The Siege of Baler, from July 1, 1898 to June 2, 1899, was a battle of the Philippine Revolution and concurrently the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War. Filipino revolutionaries laid siege to a fortified church manned by colonial Spanish troops in the town of Baler, Aurora, Philippines for 11 months or 337 days.
The battle is considered part of the Spanish-American War since the Filipinos were allied with the United States at the outset. That war ended in December 1898 with Spain's surrender and annexation of the Philippines to the United States. However, cut off from communications with their own government and military, the Spanish forces continued their defense against the Filipino forces until 1899.
Baler, Aurora located on the eastern coast of Luzon, is some 225 kilometers distant from the Philippine capital city of Manila. The Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonial rule started 1896. The Spanish garrisoned Baler, in September 1897, with fifty cazadores Lt. Jose Mota, to prevent Aguinaldo from receiving smuggled arms. Mota;s forces were attacked on the night of 4th October by Novicio's men, killing Lt. Mota and six other Spaniards, wounding several and and capturing 30 Mauser rifles.
The initial phase of the Philippine Revolution ended with a truce in 1897. By 1898, with the resumption of the Philippine Revolution, Baler was still reachable only by ship or by traversing on foot through nearly impassable jungle trails across the Sierra Madres, that were often washed out by torrential rains. During this phase of the revolution, the Philippines was involved in the Spanish-American War, and the Filipino rebels allied themselves with the American forces. This alliance would end with the outbreak of the Philippine-American War in 1899.
Baler was garrisoned by a fifty-man detachment of the 2nd Expeditionary Battalion "Cazadores" of Philippines, under Captain Enrique de las Morenas y Fossi, as the Principe district political-military governor. Ob June 1, 1898, Morenas began work to dig a well, stock food supplies and ammunition and to fortify the church compound of San Luis de Tolosa in Baler's town square against a possible attack. The church was the only stone building in the area.
On June 26, it was noticed that the town residents were leaving. On the night of the 30th, 800 Filipino troops under Teodorico Luna (A relative of the painter Juan Luna) attacked, and the garrison fell back to the church. The town priest Father Candido Gomez Carreno, also quartered himself in the church.
The first few days of the siege saw several attempts by the Filipinos to get the Spanish to surrender by leaving letters, while they surrounded the church with trenches. On July 8 the Revolutionary Commander, then Cirilo Gomez Ortiz, offered a suspension of hostilities until nightfall, which was accepted. On July 18, Calixto Villacorta took command of the Filipinos. He also sent a warning letter, which was rebuffed.
The Spanish had to endure confinement in a small, hot, humid space. As the siege progressed, their food supply began to diminish through usage and spoilage. Enemy rifle fire did cause casualties but diseases such as beriberi, dysentery, and fevers did more damage. The first Spaniard to die was Father Gomez Carreño. In September, Lt. Alonso, and then in Nov., Captain Las Morenas succombed to beriberi.
Command fell to Lt. Saturnino Martin Cerezo when Las Morenas died in December. More than once the Spanish made forays to burn nearby houses to deprive the Filipinos of much needed cover. The Filipinos attempted to smoke them out by setting fires beside the church wall but this was repulsed and their timber captured. They also tried psychological warfare on the Spanish by arranging for a couple to have sexual intercourse in plain sight.
At the start of the siege, the Spanish had provisions of flour, rice, beans, chickpeas, bacon, canned Australian beef, sardines, wine, sugar, and coffee - but no salt. Supplementing their food supplies, the Spanish foraged for pumpkins, pumpkin leaves, oranges, plantain shoots, various herbs, and planted a garden of peppers, tomatoes and pumpkins.
By mid-November, having failed to dislodge the Spanish defenders, Villacorta, under a flag of truce, left newspapers on the church steps that told of Spain's planned departure from the Philippines and that the Spanish-American conflict was over. Martin considered this a ruse. Next Villacorta brought in Spanish civilians and ultimately a uniformed Spanish officer left behind to wrap up Spain's affairs on the island, to no avail.
