by: Quennie Ann J. Palafox

      All books depicting the stories of war have always had sad endings as war was never splendid or heroic regardless of its cause when it captures many lives including innocent victims. The color red in the Philippine flag symbolizes the valor of the Filipinos who offered their lives for the cause of the revolution- it is the blood of the Filipino people that surged for the fight for freedom that gave its red color. Similar to that of a game, war is divided by two opposing sides but only one will emerge as the victor. In the ancient period, the conquered militia is either killed en masse or enslaved. 

     In the episode of the Siege of Baler in Philippine History, the spotlight does not focus on the capitulation but the ‘renewal of the friendship’ between the two enemies, the Filipinos and the Spanish forces. There was a friendship that sprouted between the two parties because the Filipinos for a long time they had been loyal to the Spaniards as the seed of Catholicism germinated in their hearts.

      This friendship underwent a difficult test when the Filipinos demanded freedom from the Spaniards that the latter rejected, and so a revolution had ensued. When the sentiments shifted against the Spaniards, the locals led by Teodorico Luna Novicio, Norberto Valenzuela, and Antero Amatorio established a Katipunan chapter in Baler around 1897. The fiery desire to be unchained from the colonial string was epitomized in the following events on October 3, 1897:  the attacks of the residence of the politico military governor of Principe in Baler and the town’s school and commandancia. This fighting between the revolutionist and Spanish troops lasted until October 10. Those who managed to survive the attack took refuge inside the Baler Church.

       The conclusion of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato on December 24, 1897 eased the Spanish garrison from 400 to only 50 men. The new garrison which arrived in February 1898 was led by Capt. Enrique de las Morenas and was provided with arms, ammunition, and food consisting of garbanzos or chickpeas, wine, bacon, biscuits, Australian corned beef, sardines, coffee, sugar, olive oil, and 70 cavanes of unhusked rice.  The town now a deserted place, Spanish Captain de las Morenas gathered his men to the Baler Church on June 27, 1898 for fear of enemy attack.  The Baler Church would be a haven for these Spanish forces being isolated from the outside world for the next eleven months. Novico Luna’s troops started to attack the church by surrounding it on the following day and fires broke out in the town on June 30, 1898. Demanding the Spanish to surrender, the revolutionist left a letter in front on the church including in the letter the news that Manila fell into the hands of Filipino troops and that Spanish forces in other parts of the country had already capitulated.

       On July 19, Col. Calixto Villacorta from Nueva Ecija, had taken the lead of the Filipino forces. The sending of several parleys with the Spanish defenders demanding their capitulation to the extent of firing several rounds at the church but failed to penetrate its thick walls and conveying the newspapers which included the news of the fall of Manila did not move the Spanish defenders but instead, the Spanish commander destroyed the papers to prevent demoralization of his men.  The Franciscans sent to the church, Fray Juan Lopez and Fray Felix Minaya, to convince the Spaniards to surrender defected.

       On the Spanish camp, provisions started to run out. The Spanish defenders were afflicted with Beribei, scurvy, and dysentery reducing their number. The death of Captain de las Morenas on November 22, 1898 left 2nd Lieutenant Saturnino Martin Cerezo in command of the garrison. After 167 days, the defenders managed to open the door of the church.

         By the final days of May, Lt. Col. Cristobal Aguilar Castañeda, an emissary Governor General de los Rios, convinced Martine Cerezo and his men to surrender.  The Spanish newspaper El Imparcial made him conclude that there was no more reason to defend when the colony was not theirs anymore.

      On June 2, 1899, the bugle was sounded signaling surrender, the Filipinos emerged from their trenches shouting Amigos! Amigos! Amigos!  Filipino Colonel Simon Tecson met with Martin Cerezo and his aides while the Spaniards remained inside the church. Cerezo laid down his terms to the capitulation to which the Filipinos agreed such as the Spanish troops should not be treated as prisoners of war. This was signed by Col Tecson and Major Nemesio Bartlome for the Filipinos and by Martin Cerezo and Vigil Quiñones for the Spaniards. With the terms of surrender completed, the cazadores marched out of the church with their arms while the Filipino troops lined up the pathway. From more than 50 individuals who entered the church of Baler, 35 survived.

      Aguinaldo impressed by the bravery of these Spanish defenders in Baler, issued a decree on June 30, 1899 providing the Spanish forces to be considered as friends not enemies and be given safe conduct pass necessary for them to be able to return to their country.  On July 20, 1899 Martin Cerezo and his men left Manila aboard the vessel Alicante and reached Barcelona on September 1, 1899.