The district of Quiapo, Manila is a mélange of different beliefs and expressions of faith. On one side of the Quezon Boulevard divide, in the Muslim section, stands the Masjid-Al Dahab, gold and proud, the city’s largest mosque. On the other side, there’s the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, or the Quiapo Church, which houses the dark statue of Jesus Christ, believed by millions to be miraculous.
Outside the basilica is Plaza Miranda square, the district’s beating heart. If inside the church one seeks the intercession of the divine, here on the sides of the square one seeks back up just in case the prayers don’t work—from street traders who sell potions, herbal concoctions, and other murky liquid solutions believed to possess a combination natural and supernatural power to heal, attract love, or grant wishes.
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People come to Quiapo to look for hope, or rediscover it. And if there’s a group who could tell the hopeless there is something in their future to look forward to, it’s the fortunetellers of Quiapo. Before the clearing operations for the Black Nazarene feast on January 9, the manghuhulas were seated shoulder to shoulder on plastic stools right across the church. When we see them again a couple of days after, they’re outside the gates of the plaza, concealed by parked motorcycles—as if among the merchants and money changers Jesus himself expelled from the temple.
But where they are in the square matters little, their loyal customers and new curious ones will find them. And they will listen to these women with the “gift”—because they believe the manghuhulas can give them a glimpse of their future for the price of 200 pesos.
The future according to Daisy
It’s the first Saturday of the new year. On most days, there are at least five fortunetellers in the plaza. They usually invite possible customers for a reading with a hand gesture and a nod. Daisy, 46, stands out because she has a Good Morning towel perched on her head. She doesn’t like people taking her pictures, or video, so she makes an effort to conceal her face. But she will share her life story—which we hear little by little as she tries to predict ours.
She pulls out from her bag a folded square cardboard the size of a Monopoly board game. She opens it, and places the board on her knees—as I sit across her on a plastic stool, with the rest of Quiapo huffing and puffing around us. Written on the cardboard are random words: exam, healing, boyfriend, girlfriend, abroad, studies, etc. She pulls out a deck of cards from the same bag, shuffles the deck, and places it on the board. She asks me to pick three cards, which she flips over to show me one by one. Behind her black rimmed glasses, her eyes—with lashes decked out in multiple coats of mascara—read mine as if searching for a clue.
Daisy holds a certificate in computer science, and had worked in an office after graduation. She got married at a young age and now has two sons: one is 26, the other is 21 years old. She says her gift was passed on to the women in their family by her late maternal grandmother who could dream the future.
Lola could see otherworldly beings, too, Daisy says, and she learned about fortune-telling from an old book and old friends which taught her to make better use of her “powers.”
Daisy belongs to a brood of 12, four of whom are women, all of whom possess the gift. The men don’t usually get this gift, which Daisy believes is from God. “Diyos pa din talaga ang pinakamataas,” she says. Her purpose is to send the message from the heavens to people willing to listen. It is for this reason she comes to Quiapo every day.
Passing it on
When Daisy was a child, she began to “feel” the otherworldly beings her grandmother and mother always talked about. Her mother told her she could open her third eye further when she is “strong enough” to handle its consequences. We ask her what the consequences could be and she points her right finger beside her right ear, drawing imaginary circles.
She stays away from that power now, and sticks to card and palm reading. “Ayaw na naming pasukin, lalo pag may inaalala ka nang mga anak. Dapat kontrolado lang, baka bumigay ka.”
She believes her gift can help people, she tells me in between giving me glimpses of my future. The predictions range from career to business ventures, from health to romance and travel opportunities. She was especially delighted to tell me about the last one: “’Yan makakapag-abroad ka!” It’s her dream to see other places outside of the Philippines, she says, but it’s too expensive.
Do her sons possess her gift? “Hanggang curious lang, kasi nakapagtapos ’yong anak ko,” she says. It is, however, through her fortunetelling practice that her younger son is able to study at Adamson University. Meanwhile, her older son is working in a cruise ship. “Gusto ko sa mga anak ko maiba naman.”