By 22 Nov. 1898, 145 days had elapsed since the siege began, during which 14 Spanish soldiers died of disease. Of the thirty-eight remaining troops, only twenty-three were effective, with the rest being sick. The Filipinos also had suffered casualties, mostly from Mauser rifle fire the Spanish were able to inflict on them from their protected firing positions. Gomez Ortiz was one of these.
The New Year brought more Spanish emissaries to Baler but again Martin Cerezo turned them away.At the end of Feb., the Spanish killed three carabao, eating the meat before it spoiled, and using the leather for their feet.
In April, the Americans intervened when Commander Charles S. Sperry commanding the USS Yorktown, attempted to rescue the Spanish. By this time, the Philippines had been at war with the United States since February. On a reconnaissance mission, five Americans were killed, while Lt. Gilmore, and nine others, were captured, and held prisoner by the Filipinos until rescued in Dec.
When their food ran out on 24 April, the Spanished resorted to eating stray dogs, cats, reptiles, snails and crows.
On 8 May, Filipino artillery shelling hit an improvised cell that held three Spaniards who had attempted to desert earlier in the siege. One of them, Alcaide Bayona, ran out and joined the Filipinos. This was a blow to the Spanish as the deserter had important intelligence to share about their dire straits, and helped fire the cannon on the church to good effect.
On May 28, 1899, there was yet another attempt to get Martin Cerezo to surrender. Again, another Spanish officer, Lt. Col. Cristobal Aguilar y Castaneda, appeared under a flag of truce and was turned away. He had brought recent Spanish newspapers, which Cerezo initially dismissed as bogus, until he read an article concerning a close friend's posting, plans of which only Cerezo knew, convincing Cerezo the newspapers were genuine and that indeed Spain had lost the war. On June 2, 1899, he surrendered to the Filipinos.
General Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the Philippine Revolutionary Government - [First Philippine Republic], decreed that they were to be considered "Not as prisoners of war but as friends". He further stated that "They realized an epic as glorious as the legendary valour of the son of El Cid and of Pelayo".
Three months later, on September 1, the survivors, including Martin Cerezo, arrived in Barcelona where they were received and honored as heroes. Martin-Cerezo later published a memoir, “El Sitio de Baler”, where he gave his reasons for holding out:
- “It would be somewhat difficult for me to explain, principally, I believe through mistrust and obstinacy. Then also on account of a certain kind of auto-suggestion that we ought not for any reason surrender because of national enthusiasm, without doubt influenced by the attractive illusion of glory and on account of the suffering and treasury of sacrifice and heroism and that by surrender, we would be putting an unworthy end to it all.
The two Franciscan priest, Felix Minaya and Juan Lopez, plus the Yorktown seaman George Arthur Venville, were kept as prisoner by Novicio, until the priests were rescued by the American on 3rd June 1900, having re-garrisoned Baler earlier that year.
Venville however was led to his death by the hands of Ilongots before the American arrival. Furthermore, Novicio was put on trial for ordering the Yorktown sailor Ora B. McDonald buried alive after the ambush. Found guilty, Novicio faced a life sentence of hard labor in Bilibid Prison.
Las Morenas was posthumously promoted to Major and awarded the 'Lauerate Cross of San Fernando', Spain’s highest military medal. His widow received a pension of 5,000 pesetas or pesos. Martin-Cerezo was promoted to Major with an annual pension of 1,000 pesetas. He also was decorated with the 'Royal Cross' as well as the Military Order of San Fernando and went on to become a Major General. He died in 1948. Lt. Zayas received a posthumous promotion. The enlisted men received the 'Silver Cross of Military Merit' and each of them received a monthly pension of 60 pesetas.
Of the fifty men who entered the church, around thirty survived the 11-month siege. Fourteen men died from disease. Only two men died from wounds. There were four deserters from the garrison. Two men were imprisoned for helping in the desertion of another (Alcaide), and executed on orders of Martin Cerezo on June 1, 1899, the day before the surrender.
The feat of the Spanish so inspired the American General Frederick Funston that he had Martin-Cerezo's memoir translated and gave copies to all his officers. It was published as Under the Red and Gold: Being Notes and Recollections of the Siege of Baler.
The survivors were known as "The Last Ones of the Philippines" (Spanish: Los últimos de Filipinas; A century after their return, the modern-day Spanish government paid homage to them.
