Ancestral Traditions
Filipino Culture & Heritage

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Opening ceremony of the International Conference on Ilokano and Amianan Literatures and Cultures. Apostol (far right) leading the Ilokano ritual Araraw iti Mannakabalin-Amin: Warsi ken Anglem, assisted by Aurelio Agcaoili, Ph.D., and students of the University of Hawai'i. 2007. Photo Copyright © 2007 | Virgil Apostol. 



HILOT: the art and science of touch

Virgil Apostol Heals Using a Filipino Ancient Art of Hilot 

Filipino Tradition of Healing Persists: But the Art of Folk Medicine is Fading as Generations Pass

Kablaawan Kayo!

Welcome to Rumsua: Ancestral Traditions, a site that provides information on Filipino culture and heritage, with particular emphasis on the amianan (north). Included are topics on the healing arts, literary works, and other cultural facts and information.

In my personal quest of the rediscovery of our ancestral traditions, I have painstakingly spent years of research, interviews, and hours of mingling with elders who unselfishly shared their friendship, knowledge, wisdom, and experiences. Their essence shines within me and thus my yearning to search for who we once were. It has become a spiritual journey that has given me direction and purpose, along with a consciousness of letting the world know who we are and the cultural uniqueness that survives time and space.

The balite, as pictured on the website's header, is a species of the banyan. Associated with numerous folktales and beliefs, it is one of the most controversial of Philippine trees that is considered an abode of various elemental spirits and anitos, particularly, the pugot, which some believe are ancestral spirits of our aboriginal cousins (i.e., Ita, Aeta, Agta, Alta, Dumagat, Negrito, etc.). It is for this reason that children and adults, alike, fear and respect the balite.

From a cosmological perspective, the balite is a sacred tree among Filipino shamans. The upper branches represents the Skyworld (upperworld), the trunk as the Earthworld (middleworld), and the roots as the Underworld (lowerworld). It is not uncommon to hear of individuals by or high atop a balite tree communicating with the spiritworld. The balite is also a source of medicine used for certain ailments.

I wish to acknowledge Filipino artist and cultural worker, Grace Nono, who encouraged me to commit to various "assignments," including the creation of this website. Agyamanak!

Apostol with Filipino artist and cultural worker, Grace Nono, and UH Professor, Theo Gonzalves. Honolulu, HI. Photo Copyright © 2008 | Virgil Apostol.  

My sincere thanks also extends to Mary Ann Reyes who, as a visionary, re-organized the website's categorization and content.

May my contribution be your inspiration. Please take your time, enjoy the contents, and share the site with your friends. And please don't forget to sign the Guestbook. Comments are always welcome!

                              ~ Virgil J. Mayor Apostol


The section on traditional healing arts is for informational puposes and not intended to replace the services of a licensed health care provider in the diagnosis or treatment of any bodily dysfunction, illness, or disease, and are to be used at the reader’s sole discretion and risk. A medical examination is recommended prior to beginning any exercises herein. Photos on self defense are for demonstration purposes only.

Copyright / Trademark
The Rumsua hand icon is a trademark of Rumsua: Ancestral Traditions. The bulk of the material derives from Apostol's upcoming book, and is copyrighted and registered in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Photographs are copyrighted either by Virgil J. Mayor Apostol or their respective photographers.

* Balite photo courtesy of Tochs Thoughts on Climbing, Manila

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Virgil Mayor Apostol has dedicated himself to the research, development, and promotion of Filipino cultural and healing traditions. He descends from a paternal and maternal bloodline of healers and from the teachings of respected elders. Through clinical practice, he continues to refine Ablon manual medicine as a science, while his research into Filipino spiritual practices rounds out his holistic approach to health and healing. His background in the Filipino martial arts also enhances his practical knowledge as a healer.

Apostol has a Bachelor in Business Administration, and has attained certifications in Oriental Bodywork Therapy and as a Holistic Health Practitioner. He co-authored the book, Healing Hands of Hilot, and recently came out with Way of the Ancient Healer: Sacred Teachings from the Philippine Ancestral Traditions, which has now entered its second print. His association with the Chopra Center for Well Being, where he refined, systemized, and discreetly incorporated the intricacies of Filipino Ablon along with the Indian Ayurvedic therapies offered, earned him a favorable reputation, not to mention the most demanded therapist and healer. This inspired Deepak Chopra and the center's medical director, David Simon, to encourage Apostol to promote his teachings through workshops.

