by Olag Selaznog. With new pictures.
Fifty-one years ago, my ambition took me out of the Philippines to gamble my life into an uncertain and unfamiliar world. I matured in cold environments and lived most of my life in places that endured the seasonal assault of winter. But it had been in 1964 that I’d experienced a full-fledged winter of 150° below zero temperature. That was when I was assigned and stationed in the South Pole, where the only other population besides us, were penguins and polar bears. After the initial astonishment had passed (along with an impulse to shovel a mountain of snow), one thought remained and haunted me¾ the enchantment of the tropical climate. My longing for warm weather resurrect my memories of Baler seventy-four years back. I used to stroll along the shore of the Outer Banks; an island a kilometer away east of town¾ Sabang, Labasin, and Buton. The hamlet of Castillo at the southern tip was once a part of it. But that area was transformed and relocated by the tidal waves on the other side, east of Kinalapan-Pingit river during the seventies.
It was in 1847, that castillo (fortress) came into existence. Two were built, one was located atop Point Baja (Ermita), and the other was by the outfall of Kinalapan-Pingit River. The construction was an innovation of the parish priest, Fray Jose Urbina de Esparragosa assigned in Baler from June 7, 1840 to 01 May 26, 1853.
Accordingly, the fortresses were built as an observation post or a watchtower. It served to warn the community of marauders/pirates coming to Baler Bay, which happened on occasions. The most severe and catastrophic occurred in the summer of 1798. Marauders from southern Philippines plundered and swept the towns along the Pacific seaboard. In Baler, they had taken prisoner Fray Benito Zambudio or Zamudio, the parish priest, and held him for ransom.