The Siege of Baler commenced during the Spanish American War. However, cut off from communications with its owngovernment and military, the defenders of Baler were not aware that the war had actually ended on December 10, 1898, and continued their heroic, if futile, defense against the Philippine forces for 337 days. This is the story of the defense of Baler.
Even today, the town of Baler on the Eastern coast of island of Luzon in the Philippines is quite isolated from that nation's capital city, Manila, some 225 kilometers distant, as the crow flies. But in 1898 it was even more remote, reachable only by ship or by traversing on foot through nearly impassable jungle trails that were often washed out by torrential tropical rains.
It was no wonder that Captain Enrique de Las Morenas y Fossí, the commander of a fifty-seven man Spanish detachment of the Second Expeditionary Rifle Battalion knew nothing of the defeat of the Spanish fleet at Cavite by Commodore George Dewey on May 1 1898. And, more importantly, he was unaware that the fighting of the Spanish American War had ended with an Armistice on August 13, 1898. Nevertheless, Captain Las Morenas was fully cognizant of the threat posed by Filipino insurgents in northern Luzon. Earlier, on June 1, 1898 he began work to dig a well, stock food supplies and ammunition and to fortify the church compound of San Luís de Toledo in Baler's town square against a possible attack.
The Siege Begins:
On June 28, 1898 Las Morenas received a report that the towns residents had fled into the surrounding jungle and on the afternoon of the 29th Filipino troops bombarded the church with their "Lantaca" cannons made of hollowed out palm tree trunks and strengthened with bands of iron. They used mostly stone shot and caused little damage to the building but they made a tremendous noise when they hit the church's metal roof.
Following the noisy cannonade, a flag of truce appeared in the square in front of the church. It was carried by the town's priest, Father Candido Gomez Carerro who also bore a message from the Filipino commander, Colonel Calixto Villacorte who had a force of approximately 800 men. His note said, in part, "surrender now and you will be treated as gentlemen and if you do not, I will leave no stone standing in your stronghold." It was the first of many offers to submit made over the following eleven months that were refused by the Spanish. On that first day Las Morenas' defiant answer was, "Commence firing any time you like.” The Spanish held on to their fortress for the next 337 days despite the almost continuous Filipino assaults and worsening conditions inside the church.
Since they were trapped in the confines of a small building with windows and doors shut there was little air circulating. And, as if that was not enough discomfort, the heat and the humidity and the stench from overflowing latrines in the church yard, magnified the problem. To say nothing of the deafening missiles showered on them every day. Meanwhile, the food supply began to diminish through usage and spoilage. Enemy rifle fire did cause casualties but diseases such as beriberi, dysentery, and fevers did more damage. The first to die was Father Gomez who had elected to stay with his countrymen.
In September Captain Las Morenas came down with Beriberi. His second in command, Lt. Juan Alonzo Zayas, a native of Puerto Rico, died of wounds and command finally fell to Lt. Saturnino Martin-Cerezo when las Morenas died in October.
By mid November, having failed to dislodge the Spanish defenders Villacorte under flag of truce left newspapers on the church steps that told the story of Spain's planned departure from the Philippines and that now the war was between the Spanish and the Americans was over. Lt. Martin-Cerezo refused to believe it. As far as he was concerned this was simply a Filipino ruse. Next Villacorte brought in Spanish civilians and ultimately a uniformed Spanish Officer left behind to wrap up Spain's affairs on the island. This was to no avail. To the Lieutenant they were just Spanish turncoats in the employ of the Filipinos.
Lt. Saturnino Martin Cerezo
In December there were only 35 Spanish effectives left and Martin-Cerezo embarked on a bold plan to replenish the dwindling supply of food. Under intense covering fire he sent Privates Chamiso and Alcaide sallying out of the church and into a nearby house and set it afire. This fire rapidly spread to adjoining houses being used by the Filipino troops and forcing them to move further way from the church. The fire also burned a stand of trees that deprived the Filipinos of much needed cover. In the confusion of the fire. the Spanish recovered a considerable amount of food the insurgents left behind as well as vegetable seeds.