Wanting to pursue the clinical application of his practice, Apostol joined various health care providers including: Neurologist Norman Narchi, MD, founder of Radiance Health and Wellbeing in Westlake Village, CA; Brett Davis Nutrition, Inc. in Chula Vista, CA; Integrative Health Care Center in Grand Terrace, CA; and Jeff Cohen and his Hilot Therapy Clinic in the Bay Area where, on occasion, is invited to provide Ablon to members of the San Francisco Ballet for injuries sustained in the course of their practice. He also collaborated with Lobsang Dhondup, physician of traditional Tibetan medicine at the Tibetan Healing Center in San Diego, CA increasing the affectivity of Tibetan herbal medicines to their patients through the introduction of Ablon. 

Apostol was personally encouraged by Alfonso T. Lagaya, MD, MDM, who was then the Executive Director of the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC – Philippine Department of Health) to promote Ablon and other Filipino therapeutic healing practices in the United States. His publicity included presentations as a selected featured speaker at the Hawai'i Healing Garden, a statewide festival held on Kaua’i, Maui, O’ahu, and Hawai’i; sponsored by Hawai'i Health Guide and the Hawai'i Tourism Authority. He is currently based in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Apostol is available for healing workshops and speaking engagements. Please email him for more information.





* On occasion, emails from around the world are received from individuals seeking advice for their personal health concerns. RUMSUA: ANCESTRAL TRADITIONS IS NOT A MEDICAL CONSULTING SERVICE. All individuals are encouraged to consult a licensed health professional in their respective locale. Thank you.

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Lane Wilcken is the second oldest child from a family of eight children of mixed cultural heritage. His mother is a native Ilokana from the Philippines and his father is an American of English and Scandinavian descent. On Lane’s maternal side, his family is well acquainted in the traditional spiritual beliefs of the Philippines, his grandmother being a mangngilut (midwife and healer) and his great-great grandmother a mangnganito or spirit medium. His grandfather was well versed in the old myths and legends of the past. From an early age Lane has been interested in mythology and different cultural practices. In his childhood Lane was taught by his parents through metaphors and analogies. His related interest in symbolism was expanded while attending Southern Utah University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology with a focus in Symbolic Interactionism and a Minor in Communications. Lane’s unique heritage, upbringing and schooling have given him an uncommon perspective about this aspect of his ancestry.

Lane has been researching the indigenous past of the Philippines and the Pacific Islands for nearly two decades. His methodology incorporates oral tradition; written history, linguistics, personal experience and cross-cultural analysis with other Austronesian peoples to bring a fuller understanding of the origins of the peoples
of the Philippines. His interest in cultural tattooing was borne out of a desire to strengthen cultural pride among Filipinos and to reunite Filipinos symbolically and spiritually with their estranged ancestors. Lane has given presentations and lectures on the tattooing and other cultural traditions of the Philippines at several universities and private forums. His audience has included social clubs, university professors, students, and scholars.

Lane resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his wife, Rebekah,and their six children.

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HILOT: the art and science of touch

By Patricia Laurel, Correspondent

Philippine News, February 7-13, 2007

Make no mistake, hilot or ablon is not about going to a spa and getting a massage because you want to relax and come away with a feel-good attitude. The benefits reaped from this type of physical manipulation have a more lasting effect.

"It is the practice of Filipino manual medicine," according to Virgil J. Mayor Apostol, 42, a certified holistic health practitioner, who co-authored "The Healing Hands of Hilot."

Apostol practices his medicine in Hawaii and California.

Apostol descends from a paternal and maternal bloodline of healers. Through extensive research, time spent learning the teachings of respected elders in the rural areas of the Philippines and clinical practice in the U.S., Apostol continues to refine ablon/hilot as a science and spiritual practice. His background in the Filipino martial arts has also enhanced his intuitive knowledge as a healer.

