SIEGE OF BALER
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 destroys 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 spilling in the fight for freedom that gave its red color. 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 two enemies, the Filipino and the Spanish forces.
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 colonial bondage was unfolded 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.
The conclusion of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato on December 24, 1897 reduced the Spanish garrison from 400 to only 50 men. The new contingent which arrived in February 1898 was led by Capt. Enrique de las Morenas. When the town was evacuated, 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 soldiers being isolated from the outside world for the next eleven months. Novicio 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.
On July 19, Col. Calixto Villacorta from Nueva Ecija had taken the lead of the Filipino forces. They sent several parleys with the Spanish defenders demanding their capitulation to the extent of firing several rounds at the church. Unfortunately, they failed to penetrate its thick walls. Even the news of the fall of Manila did not move the Spanish defenders. The Spanish commander destroyed the newspapers 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 joined them instead.
The diminishing food supply and death of some men afflicted with beriberi, scurvy, and dysentery reduced their number. The death of Captain de las Morenas on November 22, 1898 left 2nd Lieutenant Saturnino Martin Cerezo in command of the garrison. By the final days of May, Martin Cerezo upon reading the Spanish newspaper El Imparcia finally concluded that it is time to surrender.
On June 2, 1899, Cerezo laid down his terms to the capitulation to which the Filipinos agreed. Both parties agreed that the Spanish troops should not be treated as prisoners of war. This was signed by Col. Tecson and Maj. Nemesio Bartolome 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 considering the Spanish surrenderees to be considered as friends not enemies and be given safe conduct passes 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.