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Today, June 30, we celebrate Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day, which coincides with the anniversary of the Siege of Baler—a lengthy military operation of Filipino forces against the final holdout of Spanish troops in the Philippines who were garrisoned in the church of Baler, now the capital of the province of Aurora. It ended with Spanish capitulation. President Emilio Aguinaldo granted the survivors safe passage to Manila, en route to their return to Spain, as a tribute to the loyalty and gallantry they had displayed. This act of chivalry and military honor would later form the basis for the promulgation of Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day, by virtue of Republic Act. No. 9187, s. 2002.

As its contribution to the commemoration, the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) is featuring an account of the Siege of Baler by Spanish Captain Don Saturnino Martin Cerezo titled “Under the Red and Gold,” on the Presidential Museum and Library website. Cerezo’s chronicle is a story of the valor of Filipinos and Spaniards alike in the 11-month siege toward the close of the Spanish-American War.

[READ: Filipino recipients of Spanish Decorations]

[READ: Spanish recipients of Filipino Decorations]

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The Siege of Baler

This modern sketch of the plaza surrounding the church reconstructs the area as it looked during the siege.

[All blockquotes have been excerpted from Under the Red and Gold: Being Notes and Recollections of the Siege of Baler, by Captain Don Saturnino Martin Cerezo.]

From June 27, 1898 to June 2, 1899, 53 Spanish soldiers and four officers, under the command of Captain Enrique de las Morenas y Fossi, garrisoned themselves in Baler Church as Filipino troops under Teodorico Luna Novicio began their attack. The Spanish flag was installed at the highest point of the bell tower, which had already been fortified. The Spaniards also dug trenches and boarded up the church windows as additional defense.

It was the will of God that the date of June 30, 1898, should be signalized with blood. Up to that time we had to record only menaces, presages, and fears, disheartening treachery and mocking villainy; but that morning the cloud closed in on us, and (I say it without boasting) with the relief of a sensation desired, yet feared. The cloud closed down and we breathed it in with relief.

I had gone out on the daily reconnaissance with only fourteen men, the same number as former days. All was silence. We were marching with the ordinary precautions, but without noticing anything that could cause us uneasiness; when, on reaching the Bridge of Spain, on the west of the town, suddenly the enemy, posted along the stream which flows under the bridge, began a heavy fire and at once rushed upon us, attempting to surround us.

Comprehending their design, there was nothing we could do but fall back upon the church. It was necessary for us to get to shelter in all haste, and we accomplished it with some difficulty, carrying with us Corporal Jesus Garcia Quijano, who was wounded severely in the foot.

It had fallen to my lot to reply to the first shots, and I was to reply to the last.

We were besieged.

Captain Enrique de las Morenas

The Filipino troops, for their part, also dug trenches to prevent the Spaniards from replenishing their supplies. They opened fire on July 3; however, the distance limited their ability to effect much damage. On July 19, they joined forces with the troops of Colonel Calixto Villacorta. Despite several offensive attempts, the Filipinos were unable to penetrate the walls. Their attempts to parley with the Spaniards and come to a truce did not go far. They also engaged in psychological warfare, such as making loud noises to create the impression that larger forces were approaching, to diminish Spanish morale; but even learning of the news that Manila had been surrendered to the Americans did nothing to sway the resolve of the Spaniards to continue their defense of the church.

We could not conceive that our dominion could be so easily lost. We were unable to admit even the possibility of a fall so rapid and so astounding as that.

Upon the death of Captain de las Morenas on November 22, 1898, Lieutenant Don Saturnino Martin Cerezo was left in command.

It was now the one hundred and forty-fifth day of the siege. There remained under my command thirty-five privates, a trumpeter, and three corporals, almost all of them ill. To care for these sick men, I had only one doctor and one Hospital Corps man… This was all very little, considering the progress of the epidemic, the fatigues of the siege, and the remoteness of any possible relief. But we still had enough ammunition, a flag to defend while there was a cartridge left, and a sacred depository, that of the remains of our dead comrades, to guard against profanation by the enemy. It was possible for us to resist, and we resisted.

Saturnino Martin Cerezo
Lieutenant Don Saturnino Martin Cerezo

On June 2, 1899, after nearly 11 months—and after having suffered through near-starvation and bouts of beriberi, scurvy, and dysentery—the last Spanish holdouts in the Philippines surrendered. The terms of their capitulation included a provision that specified that they were not to be taken as prisoners of war. Representing the Filipinos were Lieutenant Colonel Simon Tecson, Captain Nemesio Bartolome, and Captain Francisco Ponce, while the Spaniards were represented by Lieutenant Cerezo and Dr. Rogelio Vigil.

When the detachment finally surrendered, they received chivalrous treatment from Filipino forces, and were placed under the protection of President Aguinaldo, who had issued a decree guaranteeing their safe conduct. The manner in which the surrender took place earned the Spanish forces the distinction of being called “Los últimos de Filipinas.”

… worthy of admiration of the world for the valor, constancy, and heroism with which that handful of men, cut off and without hope of any aid, has defended their flag for the space of a year, realizing an epic so glorious and so worthy of the legendary valor of the Cid.

Los Ultimos en Filipinas in color
“Los ultimos de Filipinas”

Thus terminated the Siege of the Church of Baler, on the three hundred and thirty-seventh day from its beginning when we now had nothing edible to put in our mouths, nor was it humanly possible to sustain it a single day longer.


Sources:

  • Cerezo, Captain Don Saturnino Martin. Under the Red and Gold: Being Notes and Recollections of the Siege of Baler. Kansas: Franklin Hudson Publishing Co., 1909.
  • Dumindin, Arnaldo. Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. http://philippineamericanwar.webs.com.
  • Madrid, Carlos. Flames over Baler: The Story of the Siege of Baler, Reconstructed from Original Documentary Sources. Quezon City: The University of the Philippines Press, 2012.