Tag Archives: baler

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

Images of Baler

After arriving from work today, I slouched on my bed then fell asleep without changing clothes. It was a long, tiring day – the kind that drives you crazy.

In my sleep, I dreamt about that trip I made in Baler last year. I’ve been away for months now and if there’s one thing that I really miss doing that is traveling around the country.

Back home, when I’m stressed out I would try to venture out to the provincial side during the weekends. Always works for me. Seeing the natural environment of our far flung provinces –  the seas, rice fields, mountains, traditions, food – I feel most alive – I get a high doing this. It is as if my soul feeds off from the energy that comes out from these wonderful creations.

I know that the dream that I just had was my homeland calming my soul. The Baler that I saw in my dream was what I saw last year. Peaceful, scenic, bucolic, almost isolated. So real it was that if I didn’t woke up from it I would have died thinking I was there in Baler. Life after all can be just layers of dreams.

I could remember, somewhere on my way to Baler while looking at the mountains, listening to Asin’s “Himig ng Pagibig”  having goosebumps and tearing up a little. I’ve seen some amazing things around but only in my native land that I feel this connection.

I have more to write about Germany including a recent venture to the hill town of Wilhelmsfeld where Rizal finished his Noli.

For now, I continue revisiting the memory of my past travels in My Filipinas.

You wake up seeing this…

Ermita hill gives you a wonderful vista of the coastal town

Panorama of Baler town

Crossing the calm river of Baler

May 2012

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.

Around Nueva Ecija

For a country that complains about population and poverty, we sure forget about our abundant natural resources. I’m fascinated to find places where there’s so much land and hardly any people. But we’re too complex, too underdeveloped, too disunited a people to solve our problems – that’s what I keep on hearing. We get caught up fighting among ourselves and forget what God has given to us. If only we can manage our resources for the benefit of our countrymen we can achieve what our neighbors have already achieved.

While I was traveling around Nueva Ecija (passing by Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac reaching as far as Nueva Viscaya) I saw what seemed to to be endless rice fields. Monotonous greens stretching for miles, enormous potential for agricultural growth. Countless flowing rivers and tributaries that drains to the pacific. Nature seem to provide a structure of support for the temporal needs of man – everything we ever need, our land could provide. We are truly blessed.

I must have been dreaming the whole time. The picturesque view of the great plains of Luzon was something that I really wanted to see this time of the year. The rice fields is at its greenest now –  later on,  it turns into fields of gold.

How beautiful the countryside is! After seeing this, how can you not want to leave our polluted metropolitan?

Tarlac, Nueva Ecija & Nueva Vizcaya: Luzon’s Heartland

I started asking myself, why is it that we could not produce enough rice  for our own people? Have we become so incompetent that for the most basic of our needs, we need the help of other countries?

Strange is that we have the world renowned research institution for rice and yet we’re the perennial losers in rice production. We made our neighbors self sufficient in rice production. But look at us – so dependent on imported rice.We help improve foreign production so we can import more? Obviously, somethings wrong with the picture.

I’m no expert on these matters, but a few years ago I started speaking with farmers. These conversations made me think about what’s been going on in our country’s farms and plantations. What they have to say changed a lot of what I believe and thought I knew in Philippine agriculture and life.

Farmers are not the problem. They’ll always work the fields no matter what. Given the right conditions and support, you can expect them to produce more. The shortage is caused by the mismanagement of our resources and corruption. Our leaders inability to carry out programs that promote and sustain production has been dragging our rice production to the pits.

The government needs to protect the farmers and provide them with the needed economic life support so they get the most from their labors. Farmer production is at its best when properly supported by government initiatives and when farmers are not cheated. When they have enough – they can take care of their families. Programs must be aimed at making it possible for the farmers to keep as much as they could when they sell. You don’t want them in welfare forever – improving their economic status and educating their children will eventually liberate them from poverty.

A farmer told me that they’re perhaps the most debt ridden workers in the country today. Everything they need, they have to “loan” first. Promising their creditors payment when crops have been harvested. If all things goes according to plan, they’ll have enough to pay those debts and what’s left they take home. Now, in the event that natural disaster destroys their fields (which happens a lot) they would have to wait for the next season so they can pay off their debts – and yes, they still owe what they loaned the previous planting season which has already incurred interest.

Irony is that the harder these people work the less they seem to get in return. Life is so hard and cruel for these people but you’ll be surprise to see them happy – always having a good laugh. They’re the happiest people I’ve ever met. They accept the cards that has been dealt to them. People like them makes it hard for someone like me to complain about my problems. For all the greed that exist in our society these days, these farmers reminds me of something noble, honest and beautiful. I’ll never lose hope in the Filipino for as long as they’re here with us.

A calm lake on top of a mountain somewhere in Nueva Vizcaya. The still waters reflects the nearby mountains.

The bridge was named after Antonio Luna who was murdered here in Cabanatuan.

Somewhere in Rizal, NE. Another town named after the hero.

People are trying to catch fishes here trapped in shallow pools. Some use electric poles that shocks fishes.

Taken while inside the bus.

High above the mountains of northern Luzon. Near Pantabangan lake.

Unlike the rivers that have brownish flowing water (it has been raining the past few days), this "batis" is crystal clear. I was told that its water is safe for drinking.

There was just so many of these rivers and tributaries in Nueva Ecija that I lost count. This was one of the widest.

These rice fields, or tubigan as farmers call it, is just about 20 to 30 km's north of Cabanatuan.

More of what appears to be an unending sea of greenery.

Hacienda Luisita is so huge the it have an exit in SCTEX.

Daylight almost out. Somewhere in Pampanga.

Lahar deposits, 10 years after (near Clark)...

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