Unbeknownst to the defenders on December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed, in which Spain transferred the Philippines to the U.S. for a payment of $20 million. From that time, technically the Spanish defenders at Baler were fighting to defend U.S. territory. By the end of 1898, 134 days had elapsed since the siege began, during which one Spanish soldier died of wounds and thirteen of disease. Of the thirty-eight remaining troops only twenty-three were effective, with the rest being sick. The Filipinos also had suffered a casualties but mostly from the high rate of accurate Mauser rifle fire the Spanish were able to inflict on them from their protected firing positions in church windows as well as from the enclosed church yard walls and bell tower.
The new year brought more Spanish emissaries to Baler but again Lt. Martin-Cerezo turned them away. In early March the Spanish defenders had a stroke of luck when a water buffalo wandered near the church during a lull in the siege. A well aimed shot brought the animal down and the Spanish dragged the carcass back to the church yard where butchered and had meat for the first time in months.
In April the Americans got into the act when Lt. Commander James Gilmore and U.S. Marines from the gunboat USS YORKTOWN attempted to rescue the Spanish, but shortly after coming ashore, he and his twenty-five Marines were ambushed by the Filipino forces. Several Marines were wounded and Gilmore was captured and held prisoner for eight months before he escaped and made his way through the jungle and Filipino lines to Manila.
By May the Filipinos had more modern artillery and one of their shells hit the improvised cell that held three Spaniards who had attempted to desert earlier in the siege. One of them, the heretofore heroic Pvt. Alcaide dashed out and joined the Filipinos. As can be imagined this was a blow to the Spanish as Alcaide had important intelligence to share.
The end of the siege:
In any event, on the 28th of May , 1899 there was yet another attempt to get Martin Cerezo to surrender when again, another Spanish officer appeared under a flag of truce and was turned away. Before leaving he left among other items, a copy of a Madrid newspaper which the lieutenant dismissed as bogus. However the paper contained an article in the social column concerning the upcoming wedding of a fellow officer he knew in Malaga. Since there was no way the Filipinos could have known many of the facts in the column including the name of the bride and her parents with whom he was also familiar, Martin Cerezo realized that the paper he held in his hand was genuine and that indeed Spain had lost the war. On June 2, 1899 he communicated to the Filipinos that he was now ready to give up the fortress-church he held for so long and three months later, on September 1, the thirty-three survivors, including Martin-Cerezo, arrived in Barcelona where they were received and honored as heroes.
One wonders why Martin Cerezo held out so long and in spite of the many attempts to end the matter peacefully. The answer he gave in his published memoir, “El Sitio de Baler” was:
“It would be somewhat difficult for me to explain, principally , I believe through mistrust and obstinacy. Then also on account of a certain kind of auto-suggestion that we aught not for any reason surrender because of national enthusiasm, without doubt influenced by the attractive illusion of glory and on account of the suffering and treasury of sacrifice and heroism and that by surrender, we would be putting an unworthy end to it all.”
Captain Las Morenas was posthumously promoted to Major and awarded the Lauerate Cross of San Fernando, Spain’s highest military medal. His widow received a pension of 5,000 pesetas. Lt. Saturnino Martin-Cerezo was promoted to Major with an annual pension of 1,000 pesetas, annually. He also was decorated with the Royal Cross as well as the Military Order of San Fernando and went on to become a major general. He died in 1948. Lt. Zayas received a posthumous promotion. The enlisted men received the Silver Cross of Military Merit and each of them received a monthly pension of 60 pesetas
Of the fifty-seven men who entered the church of Baler on June 27, 1898, thirty-five survived the siege that lasted for 337 days. Nineteen men died, fifteen from diseases. Only two men died from wounds, the only battle casualties. There were five deserters from the garrison: Filipino natives Corporals Alfonso Sus Fojas and Tomas Paladio Paredes; and the Spaniards Felipe Herrero Lopez, Jaime Caldentey Nadal, and Jose Alcaide Bayona. Two men – Antonio Menache Sanchez and Vicente Gonzalez Toca – were imprisoned at the baptistery of the church for helping in the desertion of Alcaide, and executed on orders of Martin Cerezo on June 1, 1899, the day before the surrender.
