Fading Images and Fond Memories
as told by the descendants of the Revolution of 1896
Jaime B. Veneracion
University of the Philippines
Upon my return from a three-month research in Madrid in 2001, I shared with Senator Edgardo Angara the information that Baler, his hometown in the province of Aurora, figure very well in books on Spanish military history. One discovery I made was a diorama of the â€œsiege of the church of Balerâ€ at the Alcazar Museum in the city of Toledo. I took a picture of the said diorama and published it in a souvenir program on the Filipino revolution against Spain in 1896-98.
Whether this initial conversation had an impact on the senator for him to recognize the historical significance of Baler, I have no way of ascertaining. Perhaps my information was not exactly new to him. His brother Mayor Arthur Angara of Baler had even been invited in Madrid to grace the commemoration of the centennial of the event in 1999. The said â€œhomenajeâ€ was the idea of Exequiel Sabarillo with the assistance of the Filipino community in Madrid and the cooperation of many descendants of the â€œheroesâ€ of Baler, known in Spain as â€œLos Ultimos de Filipinasâ€. A movie of that title had been made through the initiative and direction of Francisco Franco in the 1950s.
Before I returned to the Philippines after my research stint, Exequiel Sabarillo even arranged my meeting with the grandson of the head of the Spanish detachment in Baler, Saturnino Martin Cerezo. This meeting was a take off for my article on the â€œlos ultimos de Filipinasâ€ published in my column in the newspaper Kabayan and later included in my book, Espanya: Kasaysayan, Kalinangan at mga Gunita ng Paglalakbay (Malolos: Center for Bulacan Studies, 2003). My acquantance with the English translation of Cerezoâ€™s memoirs (El Sitio de Baler) available at the UP Main Library helped me to provide another dimension to the accepted wisdom on the event. At that time, I really doubted if it was possible for the Spaniards to maintain the ramparts at the Baler church if not for some political considerations made by the Filipinos themselves.
We must remember that simultaneous with the Baler siege was the negotiation towards the Treaty of Paris signed on December 10, 1898 by the Spaniards and the Americans where the Filipinos got excluded. Yet everywhere in the Philippines, the Filipino republican army had defeated the Spaniards. In other words, the Filipinos and not the Americans were the real sovereign power in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the Americans had started its war of occupation on the Philippines starting February 4, 1899. There were thus two historical processes going on in the Philippines: the first was the Revolution of the Filipinos against Spain yet to be concluded with the â€œsiege of Balerâ€ and the second, the Philippine American War starting February 4, 1899.
The latter event had overtaken the events in Baler, to the extent that even most of the Spanish public had forgotten that they had a detachment there. By postponing the final assault on the detachment and decisively taking it when they must, the Filipinos could then claim that it was they and not the Americans who actually received the ultimate surrender of Spain. In that sense, the American declaration of war on the Philippine Republic established in Malolos becomes even more morally wrong as it stood on wrong assumptions (i.e., on the arranged surrender of the Spanish forces in Intramuros, Manila on August 13, 1898 known also in history books as the â€œMock Battle of Manilaâ€). Unlike this â€œmockâ€ battle of Manila, the siege of Baler was a â€œrealâ€ struggle resolved through force of arms.
But more than the resolution of the battle, what attracted Senator Angara to the event was a rare display of magnanimity and friendship of the Filipino leadership. In a decree dated June 30, 1899 in Tarlac, Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo said that the Spaniards in Baler should be considered as friends and not as enemies. The former prisoners of war should be given safe conduct passes and treated well. By accepting the offer of freedom and safe conduct by the Filipino army, the Spaniards had in effect recognized the validity of the republican victory over the colonial forces and its claim of sovereignty over the former colony. The expression of friendship and the Spanish acceptance of this show of magnanimity were made by two sovereign powers, no longer of a dominating colonial master and a subordinate colony.