On March 29, 2002 (it was Good Friday), the nation was shocked at the untimely death of the matinee idol Rico Yan. According to police reports, Rico Yan was on a holiday trip with five friends at the Dos Palmas Resort in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.
I almost lost you… Dahil gago ako at duwag… Natakot akong mahalin ka…
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As reported by his friend and fellow actor Dominic Ochoa, one night, they attended a party and got back at their cottage at around 2 AM. They were all staying in a big room. Because Rico was a snorer, he occupied the loft.
Ochoa said that at around 6 AM, they heard Rico groaning, but they thought he was just snoring at that time. Then early next morning at around 9 AM, Dominic tried to wake Rico, but he was not responding, only to found out that Rico was already stiff and lifeless.
Rico Yan was one of the most famous celebrities of his generation, and so the whole nation has deeply mourned on the passing of this young actor who was then only 27 years old. Rico Yan’s body was then brought to Camp Crame in Manila for an autopsy.
Police reports note that Rico Yan died of cardiac arrest caused by hemorrhagic pancreatitis (known locally as “bangungot”).
“I’d like to inform the public that the death of Rico Yan was of natural cause. According to doctors, it is an acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis resulting in cardiac arrest. In short, he died in his sleep,”
According to assigned doctor, Rico has eaten too much seafood and drank alcohol the night before, causing his pancreas to swell. The swelling lead to fatal complications and eventually his death.
What Is Bangungot?
In medical terms, bangungot goes by many names. It is known as acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis, sudden arrhythmic death syndrome or sudden adult death syndrome, and sudden unexpected nocturnal syndrome. Despite the rapid advancement of modern technology, no concrete explanation or cure has been found to solve the mysterious death caused by bangungot.
In a study, Dr. Alvin Majoska (a forensic pathologist) and Erle Stanley Gardner (a book author) have investigated together the strange deaths by nightmare in Honolulu, Hawaii. According to Gardner, they were not able to identify the cause in these series of deaths.
The autopsy concluded that there wasn’t any sign of poison and that the vital organs were normal. The victims simply died in their sleep.
The shocking revelation is that the unexplainable deaths only happened to young Filipino men at their prime, and the night before, they would be heard moaning.
At first, it was believed that the silent killer only targets Filipino males. However, the same thing seems to happen in young men in other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Japan.
According to an article from the International Journal of Epidemiology dating 1998, the cases of bangungot recorded in Manila in the years 1948-1982 were predominantly male, with the average age of 33 years old, and the average time of death was at 3:00 AM.
From the medical point of view, in order to avoid bangungot, a person should avoid sleeping immediately after eating a heavy meal, especially when combined with alcoholic drinks. Also, having enough sleep (at least 8 hours) is recommended.
Superstitious Belief: The Batibat
Because the Filipinos are by nature superstitious, the sudden death during sleep has its folkloric version. Bangungot comes from the words “bangon” (to wake up) and “ungol” (to moan). This is because when a person experiences bangungot in his sleep, he can’t seem to move nor wake up no matter how he tries and just produce moaning sounds instead of uttering words (which he speaks or shouts in his nightmare).
According to the lore, the unexpected and unexplainable deaths when asleep is said to be caused by a batibat. A batibat is a tree-dwelling spirit in the Ilocano folklore who appears as a big, fat, old woman that is believed to reside in trees. When the tree that serves as its home is cut down and made as posts for houses, the batibat is said to enter the holes of these trees (turned to posts) and migrate to the house where the posts were used. It exacts its vengeance to a person who is sleeping near the post by sitting on the person’s chest while he is asleep and slowly suffocating him.
The only way to escape the batibat’s spell is for another person to bite the victim’s toe or force the victim to wake up by shaking its legs.
Cruz, V. (2013, October 31). The batibat, the numputol, and other Pinoy creatures that go bump in the night. Retrieved from
Lo, R. (2002, March 31). ‘Bangungot’ kills Rico Yan; Claudine still in shock. Retrieved from https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2002/03/31/155539/145bangungot146-kills-rico-yan- claudine-still-shock
Munger, R.G. and Booton, E.A. ( 1998). Bangungut in Manila: sudden and unexplained death in sleep of adult Filipinos. International Journal of Epidemiology, 27, 677-684. (PDF)