The feat of the Spanish so inspired the American General Fredrick Funston that he had Martin-Cerezo's memoir translated and gave copies to all his officers. It was published as "Under the Red and Gold: Being Notes and Recollections of the Siege of Baler".
Martin-Cerezo, Lt. Saturnino, Under the Red and Gold: Being Notes and Recollections of the Siege of Baler. (Kansas City MO: Franklin Hudson Publishing Co., 1909) Translation by F. L. Dodds.
SIMON TECSON AND THE SIEGE OF BALER
March 25, 2013
Simon Tecson was born on February 5, 1861 in San Miguel de Mayumo (now called San Miguel), Bulacan to parents Tiburcio Tecson and Paula Ocampo. He was the second child among four siblings. Simon Tecson married Tomasa Mossesgeld Santiago, the only daughter of the wealthy landlord, Simon Bautista Santiago, of San Miguel de Mayumo.
Like thousands of other Filipinos desiring independence from Spain, Tecson joined the Katipunan when he found himself one time in Manila. When the Revolution broke out, he joined the fighting in Bulacan. In June 1897, he was appointed brigadier-general of Bulacan at the Mt. Puray Assembly.
From Cavite, General Emilio Aguinaldo transferred the revolutionary government to Biak-na-Bato, a barrio of San Miguel de Mayumo. On November 1, 1897, Isabelo Artacho and Felix Ferrer wrote a constitution for this Biak-na-Bato Republic. Tecson who at this time had become close to Aguinaldo, was chosen to be one of the signatories of the Constitution.
Towards the end of 1897, a truce in the fighting was agreed upon by both Spaniards and Filipinos. Aguinaldo agreed to go on voluntary exile to Hong Kong together with some of his friends and allies. However, Tecson did not join Aguinaldo in Hong Kong.
When Aguinaldo returned to the Philippines in May 1898, Tecson offered his services to Aguinaldo’s revolutionary army. Aguinaldo gave Tecson the rank of colonel and appointed him second in command of the 4th zone comprising the towns of San Rafael, San Miguel and San Ildefonso, Bulacan. Maintaining the peace and order of Bulacan as well as the province of Nueva Ecija became his major task.
However, Tecson would be most remembered for the event that would be later on called the Siege of Baler.
Baler is a small town located on the eastern coast of Luzon, part of the jurisdiction of the District of El Principe. In June of 1898, the Spanish forces holding Baler continued to resist whereas most of the other towns had already surrendered to Aguinaldo’s forces. Captain Enrique de las Morenas was in charge of the defense of Baler. For fear of attack, he ordered his men to seek refuge inside the church of Baler on June 27, 1898. Providing themselves with arms, ammunition and food, the Spaniards turned the church into a formidable fortress.
Aguinaldo’s forces led by Teodorico Novicio Luna surrounded the church on the following day. They demanded the surrender of the Spaniards, informing them that Manila had already fallen into the hands of the Filipinos, and that Spanish forces in other parts of the country had already capitulated. However, the Spaniards refused to surrender, not believing what the Filipinos told them.
In response, Teodorico Novicio Luna’s troops bombed the church with several rounds of cannon fire. However, the church was able to withstand repeated cannon fire due to its thick walls. Next, the Filipinos sent newspapers detailing the fall of Manila to demoralize the Spaniards and eventually to convince them to surrender. Capt. De las Morenas destroyed the newspapers in the hope that his men do not lose heart. In another occasion, two Franciscan priests, Fray Juan Lopez and Fray Felix Minaya, were sent to the church with the aim of convincing the Spaniards to surrender. However, the two friars sided with the Spaniards and decided to stay in the church with them.
As the days and weeks passed by, provisions started to run out inside the church. Moreover, the
Spanish defenders had become sick with beriberi, scurvy, and dysentery, fatally reducing their number. Captain de las Morenas died on November 22, 1898, leaving to 2nd Lieutenant Saturnino Martin Cerezo command of the garrison.