Ablon/Hilot is the oldest and most secret of the Filipino healing arts in the Philippines. It is very rare for masters of this practice to divulge their secret of healing. This ancient art of healing is either learned from relatives through hands-on practice or inherited from foregathers passing it on from one generation to the next.

This type of healing supposedly dates back to the first civilization of the Philippines (approximately 5th century). There is, however, no written documentation of the history of this art. The masters failed to document the origins, dates, facts, where the art originated and who developed these effective healing arts.

Ablon/Hilot is practiced to varying degrees or levels in the Philippines, but has now found its way to many parts of the world.

Apostol gave a presentation of his practice at the International Conference on the Hawaii Filipino Centennial in Honolulu recently.

He said: "Due to historical accounts that have influenced the psychology of the people. Filipinos have become victims of colonial mentality that has placed neglect on our own cultural heritage in favor of just about everything 'American.' Or very own traditional Filipino medical system, although very strong in the Philippines is taken for granted here in the West. Although the younger generations may have heard of these healing practices, they are practically unknown by non-Filipinos.

"It is interesting to not that in the Philippines, practitioners of traditional medicine outnumber practitioners of biomedicine with at least 40,000 traditional birth attendants and 100,000 herbalists - high figures that do not even account for the thousands of manghihilots, acupuncturists and other practitioners. In the United States, however, the reverse ratio applies in that the availability of Filipino healers is smaller than practitioners of allopathic medicine."

What are the traditional Filipino ways of healing? It's varied specializations - midwifery, pulse diagnosis, bone setting, manual medicine, herbology, suction cupping, skin scraping, herbal steam and smoke, "energy medicine" - just to name a few, date back to indigenous science of Asian origin.

This tradition includes numerous forms of metaphysical healing that not only deal with the spiritual realms, but also the mental and emotional aspects.

Ablon (term used by Ilocanos, Yapayaos, and Itnegs of Ilocos Norte) or Hilot (Tagalog term) is an ancient Filipino hands-on healing, therapeutic and rehabilitative procedure. It is considered an effective means to relieve pain in the Philippines. But to get to that pain-relief stage, one must endure the pressure and manipulation applied to the area of discomfort.

"The mangngablon or manghihilot is very acute in assessing injuries," said Apostol. "The practitioner has an uncanny ability to sense fractures and reset them before wrapping the injury with medicinal herbs and barks.

"The ablon/hilot approach is the opposite to that of massage. A sprain would get a thorough treatment even if it sometimes means that the person would have to bite down on a stick!"

It sounds excruciating and it can be, but Filipinos who are familiar with this type of manipulation, will be the first to extol its healing properties.

"If proper manipulation is not done right away, the viscous coating around the injury will harden and adhesions will develop restricting proper blood flow an nerve impulse, affecting or prolonging the healing process" said Apostol.

"There are also injuries indicative of belles or pilay, a sprain or displacement of the bones, nerves and veins. Following such injuries, inflammation is understood to occur and must be treated in order to adjust proper setting and flow."

How does Ablon/Hilot work?

According to Apostol's Maharlikan Healing Arts Center brochure, it is the practice of accomplished hands-on yet differs from massage.

After an initial consultation is conducted and background information obtained, the process of ablon/hilot follows: this involves the manipulation of the nerves and veins, joints, tendons, sinews and ligaments.

Through deep concentration and attention to specific details, the unique mobilization, manipulation and stimulation methods are what make ablon/hilot excel in the proper functioning of the nervous system which regulates and coordinates bodily activities and responses; veins and arteries which support the flow of blood; tendons and ligaments that support the physical movement of muscles and bones.

Sensitivity to ablon/hilot may surface during the session. According to the brochure, this is due to the nerve-pathway stimulation. But the results outweigh any initial discomfort - an indicator of bodily imbalances. This can lessen or even diminish after consecutive ablon/hilot sessions - an indication of the body's return to improved health. Based on his research, Apostol's holistic approach addresses the mind and body through cultural and sociological perspectives.

"Many traditional Filipino healers heal from both a scientific, spiritual background and holistic attitude. This is especially true since the cultural roots stem from an animistic base where spirituality is high and esoteric devotees have an uncanny ability to tap into altered state of consciousness in order to obtain information.

