Manuel L. Quezon’s remarkable rise in Filipino politics and the siege of Baler are two events that placed Baler in national attention. This Tayabas (now Aurora’s capitol) town was once an isolated settlement. It didn’t have a port. By land, it can be accessed through trails that had been carved into East Luzon’s mountainous landscape approximately 300 kilometers east of Manila. I’ve never seen the coastal town famous for its surfing until this year.
The siege of Baler is among my favorite subject in Filipino historiography. The town was the last bastion of the Spanish empire. But the siege, I think, was important for us Filipinos because the incident exemplified that we were more civilized than the Americans gives us credit for. Aguinaldo’s safe conduct pass for the cazadores, ensuring that the Spaniards are treated like “amigos” and not enemies, speaks great volume of the character of the Filipino leadership. The young president’s executive order became the basis of Ed Angara’s Philippine Spanish Friendship Day.
The cazadores didn’t know that they will be the last Spaniards ever to surrender in the islands. These guys believed the war was still on and so they stubbornly held their ground until an old newspaper finally convinced the last Spanish captain that the sun has finally set on the Spanish Empire. Most Cazadores were from poor families, drafted to fight a war no one else didn’t want to wage. Their courage and gallantry became legendary back in their homeland. An old Spanish film directed by Antonio Román called “Las Ultimos Filipinos” was based on a radio drama script and two novels, “El Fuerte de Baler” and “Los Héroes de Baler”. Recently, a Filipino movie was created with the siege as the background of the love story. There was no Filipino in the unit, Rosales’ character was not based on any of the soldiers.
The church was smaller than I expected. There was no way soldiers survived more than 300 days with out support from the outside. Locals told me that their ancestors speak of how they helped the soldiers because of pity. We are a forgiving lot and it appears that Baler natives had forgiven the Spaniards even when they were still waging war. If it this was in any other nation, the Spaniards in Baler would have been dragged like animals in the streets and executed. But our Christian society, which the Spanish religious bequeathed us, even in war, does not tolerate such behavior.
The people then, according to locals now, was worried more about ridding the church of the Spanish soldiers so they could attend church than the actual battle. The Americans, understanding the symbolic significance of the Spaniards surrendering to them sent a rescue party but was annihilated by the Katipuneros. The Spaniards in the Philippines preferred to surrender to the Filipinos than the Americans. This could be coincidence but in Baler and Iloilo, the last Filipino towns under Spanish rule, both were surrendered to Filipinos.
Some facts about the Siege:
The treaty of Biak na Bato cut the Spanish forces in Baler from 400 to 50 men.
Capitan de las Morenas fearing an attack from the Katipuneros decided to move his men to the church.
Colonel Calixto Villacorta, receiving the word that the Spaniards was not surrendering used canons. It damaged but failed to topple the church.
Most soldiers died from beri-beri including two commanders. Other cause of deaths were bullet wounds, dysentery and execution. Hours before the surrender two soldiers were executed for treason.
There’s a map in the museum that shows where the soldiers were buried inside the church.
The rescue party the Americans sent to relieve the Spaniards was ambushed by Filipinos and its commander, James Gilmore, held prisoner for almost 8 months. Making Baler one of the only few towns that won battles against Spanish and Americans.
An old newspaper left by Spanish emissaries, containing the wedding announcement of an old colleague convinced the last Spanish commander that the war is over. Before this he doubted Spanish, Filipino and religious representatives (even a letter from the last Governor General). His discovery of the short article about his friend’s wedding and his relocation (which no Filipino or collaborator could have possibly known) finally convinced him to surrender.
The dress of Ann Curtis and Jerico Rosales were donated by the producer to the town’s Museum along with the awards the movie “Baler” won.