Towards the end of May 1899, Governor General Diego de los Rios sent an emissary to Lt. Cerezo to make him and his men surrender to the Filipinos. After reading the Spanish newspaper El Imparcial, Cerezo concluded that there was no more reason to fight. The said newspaper reported that Spain had already ceded the Philippines to the United States. For Cerezo, there was, therefore, no need to fight since the Philippines did not belong to Spain anymore.
The end of the Siege of Baler occurred on June 2, 1899. Lt. Cerezo and his aides went outside of the church to negotiate the terms of surrender. Representing Aguinaldo and the newly-established Philippine Republic was Col. Simon Tecson. Lt. Cerezo proposed to Col. Tecson that the Spanish troops would not be treated as prisoners of war. This was agreeable to Col. Tecson so that thereafter he, together with Maj. Nemesio Bartolome, signed the agreement for the Filipinos. Martin Cerezo signed together with Vigil Quiñones for the Spaniards. With the terms of surrender completed, the rest of the Spanish troops marched out of the church with their weapons while Filipino troops lined up the pathway. Out of the more than 50 soldiers who sought refuge in the church of Baler before the siege, only 35 survived.
The Siege of Baler represents the culmination of the more than three hundred-year hostility between Filipinos and Spaniards. It ended in forgiveness and reconciliation. This event is made even more memorable through the passage of Republic Act No. 9187 on February 5, 2003 calling for the celebration of Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day every June 30. The historic Siege of Baler honors the Filipino and Spanish heroes who fought and died for their principles.1
The Siege Of Baler: Versions And Contradictionsby Jose Maria A. Cariño
The truth about what really transpired inside the walls of the church in Baler may never be known. It should be noted that there appeared to be a code of silence among all the Spaniards who suffered the Siege of Baler. According to writer Manuel Leguineche: "The military kept their silence because they are the military, the priests for being priests, the best words are those that have not been uttered. There was a pact of silence, nobody uttered a word."
On the other hand, from the side of the Filipinos, there was no local chronicler or writer who meticulously wrote a detailed account on all the events from a Philippine perspective. Thus, most of what is known today is secondary information passed on and handed down from generation to generation of Baler inhabitants and descendants of the Filipinos involved in the saga.
The two primary sources in Spain are firsthand written accounts on the Siege of Baler: Saturnino Martin Cerezo's EI Sitio de Baler; Notas y Recuerdos, Guadalajara, 1904, and the diaries of Father Felix Minaya y Rojo, O.F.M, which used to be kept in the Archivo de Pastrana, Guadalajara, but are now at the Franciscan archives in Madrid. Father Minaya's diaries were never published, although journals based on the diaries of Father Minaya, written by Father Lorenzo Perez and published by the Franciscans in Spain, came out much later. The fact that Father Minaya's diaries were not published in toto pointed to the possibility that there were passages that would have put the church in a bad light, thus Father Lopez's "sanitized" version. Cerezo's book went on to become a best-seller, with several editions and reprints including the latest in October 2005. Martin Cerezo's book translated into English by F.L. Dodds as notes and recollections of the Siege of Baler, with the title in red and gold. It became a vade mecum, a handbook or guideline, for American military academies on survival in a siege.
Among the first noticeable differences between the stories of the military man and the priest was that Father Minaya's diary was written during and immediately after the siege, just as a personal record of what transpired in Baler. On the other hand, Lieutenant Cerezo's account was published in 1904 for a general public in mind. It also appears that Lieutenant Cerezo's account has the triple objectives of glorifying the military, of serving as a venue for his own promotion within the military, and as his own public relations campaign for the consumption of the public.
Another observation that must be highlighted is that after the siege, the Spanish soldiers were feted and honored then sent back to Spain. On the other hand, both surviving priests, Father Juan Lopez and Father Felix Minaya, were retained by the Katipunan in Baler after the end of the siege, and were only allowed to leave Baler on 4 June 1900. Both priests arrived in Manila on 28 August of the same year. In 1901 Father Lopez was sent back by the Missionary Prelate as parish priest of Baler. He also became parish priest in Calauan and Bay in La Laguna. He then returned to Spain and died in Pastrana on 20 July 1922. On the other hand, Father Felix Minaya continued his evangelical work in the Philippines and became parish priest of Los Banos, Laguna, for many years, and there he died on 3 January 1936. These facts seemed to point to the fact that it was the two priests, Father Minaya and Father Lopez who should be considered "Los Ultimos de Filipinas," rather than the soldiers, because these priests were retained in Baler and continued to do evangelical work in the Philippines long after the soldiers had returned to Spain. Both priests appeared to have been loved by their parishioners.
