It was Y2K and the end of the Mayan calendar all over again in the Philippines as panic over an alleged prophet’s doomsday prediction appeared to be materializing.
Back in 2013, Indian Prophet Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj – a former orthodox Hindu who claims to have had a “life-changing supernatural encounter with the living Christ” at age 16 – visited the Philippines for the 24th annual National Prayer Gathering. There, he prophesized that a deadly outbreak of flesh-eating disease would spread across the globe.
Selvaraj, the founder of Jesus Ministries, also claimed that the epidemic would begin in Pangasinan, in the northern Philippines.
“The Lord says there is a place called Pangasinan. The Lord says it is in the northernmost part in your land. From there a grievous disease will spread all over the world. That will consume the flesh of men; all their upper skin will begin to decay. It will pierce through the bones. The fear of this disease will spread all over the world. The Lord said that this [disease] will begin from the Philippines,” he told the faithfully gathered.
“If you don’t repent and pray, God has planned much destruction all over the Philippines… The Lord will give you over to flood and waters. The Lord will torture your land with typhoons and hurricanes. The Lord will plague the land with diseases. The Lord will punish your land with famine and scattering,” he added.
On Monday, Philippine broadcaster ABS-CBN aired an exclusive newscast about a “mysterious” flesh-eating disease that had shown up in Pangasinan. The program, which was filled with graphic images and reporters in protective gear and face masks, showed two villagers with frightening skin conditions – one in Santa Barbara and one in Villasis.
Within hours, #PrayforPangasinan was trending on Twitter. Social media accounts in the Philippines were flooded with Armageddon theories by the following morning. Some netizens even purported that Selvaraj had accurately predicted the Bohol earthquake and Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda late last year.
Now, the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) has stepped in to put an end to the uproar, labeling it an overblown hoax.
“There is no reported case of flesh-eating skin disease in the country yet. Absolutely no reason for the public to panic,” said Health Secretary Enrique Ona.
Ona added that the individuals profiled in the ABS-CBN piece suffered from unrelated skin diseases. The patient in Santa Barbara developed an adverse reaction to drugs meant to treat leprosy, while the patient in Villasis was struggling with a severe case of psoriasis. Neither tested positive for necrotizing fasciitis, the medical term for flesh-eating disease.
Some were worried at how quickly disinformation had spread, aided by an increasingly Web-connected society. Headlines like “Zombie Apocalypse 2014: Prophesized Incurable Flesh-Eating Disease Spreads In the Philippines After Bubonic Plague Cases In 2013” surely added fuel to the fire.
“Imagine what would happen if a real outbreak occurred. One word: pandemonium. We will all probably be part of the problem, spreading gossip on our social networks like wildfire and contributing to public panic,” wrote Dr. Stef dela Cruz, recipient of the Health Media Recognition Award from the DOH. “Only two cases were reported on television yet we are almost (if not completely) convinced that the disease is the [one] that Sadhu prophesied. It’s funny, but in case of a real contagion, we need critical thinking to help us survive. Scratch that; gullibility during an apocalyptic event is no laughing matter. If anything, it’s scary.”
It seems that the world is safe… for now.