The Taong Putik Festival of Aliaga, Nueve Ecija

Forget colorful costumes. Forget fancy dance routines. No streetdancing. No drums. No parties. This is one somber festival.

Devotees burn candles as offering to St John the Baptist.

Devotees burn candles as offering to St John the Baptist.

The Taong Putik Festival is an annual event held in Brgy. Bibiclat in Aliaga, Nueve Ecija. Celebrated every 24th day of June — on the feast of St. John the Baptist, who is also the barangay’s patron saint — the Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

As early as 3AM, devotees flock to nearby ricefields to bathe in the freezing waters and rub their faces, arms, legs and body with mud. Now draped in mud-soaked dried banana leaves or water hyacinths fashioned into cloaks — usually hiding their faces — the “taong putik” (loosely translated as “mud people”) go from house to house to receive donations of money and candles which they would offer during the mass.

The solemn celebration culminates in a procession around the small community, where the image of St. John the Baptist is paraded. In the afternoon of the 24th, the fiesta atmosphere begins, highlighted by a carabao race and other games.

Nature’s wrath or Divine intervention?

The Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

The Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

1944. In retaliation for the killing of their soldiers by Filipino guerrilla fighters, the Japanese Army gathered all adult males in the village of Bibiclat for execution. Held in a small chapel, the men, fearful for their lives, began praying to their patron saint, St. John the Baptist, pleading for deliverance.

Before noon, the scheduled time for their execution, the men were led to the plaza where they were arranged in a single line, ready for the firing squad. As the executioners took their positions, a crowd of women and children gathered to witness the carnage. And as their lamentations and cries of woe echoed throughout the village, torrential rains blotted out the midday sun and drenched everyone in attendance. To the Japanese, this phenomenon indicated that even their gods did not approve of the massacre; thus, called off the firing squad, saving the men from certain death.

The people of Bibiclat erupted into jubilation, thanking St. John for causing the rain and saving the men.

And so began the “Taong Putik” tradition.

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