Father Minaya's diary has a full reference on the suicide of the young Lieutenant Mota, while Lieutenant Cerezo's account dismisses it as a loss and without any reference to the suicide. On the side of the priests, this emphasis may be attributed to the fact that Father Gomez Carreno was initially suspected of having sided with the Katipuneros and was himself suspected of murdering Lieutenant Mota. This was later disproved by the testimony of the Guardia Civil Corporal Pio Enrique. On the other hand, a suicide among the ranks of the military may have been considered dishonorable by Lieutenant Martin Cerezo, thus the effort to omit or dismiss the whole incident completely.
The distrust between the priests and the soldiers is evident when comparing the two accounts. In his book, Lieutenant Cerezo writes about his suspicion that the 70 cavans of rice that Father Gomez purchased from the natives of Binagonan de Lampon was meant to be resold to the Baler inhabitants later for profit. As this was against the canons of the church, the Franciscans denied this completely after the release of the book stating that the rice was for the consumption of the priest and the people who served with the priest. Of course, it cannot be denied that some Spanish priests did abuse their authority and committed un-priestly acts during their stay in Spain's colonies.
Lieutenant Cerezo also accused the two priest of being unpatriotic and siding with the Katipuneros when they were sent to the church of Baler during the siege to mediate the surrender of the detachment and to convince the Spanish soldiers of the futility of their action. Lieutenant Cerezo was further irked when Captain Las Morenas decided to keep the two priests in the church as they were "two additional useless mouths to feed and to share the scarce and dwindling food supplies that they were able to store in the church." Again, the priests had the advantage of knowing that Manila had surrendered to the Americans and that it was just a matter of time when the Americans would come to Baler and the Spanish soldiers would have to go home to Spain., with their tails between their legs, bearing the shame of defeat, thus their good faith and eloquent arguments for the surrender. On the other hand, the military group's obstinacy, and fear of dishonor convinced them that the priests were lying. It was a typical case of a great force meeting head-on an immovable object. The fact that the priests stayed on in the Philippines long after the end of the war caused even more distrust on the part of Lieutenant Cerezo.
In a typically military point of view, Lieutenant Martin Cerezo makes little reference to the roles that the priests played in keeping the spirits of the soldiers alive. There must have been more than one instance of desperation when the soldiers felt depressed and so emotionally drained that they required the spiritual counsel of the priests.
A question that was raised by the Franciscan priests after the siege was why Lieutenant Cerezo obstinately refused to surrender in spite the sure defeat of the Spanish armed forces by the Americans, comparing his action with Teodorico Luna y Novicio's immediate surrender of his arms and soldiers after the Pact of Biak-na-Bato too effect.
There appears to have been disagreements too between Lieutenant Martin Cerezo and the medical officer Doctor Rogelio Vigil de Qui�ones. Lieutenant Martin Cerezo dismisses the role of the good doctor with very few words in his book. His praise is limited to the statement that the doctor was proficient in matters of sanitation, but that he had few skills in other tasks. Doctor Vigil de Quiñones, whose Hippocratic oath committed him to the saving of lives, did not agree with the last-minute execution of the two soldiers whom Lieutenant Martin Cerezo accused of trying to desert. The doctor found the executions an unnecessary loss of lives.
Neither did the lieutenant make reference in his book to the fact that Doctor Vigil de Qui�ones often left the church to help the wounded Filipino Katipuneros and to treat, the sick among the inhabitants of the town. These actions of Doctor Vigil de Quiñones rankled Lieutenant Cerezo and resulted in arguments between the two, which the surviving soldiers refused to talk about. Lieutenant Cerezo considered these life- saving missions as acts of treason, while Doctor Vigil de Quiñones argued that he was only doing his job as a doctor and following the Hippocratic oath of saving lives, that what he did had nothing to do with his loyalty to his country and that he did not believe in any ideology: For his part, Lieutenant Cerezo probably did not mention these medical missions of the kind doctor in his book in order to protect him from accusations of treachery.