"Perhaps the earliest concept of illness causation is that they were the result of offended elemental or ancestral spirits, or through sorcery - beliefs that still exists to this day. Those that suspect illness attributed to one of these two sources prefer treatment from a traditional healer that specializes in such cases.

"not only would it be beneficial but crucial for us to adopt a "holistic" lifestyle. Deriving from the Greek root word, holos, for "whole," Taber's medical dictionary clearly defines holistic medicine as "comprehensive and total care of a patient."

For Filipinos who have been used to trading and bartering with the local mangngablons/manghihilots in the rural areas of the Philippines, watch out. It won't be long now before the world, is word of mouth and web access, catches on to the healing arts of our nanays and tatays. the secret is out.

(Patricia Laurel is the great grandniece of Philippine nationalist, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. She is the founder and director of Art Insite, a magazine for, by, and about Filipino artists.) 

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Virgil Apostol Heals Using a Filipino Ancient Art of Hilot


(The following is an abridbged and edited version of an interview by Margarita Alcantara of Bamboo girl zine, Millennium Issue, #9.)

BG: For those not well informed on the practice of Hilot, how would you describe it?

VA: Hilot is known as one of the practices of Filipino traditional med icine. It is conceived as a healing system. This is because Hilot is intertwined with herbalism, bonesetting, midwifery, as well as esoteric practices such as faith or spiritual healing. Its very principles dictate its uniqueness compared to concepts of other hands-on methods. In Western society, it is expected that forms of bodywork extend to a full hour or more. Traditionally in Hilot, you fix ‘em up in a couple of minutes then send them off! It is a no-nonsense approach.

BG: What parts of the body do you utilize to apply your art, and does Hilot use objects to aid in doing so, such as Chinese healing arts use needles for acupuncture?

VA: The hands are the main parts used in Hilot. There are styles that also utilize the feet especially for patients lying on the ground.

Natural implements are sometimes used such as sticks and stones to help penetrate and soften the muscle or to stimulate certain reflexes. In case of certain conditions, coins, shells or similar objects are used to scrape the surface of the skin, as well as the hollow tip of a carabao horn, bamboo, or glass cup to create a vacuum on the surface.

BG: How did you learn Hilot?

VA: Hilot (Ablon is what we called it in Ilocos) is in my genes. On my paternal side, my grandmother was a healer. Although I never met her, my father was able to pass on to me basic principles and experiences that he learned from her. It was from my maternal grandmother that the bulk of my knowledge stems from.

Every time someone came to our house to receive a treatment from my grandmother, I was always there assisting her holding bottles of coconut oil and a liniment that she cooked up. It was fascinating to watch and absorb the various techniques and to see the results that ended with the patient’s relief and gratitude.

Over the years, the basic principles were revealed to me. Then after her passing in 1996, I soon realized that her teachings were very precious to me. Inspired to take my skills a step further, I sought out other elders who shared their knowledge and wisdom to me, thus allowing me to compare the various principles and techniques. Those that ask what kind of healing I do, I respond with the name Ablon.

Trail and error is another aspect of learning. One cannot improve unless the knowledge is put to the test.

BG: Do you see more acceptance today in the mainstream Filipino community for Hilot as other “alternative medicines” such as Chinese Medicine, Indian Ayurvedic health practices, Native American herbalism and shamanism, etc., that have grown in popularity?

VA: My observance is that Hilot has always been accepted within the Filipino communities especially with the older generation. The younger generation may have heard about it but have never experienced it and are more accustomed to visiting a physician of Allopathic medicine.

One reason why Hilot might not be accepted as an alternative form of healing is because of the lack of manghihilots (practitioners of Hilot) in the United States. On the other hand, it is not impossible to locate one especially in the larger Filipino communities. I have found several manghihilots just by asking around, and rarely does one talk negatively about them.

There are a few licensed health practitioners that advertise Hilot not just limited to the Filipino communities but to the general public. Because of such individuals and others that go mainstream, Hilot is steadily gaining exposure and a good reputation from the thousands of clients being treated, good reviews from healers that learn its principles and techniques, and is gaining acceptance in the medical community that is learning of its effectiveness.

