NUEVA ECIJA - More than 500 men, women and children gathered here on Monday in the quiet village of Bibiclat to celebrate the feast of St. John the Baptist using mud, grass and dried banana leaves on their bodies.
The event is the annual "Taong Putik," where people of all ages honor St. John the Baptist, who is believed to have saved villagers from Japanese soldiers during the Japanese occupation.
The story goes that during World War 2, Filipino men were rounded up by the Japanese imperial forces in retaliation for an ambush which killed several of their soldiers.
Eugenio Alamon, 62, recounts the story as it was told by his elders: "It was 12 noon and the Filipinos were rounded up in front of the church, they were about to be shot when it suddenly rained so hard the clayish ground turned to mud. The execution was stopped and the Japanese officers changed their mind and released the prisoners. The people rejoiced and danced and played in the mud. The miracle was attributed to St. John the Baptist."
Thus, every 24th of June, people here wake up early at 4 a.m. and proceed to the nearest rice fields to get the mud from the paddies. They then walk around the community asking for candles or money to buy candles which they use for prayer intentions. They then proceed to the St. John the Baptist Chapel for a celebration of the Holy Mass.
A simple parade of the saint's statue around the community ensues, with devotees carrying lit candles and roses imitating the saint.