This endeared the doctor to the people of Baler and resulted in acts of mercy from the Katipuneros and the Balerenos, including providing the besieged soldiers with food and even allowing their carabaos to wander within firing range of the Spaniards so that they would have food to eat. In his book, Lieutenant Cerezo calls the sudden appearance of carabaos in the fields between the combatants a stroke of luck. little did he know that the Filipino's love for this domesticated animal would have prevented them from putting the animals in harm's way. Lieutenant Cerezo wrote that the carabaos were wild and had been allowed to wander in also as food for the Katipuneros. This was quite illogical as the Katipuneros controlled the town and had all the food and the carabaos they needed. Other acts of kindness by the Filipino troops, such as the time when Captain Antonio Santos of the Katipuneros presented himself at the doorsteps of the church and offered to allow the besieged Spanish soldiers to gather native oranges from the trees of the town plaza without being fired at and which was immediately accepted, were not given importance in Lieutenant Martin Cerezo's book. It appears that an acceptance of any form of act of mercy from the enemy may lessen the heroic stance of the detachment.
Doctor Vigil de Quiñones was a man of excessive modesty and a man of honor. When later asked about Lieutenant Martin Cerezo, Doctor Rogelio Vigil de Quiñones, in his typical discreet, reserved, and gentlemanly fashion had answered, and one has to read between the lines, "The lieutenant had to be harsh to maintain discipline. He was a good military man."
It is not for us to judge the acts of each and every protagonist. Rather we are only showing the post-siege observations of the protagonists and the public, as well as the hindsight analyses of their actions made by them and other observers. The protagonists acted in the manner they thought best considering the situation at that moment in time. They also acted based on their social background, educational level, experience, and the training that each received in their chosen careers. Nothing much can be gained from criticizing their mistakes, but rather, what is important are the lessons that the future generations can learn from the Siege of Baler, like the futility of war and the unnecessary loss of lives.
The story of Baler is one of heroism, courage, love of freedom, patriotism, endurance, chivalry and humanity. It is however also a story of conflict, distrust, suffering, self-preservation, selfishness, obstinacy, and self-interest. In the final analysis, the story of the Siege of Baler is really the story of heroes. The Katipuneros fought for their independence, their freedom, thus Teodoro Luna Novicio and his soldiers are heroes of the Philippine revolution. They fought off the foreign invader for their God- given right to liberty and self-governance. The Spanish soldiers are heroes who stood by their principles and obeyed the orders of their superiors, for their own perception of the glory of God and country. The priests are also heroes, who had to tread the thin line between remaining patriots of their motherland, while serving the spiritual needs of their parishioners who were at the same time their flock and their enemies. Theirs was the more difficult task of balancing what was required of them as patriots with the demands of Christian canons. In this conflict all the protagonists have learned the truth in the saying "It takes nine months for a man to be born, but only a second for him to die."
Using today's libertarian and egalitarian principles, the true hero of the story of Baler among the Spaniards, in my opinion is Doctor Rogelio Vigil de Quiñones, who, in spite the grave wounds inflicted on him, continued to cure and tend to the sick of both sides. He did not allow his loyalty for his country to interfere with his humanity and his Hippocratic oath to save lives and his love for the gift of life. On the part of the Filipinos, the act of treating the beaten enemy as friends and heroes instead of prisoners is also one of the greatest expressions of mercy, chivalry, and humanity. Many times Rogelio Vigil de Quiñones reminded his children and his grandchildren that were it not for the generosity, mercy, and the chivalry of the Filipinos, he would not be alive and his descendants would not have been born.
The story of Baler is not the story of the end of Philippine relations with Spain. In fact one hundred years later, it created the ground for new relations between the two countries. Today it is a relationship based on fraternity and equality. More importantly, it has created and eternal bond and a threshold for future relations based on a bedrock of shared history, civilization and culture.
Present photo of the Church of Baler.
The Siege of Baler is like another Alamo
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