BG: How much of a part does spirituality play in Hilot?

VA: This varies from practitioner to practitioner. Spirituality has always, and still does, play an important role in traditional Filipino healing. Those in the professional field, though, sometimes have the tendency to approach Hilot in a scientific point of view. This is part of the natural evolution of Hilot in this day and age but is it necessarily the best?

Traditional Filipino medicine stems from an intertwining of indigenous healing practices, theologies and a belief in a spiritual realm, as well as the influence of medical principles from other ancient cultures. It has been practiced this way for centuries. If science were to rule out spirit, it would be like the left hemisphere of the brain (logic) taking over the right (creativity).

There needs to be a balance since the body, mind, heart, and soul has the capacity to facilitate and express things of physical, mental, emotional, and yes, ‘spiritual’ nature. For the manghihilot that maintains this balance, they are ‘holistically’ treating their patients.

BG: As the healing arts of the Philippines were traditionally passed down orally, how likely would it be to find any historically written information on the subject?

VA: The history books that I have come across feally do not delve into ancient healing practices but do discuss these in fragments. Later writings reveal that their views on traditional Filipino Medicine are taken from a medical anthropological point of view. There was one book, however, that I came across that seemed very in-depth but was written in German. There are other works that have gone into print and one just needs to check with the major libraries.

BG: What was the greatest thing about co-authoring your book, The Healing Hands of Hilot?

VA: Perhaps the greatest thing was that we had a very unique subject to write about, a subject that deserves attention not only in a cultural context but also in the medical field.

BG: What was the most challenging?

VA: Perhaps the most challenging was deciding on what information to include and how to present it, not to mention the whole process of book printing.

BG: I understand you also practice Filipino martial arts. You have also dedicated an entire chapter in your book to Hilot in the Filipino marital arts. What arts do you do, and how do they relate to Hilot?

VA: Although I have a background in Lung Tao Chuan Fa, an internal-external system from Northern China, my concentration is on the Arnis systems of Northern Luzon. Along with my cousin, Jessie Dancel, we have categorized our teachings under the names Iliukiu Martial Arts. We chose these names because our teachings are mainly from Ilocandia.

The whole book is applicable to the practice of the [Filipino] martial arts. If one gets injured in actual combat or even in practice, who do you run to? You run to the manghihilot or albolario (medicine man). But what if none is to be found? This is where your knowledge of Hilot can help others.

Besides from blows or cuts received from strikes or slashes, injuries in the practice of Arnis usually can also result in musculoskeletal problems. For example, if I were to strike you and you disarmed me, that disarm might have involved a torque or twist, thus injuring my wrist. As a result, the wrist can swell – a natural occurrence when the body needs to prevent it from excessive movement. The only problem is that when this swelling takes place, the muscles and tendons eventually have the tendency to create adhesions which is basically the hardening of the surrounding structure. The end result – limited range of movement and possible long-term soreness.

With the knowledge of Hilot, one would be able to balance the bio-energy, help reduce the accumulation of toxins, avoid major swelling, as well as prevent the occurrence of adhesions. Overall, healing will speed up.

Another advantage of Hilot is the acquaintance with the human body. I had a good friend that flew down to see me abut his shoulder. One of his favorite styles was the espada y daga, but every time he would thrust forward with the daga in his left hand, his shoulder did not want to cooperate. For many years, he endured pain to this area.

After a few sessions of Hilot, what we discovered was that every time he thrust forward to the neck region (especially with most of his opponents taller than he), his elbow was extended horizontally. This caused an impingement while in motion that resulted in wear and tear. The option of keeping the elbow pointing down while thrusting was more natural to the shoulder joint and didn’t cause any pain. Now he is a happy thruster!

BG: What would you suggest to a fellow Filipino interested in learning Hilot?

VA: I am glad that you brought this up. It has been my observance that Hilot in the Filipino martial arts has become a ‘fad’. I am very cautious of this because these schools can also bastardize Hilot. Before you know it, there could be Guros of Hilot, Grandmasters of Filipino Healing, or even Superduper Heirs of Superduper Hilot! On a few occasions, I was offered to conduct Hilot workshops to various Filipino martial arts schools in different states, all expenses paid, but I had second thoughts. I am not holding back. I just believe that the introduction of Hilot into the mainstream needs to go through the right channels to receive proper accreditation and support within the field of Alternative or Holistic Medicine before spreading to individuals who do not have some sort of professional state license. This will protect the trustworthiness and integrity of Hilot in the future.

