It’s rare to meet people these days who do things out of passion. Like this guy I met supervising Museo de Baler on a Sunday. Not someone getting paid that much for sure but the service he renders benefits the community – and for him this is enough compensation. He’s proud of his contribution – he must be becayse the institution he volunteers for is one of the most impressive provincial administered museum I’ve ever visited. Thanks to people like Sen. Eduardo Angara, a staunch proponent of promoting Baler’s history, our museum agencies, the local officials (all of ’em Angara) and the Spanish government.
Ever since 2003 when the Philippine Spanish Friendship Day came to being the town started getting more visitors, Spaniards, foreigners and locals. There’s a renassance in studying Baler’s great past. Even interest in learning Spanish increased among the local youth. The celebration is not only helping boost local tourism but educate as well. The town aside from its wonderful natural resources is one of the most historical in the country. It holds the distinction of being the only known town to have actually won battles against the Spanish and American forces.
Quezon’s Nipa Haus
Within the garden of the museum, near the fish ponds where tilapias are kept, is the old nipa hut of President Quezon’s family. Its a replica since such structures could not last very long but it gives one a picture of how the Quezon’s lived. A sharp contrast from the well situated ancestral bahay na bato of Manuel’s wife Aurora not far. I was told by some elders that some of Quezon’s children and grandchildren still visit the town. The reason I inquired about the Quezon’s of Baler is because I noticed that there’s no one from this family (or none that I know of) that has become a prominent local politician. Usually you’d expect the descendants of a political giant like Quezon would hang around and run for public office.
The museum have photos, memorabilias and documents of its foremost son. Some believe that he was a friar’s bastard which to many explains his kastila looks and intellect. Such gossips pop out every now and then in Philippine history – and a lot of us have a good appetite for such nasty chismis. Its fascinating how these rumors are spoken as if they’ve been proven. I remember what Nick Joaquin said about Quezon’s physical appearance, “except for his height, he did not look like a Filipino”. The Spanish speaking Quezon could easily pass for a European but people like him, his generation, is without a doubt the greatest Filipinos that has ever served their nation.
One thing that baffled me while I was in Baler was how can a small town, almost isolated by the mountains that surrounds it, produce such a brilliant mind with such a strong character like Quezon? After observing the town I understood why. Baler during those days was clearly more than just a small fishing barrio, they had a learned and sophisticated community. It provided the right conditions to produced such promising men. The education was good and those that excelled sent to further their studies in Manila (Quezon was sent to Manila by the Franciscans). Another fine example of such men is Juan Angara, the grandfather of Eduardo, who became the first medical practitioner to return and practice to his native barrio. It’s lamentable that these days our small towns could no longer produce such exemplary minds, which only goes to show how our educational system has nose dived into a state of misery.
Museo de Baler
The first items that greeted me inside the museum was our flag together with that of the Spanish. The Philippine Spanish Friendship Day is big celebration here. They just had one five months ago.
Sen. Angara has been very active in promoting the ties with Spain. He believes that the celebration reminds us all of “what has become an exemplary narrative manifesting the best of human traits in a time of conflict: courage, resolve, gallantry, and nobility… the same qualities that up to now form our special ties with Spain, under whose tutelage we first learned to appreciate the benefits of history, to look back to our past for moral strength and heroic inspiration”. Angara has brought and invited some of the descendants of the Spanish soldiers of Baler. In the museum one can find a detailed map showing the actual burial location in the church of those who perished during the one year long struggle. Their pictures are there and one person caught my interest as he shares my last name. I wonder if he’s in any way related to my great grandfather, himself a Spaniard. This soldier died 14th of November 1898 of beri-beri, the disease that took the lives of most of the fighting Spanish contingent.
There are displays inside the museum that even the trusty tour guide did not approve as they have nothing to do with Baler. The National Museum placed them there for some reason. The second storey have dedications in Spanish and the entire focus was the events we came to know as the “Siege of Baler” and the Spanish era Baler. An interesting addition are the movie items that were donated by the cast of “Baler”. I think the costumes were that of Anne Curtis and Rozales’. The producers of the movie also gifted the museum with the awards they won.
Baler holds the distinction of being the town where the last Spanish troops surrendered. Its interesting how from this dramatic stand off between Filipino and Spanish soldiers sprang a friendship born out of nothing more than respect for each other. I think Aguinaldo’s act of not only accepting the terms of the Spaniards holed up in the church of Baler but considering them “amigos” not to be harmed was one of his greatest achievement as chief executive (this act inspired the likes of Edong Angara to make the day of surrender the day for the Philippine Spanish Friendship Day). A class act that showed the world the kind of people we are in a time when the American’s had looked down on us as a people.