ALIAGA, Nueva Ecija: Residents of this Central Luzon town, 145 kilometers northwest of Manila, are upbeat as local and foreign tourists trek here today, June 24, for the annual “Taong Putik” (mud man) revelry.
They take pride, too, that paying homage to their patron saint—John The Baptist—through taong putik has brought miracles like a reduced crime rate and has also spared them from the devastating effects of typhoon and drought.
Police records show that for murder cases, 12 were reported in 2014, eight in 2015, and one during the first half of 2016; for homicide, six in 2014, six in 2015, and one in 2016; for rape, nine in 2014, six in 2015 and three in 2016; and for robbery, nine in 2014, seven in 2015, but none in the last six months. This means crime volume in 2014 was reduced to 112 for 2016.
Aliaga Taong Putik devotees claim that the reduced crime rate in the town is an answer to their prayers to St. John The Baptist. Every year, through their prayers and religious practice of daubing mud all over their bodies and wearing banana leaves or wild vines, residents seek penance to ward off the evil spirits that beleaguer their community, said Fr. Elmer Villamayor, parish priest of Barangay Bibiclat here.
The devotees would wake up at dawn, put on their costumes of dried mud-stained leaves and vines, then march to the village chapel stopping from house-to-house to ask for money then proceed to attend the Mass. They would later go to the river to “wash off their sins.”
This year, they are expecting last year’s number of participants and spectators to double, said Villamayor.
Sixty-year-old Venancio Peria vowed to continue being a taong putik, a family tradition his late father passed on to him, which he also wishes to be carried on by his wife Marcelina and daughter Maricel, in the event he could no longer participate.
The Aliaga folk believe in miracles Taong Putik brought to the community. Janette Miranda , 46, a regular devotee, claimed that her devotion saved her daughter after she was bitten by a snake.
Fr. Villamayor attested to this, saying that their continued devotion spared Aliaga from the devastating floods that submerged Nueva Ecija when Typhoon Lando hit the country in 2015. Also, during the height of the El Niño, they recited prayers and made a procession carrying the image of Saint John the Baptist. The following day, it rained.
Residents believe that the decline in the crime rate, usually doubled by bloody partisan politics and the proliferation of illegal drugs, owes much to their profound faith as manifested in their Taong Putik participation. Some village chieftains are also participants donning taong putik costumes.
However, Nueva Ecija police director, Senior Supt. Manuel Cornel, believes otherwise. He said the drop in crime incidence in Aliaga is a result of the local police’s hard work.
“If they believe in miracles, they should also initiate the teaching of morality among themselves. That is the best way to prevent criminals from their dastardly acts,” Cornel said.