If a fellow Filipino is sincere in learning Hilot, they need to realize that they are dealing with a practice in the medical field – traditional or contemporary. This is not a game and needs to be done in a proper manner. However, I would highly support anyone who wishes to enter this field.

One can truly understand Hilot by immersing one’s self in the other interrelated cultural aspects of the Philippines. In that way, one can understand Hilot in a cultural context. But where can one learn Hilot? Unless one goes to the Philippines, it is not impossible to locate someone in the U.S. who has this background. Like I mentioned earlier, it is just a matter of asking around. Once one is found, do practice the laws of respect.

BG: Do you have a favorite Filipino food?

VA: Diningding / inabraw and pinakbet. Before I was a vegetarian, pinapaitan was my favorite meat dish (although I sometimes slip a few bites here and there… shhhhh… don’t tell anyone!).

BG: Any last words?

VA: The traditional healing arts in the smaller towns of the Philippines have always persisted and are regaining ground in the larger cities despite the influx of foreign healing modalities that attract so many healers. Here in the U.S., non-Filipinos involved in healing are eager to learn new foreign modalities such as Hilot. It is ironic that only now the traditional Filipino healing arts are receiving publicity especially since Filipinos have been in America since the 1500’s. There is a time and place for everything. And the time for healing – Filipino style, is NOW!

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Filipino tradition of healing persists: but the art of folk medicine is fading as generations pass

San Diego Union Tribune

Katheryn Balint - Staff writer, The San Diego Union Tribune, 10-26-98

His mother, father, brother and sister all have careers in medicine, either as nurses or medical technicians. Virgil J. Mayor Apostol also went into healing, but his is not the kind of modern medicine practiced in sterile clinics by white-coated doctors.

His is Ablon, part of the ancient Filipino art of folk medicine.

It is a tradition in Apostol’s Filipino heritage that is dying as each generation of Filipino-Americans becomes more entrenched in American ways and culture.

“Our children are born here and have no clue about the history of the Philippines,” said Gretchen Donndelinger.

Donndelinger helped coordinate a day of workshops and music at Miramar College on Saturday to celebrate Filipino-American History Month this month.

The free event was called Kapwa, which means shared identity, because it was intended to get Filipino-Americans to think about the heritage they share. 

More than 300 – not all of them of Filipino heritage – attended, learning about Filipino history, how to develop their children’s identity and how to ensure success for Filipino-American students.

Clothed in a traditional Filipino embroidered shirt and wearing a gourd hat, Apostol taught a workshop about ancestral healing traditions.

Apostol, 34, is a holistic health practitioner who works at the Chopra Center for Well Being in La Jolla.

Much of what Apostol learned about Filipino healing techniques came from his grandmother, who was a midwife, bonesetter and an herbalist. He learned even more by talking with other Filipino healers in the United States and the Philippines.

That is how most aspects of Filipino culture are conveyed from one generation to the next.

“It’s not written down,” Donndelinger said. “It’s passed on by word of mouth.” And sometimes, especially in the United States, the traditions simply never get passed on.
Apostol is one of those who has put his knowledge into print. He has co-written a book called “The Healing Hands of Hilot.”

Hilot is a Filipino word describing a type of folk medicine.

Apostol thinks the book, to be published next month, is the only manual on the Filipino healing arts. He sees no reason why Filipino healing arts cannot become as practiced in the United States as Chinese acupuncture.

In his workshop, Apostol spoke of ancestors’ belief in spirits, their belief in the healing properties of ginger and vinegar and their belief that blowing on a person can relieve pain.

But if anything made true believers of the workshop’s participants, it was the hands-on experience of learning stretching exercises and Ablon techniques. One participant said the exercises made his ailing elbow feel better.

For Herb Delute of Tierrasanta, the workshop was just a warm-up. 

“I’m ready for a treatment,” he said as he left.

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