As much as the gift to tell the future is passed on, as they say, the manghuhulas here would rather have their children—girls or boys—live different lives. Although they never say it, it’s not just “absorbing the energy of people” (most of them would say this) that often weighs down on them, it’s that they don’t make much. Card reading costs around 100 pesos—sometimes 200 pesos, depending on the manghuhula. Palm reading costs an extra 100. Fortunately, some of them have gained loyal customers over the years, which guarantees them a few hundred bucks a day, especially at the start of a new year.
The future according to Vicky
Vicky, another manghuhula in the area, is turning 60 this June. She has been reading palms for so long—20 years to be exact—she reads palms faster than she could actually read anything. This is the only kind of livelihood she says she’s good at. It’s her calling.
Unlike Daisy, who is more mysterious, Vicky is cheerful and occasionally comes off as more life coach than manghuhula. She has the same paraphernalia as Daisy: cardboard with the same random words, tarot cards, and makeup—but instead of mascara, her weapon of choice is a bright red lipstick and eyebrow pencil. She says lines like, “Ang buhay naman step-by-step lang, parang hagdan,” or “Paano yayaman? Sikap. Siyempre kailangan kumilos din tayo.”
They’re the same life lessons she tells her loyal customers. But that’s not really why they frequent her. “May mga sinasabi akong nangyayari talaga,” says Vicky, “kaya lagi sila dito.”
She also imparts these lessons to her three children: the eldest, 40, takes care of their home; the second one is an engineer; and the third is still in college. Vicky is a widow, and she puts food on the table every day by doing what she does.
Her gift, like Daisy’s, is from her late mother. She and two of her four sisters were the heirs to it, and all three of them became fortunetellers in Quiapo. Again like Daisy, Vicky acquired most of her knowledge on fortunetelling from the proverbial “lumang libro” passed on to her and her sisters by their mother.
Each manghuhula, she says, has a different way of reading the cards and palms. “Depende sa pag-aaral mo o kung sino'ng nagturo.”
My future according to Vicky
In her years of doing what she calls her “tadhana,” she’s observed that many of her customers come to her to ask for advice on their careers—not on love, as many usually assume. “Karamihan ng customers nakapagtapos sa pag-aaral,” she adds. “Gusto nila successful career nila. Tungkol sa trabaho ang kadalasang tanong. Pero meron naman ding mga hiwalay sa asawa, naghahanap ng iba.”
She pauses, as she puts the next set of cards on the table. “Hindi mo puwedeng pagsabayin ang career at love life,” she adds after a beat.
Is that what my cards say? I ask.
“Hindi, para sa lahat ’yan. Para sa'yo na din,” she smiles. Then she utters another quote that sounds straight out of an Instagram post: “Ang love life hindi hinahanap, kusang dumarating. Kung hinahanap mo, hindi darating. Nasa kapalaran ’yan.”
As Vicky puts down the last few cards, she tells me she sometimes takes a peek at her own future. She doesn't do it often because it makes her anxious. But she peeks. She knows she’ll never marry again, and she has made peace with it a long time ago. She also knows she’ll be a fortuneteller until her last breath.
“Magkaka-girlfriend daw ako,” my friend, who just finished a session with a lady named Madam Zeny, tells me. My friend likes men, though, that’s the problem. Maybe having a gaydar is a different gift altogether.
Daisy and Vicky know that most people think of fortunetelling as nothing more than a sham. “Hindi mo naman mapipilit ang iba na saklawin mga paniniwala mo,” Vicky says. When they look at their customers, sometimes they glean the skepticism.
As we end our session, Vicky asks us to come back next year because the “fates” change with the shift of the calendar year. But won’t the answers be the same? I ask myself. And it occurs to me why, from one manghuhula to the next, the predictions largely sound similar: we all want to hear the same things.
“Magkakatotoo mga pangarap mo,” Vicky tells me. “Laging may pag-asa, basta samahan mo lang ng dasal,” she adds, as I hand her the consultation fee, and return her smile.
Photographs by Chris Clemente