaps, t-shirts bearing Latin inscriptions, various anointing oils. Yet no matter what a group’s method, the end result is always the same—misguided kids get killed, and the leaders stand ready with excuses as to why their magic didn’t work:
Sixteen cultists who died in a fierce clash Friday with lawmen believed they were invincible against bullets, but their ”magical powers” did not work because many of them were sinners, the leader of the Catholic God’s Spirit cult said yesterday.
Alfredo Obsioma, 44, leader of the 300-member cult, said the 16 who were killed were disloyal followers who had ignored his advice not to fight the team of law enforcers who had come to arrest one of the cultists.
Four civilian militiamen also died in Friday’s encounter at the cult’s colony in Barangay Kimanait, Pangantucan town.
”They (the cult members) sinned. They had vices and above all, they resorted to violence,” Obsioma told the INQUIRER here…
Obsioma, a former Army soldier, said amulets made of paper scribbled with Latin prayers would have been enough to make his followers invincible to bullets.
”But the amulets are only for the good. They are not supposed to be used for evil,” he said.
He said the slain cult members had ignored his advice not to attack the police team, who had gone to the colony to arrest cult member Roberto Madrina Jr. Madrina was wanted on a charge of frustrated murder for stabbing a certain Patricio dela Cruz in a nearby village in 1989.
”They were emboldened by the idea that bullets would not harm them. They were mistaken,” Obsioma said in the vernacular.
”They lost their power when they disobeyed me,” he said.
We’d be curious to know what Obsioma’s excuse is when his charges inevitably perish while fighting under orders.
By the way, we highly recommend this 2000 Atlantic piece about the Tadtad, in which it’s revealed that a certain cult maintains its invincibility by only attacking on Mondays and Thursdays.
(Image via Robert Gumpert)