Category Archives: Aurora

1898 Los Ultimos de Filipinas & día de la amistad



The other day I ate lunch while watching the Spanish film “1898: los ultimos de filipinas”. June 30 is our “día de la amistad” with Spain. 

The Siege inspired the official commemoration of the “Friendship Day” that very few Filipinos knows. You see, even laws can’t force people to remember.

This is the second movie about Baler that I have seen. First was the local romance drama “Baler” directed by Mark Meilly. It’s a rare quality period film.

“1898: los últimos de filipinas” story is anchored on the struggle of young soldier Carlos and the proud Teniente Cerezo.

If you’ve been to Baler’s church you’d have an idea of the church‘s dimensions. It’s uncharacteristically small for the region. The Spanish soldiers live, fought and died inside—even burials were within the church’s grounds.

The Franciscan church was in effect the last Spanish territory to be surrendered, and the garrisoned men, the last defenders of the Spanish realm.

Largely forgotten was the US rescue party, led by Lt. Gillmore (recommended reading is Westphal’s, “The Devil’s Causeway”). There’s political gain in it for the Americans. The Spanish capitulating to Filipinos legitimizes their claim for independence. 

A few days ago I wrote a blog about the heritage houses in San Miguel. The Siege’s leader was a native of that town, Col. Simon Tecson. The “Pact of Biak-na-Bato” was  signed in his house.

My favorite character in “1898” is the eccentric Franciscan. Not the typical portrayal of friars but the role reflected their ingenuity. 

They understood the locals, built and expanded their church, contributed to local culture. They were the figurative boots-on-the-ground of the empire.

In the last months before their capitulation, it was Cerezo’s iron will that held the troops together. He refused orders from superiors thinking that they were faked documents.

Then a published newspaper report of the reassignment of a comrade got him thinking. He then accepted that the newspapers, and all what he heard about Spain finally losing her colonies were indeed true.

His story brought to mind the Japanese strugglers who refused surrender believing the war has not ended. The last was Mr. Onoda. He went back home two decades after imperial Japan yielded to Allied forces.

I recommend “Flames Over Baler” by Carlos Madrid as resource for those interested in Baler. He scrupulously laid down all the Siege’s history based on original documentary sources.

I met the author in 2014. We had lunch in Binondo along with Guillermo Gomez Rivera and Pepe Alas. He was then the OIC of Instituto Cervantes.

Now back to the movie. 

The beautiful “indigena tagala” is Spanish Filipina Alexandra Masangkay. Comandante Luna was played by versatile actor Raymond Bagatsing. Both were outstanding in their roles.

The movie was shot in Guinea Ecuatorial, Canary Islands and Tenerife. I was a tad disappointed that no scene was shot in the Philippines!

To this day, the incident in Baler is remembered in Spain. With the Siege’s end, Spain lost their last colony.

The Spanish used to say that the sun never sets in all her dominions. 

That day in Baler it did.



Visiting Museo de Baler

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.

The facade of Museo de Baler with sculpted images of the town’s significant historical events

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.

The Quezon’s old home. This one’s a replica. I’m not sure if the measurements were based on the original. And that is not the Quezon’s tricycle!

Walking around the popular nipa house that symbolizes the amazing rise of Baler’s greatest son from humble beginnings. A Philippine president once live in a similar dwelling. That’s just fascinating.

Around the area these banners of the Philippine Spanish Friendship Day can be found.

España y Filipinas. The flag of the colony and her former Madre España

Amazing church centuries old relics


I love old church bells. This one was founded in 1800!

For some reason, Anne Curtis’ dress in the movie Baler made it to the museum.

October 2011

About the Siege of Baler

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.

Up and ready for a dawn rosary prayer. The Older Baler generation are devout Catholics like their ancestors who were indoctrinated to Catholicism by the first Franciscan missions.

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” andLos 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.

Thoughts on Demolished Municipal Buildings

I’m no longer surprised when I see demolished old government buildings. Next to the classic Filipino house, old Municipal buildings are greatly subjected to neglect and eventual destruction. There are number of reason why local governments elect to destroy existing old buildings. Most consider it impractical to maintain, others feel that it had already served its purpose and that its time for a bigger modern building with more offices that could accommodate more government business.

Obviously we’re missing something in our understanding of how to treat the issue of old run down government buildings. Because if we are to replace them all, which is what we are witnessing today, then we are fast replacing tangible history with steel and glass.

And we’ve lost a considerable number of old municipal buildings (most are 50 to 80 year old structures).

Is this the price we are willing to pay for modernization?

Sure, there are safety concerns that must be addressed but the manner by which these buildings are demolished without consultations with the community and historical authorities are alarming to say the least.

While the rubble of recently demolished Baler municipal hall still litters the area surrounding it, not far stands the new municipal building. This baffled me. Why destroy the old building if the new one would not be built where it stands anyway?

While other countries are scampering to save what’s left of their old districts, buildings and monuments – we casually destroy ours.

Perhaps, there are reasons beyond my comprehension. I’m not saying what Baler officials did was wrong or bad. If the locals agreed to this changes–then I rest my case.

As a people, we have to seriously reassess where we are heading with our continued obsession for removing everything except those that we see modern. Confused as we are as to what is true Filipino history, without tangible historical structures, we’ll become more ignorant of who we are. The more ignorant we become of our history, the less free we become as a people.

Speaking of old municipal halls, Bauan’s recently made news after the local government made known their plan to build a new building to replace it. Fortunately, the people together with heritage conservation advocates stepped in. Good thing is that the local government has shown willingness to listen and preserve their art deco building. There are on going consultations with experts on how to deal with the issue (incorporating the old building with the new one is an option that is being studied).

Crossing a River in Baler

I just love engaging locals in conversations. I learn the most from them. This is why for me, there’s no better way to travel but to do it like a local do. While its comfortable to rent vehicles and stay in comfortable resorts, it keeps you away from the real world – the one that locals had to live with and work around.

While I was in Baler, I learned that the local government tried (I think they’re still at it) to construct a bridge that would connect Sabang to the fishing barrio where Ermita hill is located. Their efforts of building that bridge had all failed. Wasting money and resources that the province don’t have (still locals find humor in this “kapalpakan” of their officials). There’s  a bridge farther upstream where people with cars and rented vehicles (often tricycles for two hundred bucks or more) pass. The only reason tourist cross this river is to visit the site called Ermita Hill.

I found out from locals that it would only cost P5 to cross the river by a small wooden boat (paddled like a Venetian gondola) that can carry 4 to 6 people. So I walked from my place to the area where I can catch that five peso boat ride. There I saw some craftsman working on traditional fishing boats. There was some gambling going on as it was a Sunday.

The river is about 500 meters wide and since it rained hard the previous night, the water was murky and flowing a bit strong towards the bay (less than a kilometer from where we are crossing).

Still trying to write about that 3 day stay in Baler. What a great town. I heard that the town got battered by the recent typhoon(s). My prayers are with you Baler.

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