Baler and La Amistad Duradera

The Filipino Revolution against Spain broke out in 1896. In 1897, the Pact of Biak-na-Bato offered a temporary truce between the revolutionary and the Spanish forces. But the second phase of the revolution started in June 1898 even as the Americans, through its naval flotilla under Admiral Dewey, had a month earlier opened its campaign to bring the Spanish-American War to the Philippines.

However, communications were slow and Baler was too far and isolated to even hear about these events. The 50 Spanish cazadores stationed in the town did not even get any warning about the renewed hostility against the Spanish colonial government. The Spanish troops were quartered in nipa houses around the town and lazily went about their daily routine until the local Katipuneros massed together to take over the town.

The Katipuneros of Baler under Teodorico Novicio Luna started the uprising on 28 June 1898. Capitan Enrique de las Morenas, the Spanish commander, had no choice but to retreat to the parish church- the only stone building in Baler and in the whole region.

Inside the church, the Spanish cazadores withstood fear, hunger, disease, and sporadic offensives made by the Katipuneros for 337 days. For 11 months, while the Malolos Republic wrested control of Luzon and other major islands from the Spaniards, and the Americans little by little showed their true intent to occupy the Philippines, the gallant Spanish soldiers holed up inside the church in what is called an “epic stand” to defend the last bastion of Spanish authority in the country.

The first casualty in the Siege of Baler was the old parish priest, the Franciscan Fray Gomez Carreño. An officer followed before Morena himself died in December 1898. Teniente Saturnino Martin Cerezo assumed command and it is said that his “iron will and strict discipline kept his men under absolute control.”

Meanwhile, revolutionary groups from San Miguel, Bulacan and other nearby towns augmented the local Katipuneros. In July, Colonel Calixto Villacorta from Nueva Ecija headed the siege. But Villacorta failed to enter the church and his efforts to make the defenders surrender did not weaken the resolve of Cerezo.

In May 1899, a Spanish officer, Teniente Coronel Cristobal Aguilar talked to the defenders and asked them to surrender because Spain had already ceded the Philippines to the United States. Again, Cerezo did not believe in Aguilar. Before Aguilar left, he gave the defenders some copies of the Spanish newspaper El Imparcial. An item in the newspaper made Cerezo realize that Aguilar was telling the truth.

The decree further emphasized that: “Because of the valor, constancy and heroism with which that handful of isolated men—without any hope of help—defended their banner for a period of one year, they realized an epic as glorious as the legendary valor of the son of El Cid and Pelayo.”

In short, Cerezo and his men were shipped back to Spain where they were decorated and promoted by the grateful Spanish government. But their heroism which made the admiring Aguinaldo sign an unusual decree has now become symbolic of deeper friendship between Spain and Filipinas. The decree was the first gesture of friendship and brotherhood. It dramatized that even war can bring out the best in people who share the same human values. The Siege of Baler produced neither losers nor vanquished—only heroes and victors.

This is the spirit which motivated the Philippine Senate, through the initiative of your humble servant, to enact a resolution which proclaims June 30 of every year starting 2003 as Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day. Through this annual celebration, let us commemorate the “Amistad Duradera” or Enduring Friendship which will forever unite Filipinas and Spain long after the Revolution of 1986.

May we continue to celebrate this enduring friendship.

Mabuhay ang Filipinas! Viva España!

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