By Marie Francia
You probably know of this unique festival from the hit horror film “Sukob” where Kris Aquino and Claudine Barretto play sisters who got separated in their younger years and discovers their connection after being haunted by a spooky wedding tradition of not being allowed to marry on the same year your siblings did to avoid bad luck. With the Taong Putik’s odd-looking aesthetic, this particular festival is perhaps the only ones fit for the spine-chilling narrative of the film.
But what exactly is the reason behind the tradition? I’m sure it isn’t about anything horrific. Or is it? Our curious feet led us to Nueva Ecija, and we were astonished by what we found.
We left Quezon City at around 10 in the evening of June 23 assuming that we’ll arrive in Nueva Ecija at 3AM the next day—just in time for the 4AM gathering. Alas, we miscalculated the travel time and arrived in Brgy. Bibiclat a couple of minutes after 1 am. I was woken up by some sort of panic from my companions who thought we were lost. I got up and saw, despite the almost zero visibility, that we were in the middle of a vast bukid. Thanks to our van’s headlights we didn’t go farther down a dirt road because God knows where it could have led us.
We pulled back again and found a town carnival filled with drunk merrymakers who possibly celebrated the eve of the fiesta. Trying our luck, we asked where the festivities would start. They pointed us to the direction of the church which was only a few meters from the perya. We went our way to the church, and realized how early we were because the lights were still off and no one was parked inside.
Thinking of how the “Sukob” film ended right in the middle of the Taong Putik Festival after Tetay sacrificed her life to break the curse, I’m sure you can imagine how scared we were (because none of us wanted to sacrifice their life) and how no one wanted to step out of the van even when a lot of us wanted to pee. We waited for three hours with nothing but the sound of crickets and a whole lot of eerie silence until we saw a sign of movement from across the street – it was a Taong Putik, slowly making his way to the church.
Here are 5 fascinating facts that you should know about the Taong Putik Festival and why it is by far the most interesting Philippine feast I’ve ever been to:
The festival is held in a barangay called Bibiclat in Aliaga, Nueva Ecija. It is the biggest barangay in the town of Aliaga. Going there is easy because it is Waze-able. It’s roughly two and a half hours away from Manila. A little side note, don’t underestimate the ability of Waze – if it says you’ll arrive in two hours, trust me you will.
Who would have thought that this celebration is part of the many festivities in honoring St. John the Baptist? He was apparently the town’s patron saint and the place was in fact named after him; Bibiclat is really just the more popular name.
Mga Nagsasan-Juan, as what they call the devotees, drench themselves in mud and cover their body with dried banana leaves to re-enact the 1944 Pacific War where Japanese soldiers were set to execute 14 villagers. No execution was to take place and the townspeople believed St. John the Baptist heard their prayers. On the day of the execution, there was a great downpour, and the Japanese soldiers saw that as a bad omen thus ordering the immediate release of the villagers. The festival is their way of offering gratitude to their patron saint who saved the 14 villagers from death.
The Taong Putik Festival has come a long way from being a local ritual to a gathering that welcomes locals and visitors from all walks of life and all points of the globe.
A special mass is held outside the church where the ‘mud men’ gather, a makeshift altar at the top of the church’s front steps. The mass is followed by a procession where devotees carry St. John the Baptist around Bibiclat. When the rest of the parade reaches the parish again, this is the Taong Putiks’ cue to go home and wash the mud from their body as a representation of cleansing their worldly sins.
It sure looks scary at first sight, especially when you bank on the idea of how Kris and Claudine got spooked by the bloodcurdling mysteries of sukob in the middle of this miraculous festivity. Observing the locals light a candle while solemnly offering a prayer for their personal intentions before the crack of dawn was a mystical sight.
Nueva Ecija may not be rich in beaches and the usual tourist spots but it sure is filled with history and extraordinary festivals like this one.
Video shot and edited by: Dustin Gapasen
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