Faith and Spirituality

Like John the Baptist? Riotous San Juan revelers face gov’t penalties

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Like John the Baptist? Riotous San Juan revelers face gov’t penalties

HAPPY FIESTA? A viral Facebook video by Gian Russel Bangcaray shows the merrymaking in San Juan during the annual Wattah Wattah Festival, June 24, 2024.

Screenshots from Gian Russel Bangcaray/Facebook

The San Juan government runs after residents who engaged in riotous behavior and broke an ordinance during the Wattah Wattah Festival

Whenever merrymakers in San Juan splash water on passersby every June 24, they say they do it to honor and imitate Saint John the Baptist.

John the Baptist, one of the most famous saints in the Catholic Church, is the cousin of Jesus who baptized him in the Jordan River and was later ordered arrested – and beheaded – by King Herod for his fiery words. His feast day is June 24, which is celebrated in San Juan with a water festival called Basaan (Dousing of Water) or Wattah Wattah.

Like John the Baptist? Riotous San Juan revelers face gov’t penalties

While Basaan is an annual tradition, however, the San Juan city government placed limits in a 2018 ordinance to protect people in public and private vehicles, many of whom have nothing to do with the feast and only want to earn a living. This year, complaints went viral on social media about revelers who doused water on motorcycle riders, truck drivers, and jeepney passengers in office clothes.

Like John the Baptist, erring residents now find themselves in trouble with government – but for not-so-noble reasons.

In a statement on Facebook on Thursday, June 27, the local government unit (LGU) of San Juan said it is running after fiesta revelers who caused public disorder.

“Reports of chaotic behavior have reached the local government of San Juan, and we are seriously responding to all complaints regarding the Basaan last June 24,” said the LGU in an announcement in Filipino.

The San Juan City government said it is “actively gathering evidence” and is examining submitted videos “to identify those who violated City Ordinance No. 51, series of 2018, and other prevailing laws.” “Individuals found to have violated the ordinance and other prevailing laws will be held accountable and fined according to the full range of the law,” the LGU added.

According to City Ordinance No. 51, series of 2018, the following are prohibited when the Wattah Wattah Festival is observed:

  • using dirty water, water bombs, water in plastic bottles or glass containers, and other similar materials that can harm people
  • forcing to open public and private vehicles to splash water on passengers
  • threatening or hurting individuals
  • rocking or shaking vehicles
  • boarding public utility vehicles (PUVs) such as jeepneys and buses to douse water on passengers
  • selling, buying, and consuming alcohol from 12:01 am until 3 pm on June 24 each year

Violators face the following penalties:

  • 1st offense – fine of P2,500 ($43) and one day of community service
  • 2nd offense – fine of P3,500 ($60) and three days of community service
  • 3rd offense – fine of P5,000 ($85) and one to six days in detention

The San Juan City government apologized to those affected by the merrymakers’ misbehavior, and promised to do their best to avoid a repeat in the future.

“Basaan is a religious and cultural tradition that is conducted in San Juan for the annual celebration of the Feast of Saint John the Baptist,” the LGU explained, adding that it “symbolizes the baptism” performed by John the Baptist on Jesus. 

Every June 24, Basaan is celebrated in other towns and cities in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country known for its age-old traditions that are not necessarily sanctioned by the Catholic Church. One of the places that observe Basaan is Barangay Don Galo in Parañaque City.

In the Rappler Communities app, faith chat room users Michael Dalogdog and Anton Maria Francesco Carabeo shared photos from the annual Basaan on Monday. 

Person, Bathing, Rain
CELEBRATION. The Feast of Saint John the Baptist is celebrated in Don Galo, Parañaque, on June 24, 2024, with the ‘Basaan’ tradition of dousing people with water.

Carabeo said it was “quite nostalgic” for him, but “sadly, it seems that Basaan has leveled down to mere revelry and partying.” He attributed this to  “lack of catechism, a root cause of most problems in the Church nowadays.” It is, in fact, a problem bemoaned by church leaders who say that many Filipinos have a shallow understanding of their Catholic faith.

Ah, if only we met the sharp-tongued San Juan! – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.