Finally, It Was Over
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Persistent attack or campaign of persuasion is eternally imprinted in the nation’s combatant army.  The blockade and the assaulting of a bastion, or other stronghold, cherish the recount chronicles of any armed conflict.  Time after the hostility is settled, the winner and the loser, rekindle its history to resurrect the justifiable cause and the sacrifice of their armies.  In one instance, the Boxer Rebellion of 1901 virtually diminished the episode in Peking, trying to ouster all foreigners from China.  It has accomplished legendary dimensions and typified patriotism, heroism, and bravery under difficult circumstances.

The assault of the Spanish Garrison in Baler was one of those conflicts, and even though, brutal, epical, heroic than the Boxer Rebellion, was rarely taken into account by the Spanish, the Filipinos, or the Americans who took part in it.  Maybe that remissness was due to the fact that the war took place after the American military took possession of the Philippines from Spain in August 1898.  Or perhaps neither the major contenders, Spanish and the Filipinos, would win their armed struggles against the United States.

No place in the history of the Spanish integrity, honor, and patriotism for a lost cause, distinctly manifests the event that took place in the east coast of Luzon.

Baler, located in a horseshoe shape valley enclosed by mountain ranges of the Sierra Madre to the west and the harborless shore of the Pacific Ocean to the east, is a desolate town.  Access to this location is extremely difficult by both land and sea, at certain times of the year almost impossible by sea.  Impeded by this condition, there occurred an event that indelibly marked the name “Baler”, in the history of the Spanish colonial dominance for it was in Baler church where it all began.  It was on this church, where Filipino insurgents from 27 June 1898 to 2 June 1899, besieged the detachment of the Spanish army that lasted for 337 days.

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At that time, the church was the most antiquated and valuable structure, and the universal hallmark of Spanish authority in Baler.  It was an inelegant coral structure, scrawny and forlorn and overlooked.  Nevertheless, this solitary shrine became the sanctuary of the ablest heroic of Spanish sovereignty in the Island of Luzon.  It was within the protection of its walls that a detachment of Spanish soldiers took refuge.  Although haggard, starving, neglected, but nonetheless undefeated, it was where this army withstood the siege under impossible circumstances for eleven months during the last days of the Spanish and early days of the American takeover in the Philippines.     

Following the enactment and passage of the Pact of Biacnabato on 14 December 1897 and prior to leaving as a self-imposed exile in Hong Kong, Aguinaldo issued an order to his scattered scanty forces throughout the Philippines to surrender to the Spanish Sovereignty.  In El Principe (Baler), Commandant Teodorico Luna Novicio, after receiving the order from Aguinaldo, surrendered his command to Major Don Juan Genova on 09 February 1898.  Unexpectedly, however, peace prevailed only a little more than two months. 

Following the surrender of Novicio, the Spanish authorities in Manila determined to withdraw Major Don Juan Genova’s battalion, and replace Captain Don Jesus Roldan Mazonaida’s company.  The replacement force was limited to a detachment of fifty men under the newly appointed Politico-Military Governor; Captain of Infantry, Don Enrique de las Morenas y Fossi.  Accompanying him were two of his subordinates; Lieutenant Don Alonso Zayas, a Puerto Rican national serving in the Spanish army, Lieutenant Don Saturnino Martin Cerezo, and a surgeon of the Medical Corps; Doctor Don Rogelio Vigil de Quiñones, who was accompanied by a corporal and an attendant of the Hospital Corps.

The relief detachment left Manila on February 7 via Laguna to Mauban.   They underwent a delay in Mauban while awaiting the arrival of the transport ship Manila.  They finally made it to Baler the evening of the 12th of February 1898.   Aboard the same ship was Fray Candido Gomez Carreño, once a prisoner during the massacre of Don Mota’s detachment, who was going back to his parish in Baler.  After the unloading and discharging all its cargo and passengers, the ship went underway for Manila with Genova’s battalion and Mazonaida’s company onboard.

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                                       The Church of Baler in 1897

The outbreaks of war between the Spanish and the Americans brought about a new situation in the Philippines.  On May 16, 1898, Aguinaldo boarded the revenue cutter USS McCulloch at Hong Kong, and landed at Cavite three days later.  Motivated by the status quo and his sudden reappearance, heroism among Filipinos flared anew and outlying Spanish army posts throughout the island were under siege by hordes of fanatical Filipinos.  Those troops, which could not get away, surrendered with the exception of the Spanish garrison in Baler.

Around mid-April, 1898, the situation was rapidly deteriorated.  Backstairs rumors were circulated and traveled fast to Baler indicating that the drafting of new men for insurgency was taking place in Caranglan and Pantabangan.  Don Cerezo, in secrecy wanted to verify whether the rumors were factual.  He succeeded in this endeavor via an informant and recounted his discovery to Captain Las Morenas.  Morenas immediately dispatched a letter, to the Commanding Officer of the post in Pantabangan, which warned him about the situation so that proper measures could be taken.

delasmorenas.jpg (18666 bytes)As the days dragged along the conditions changed in an alarming situation and finally the towns aforementioned capitulated and overrun by the insurgents.  It became evident that communications between the Spanish detachment in Baler and the rest of Luzon were cut off.   

On the morning of the 28th of June the Spanish authority noticed that the townspeople were disappearing, and at daybreak the following morning, the town was forlorn and totally deserted.  The desertion of inhabitants is an indication that a portent of the unforeseen is likely to happen.  Immediately, they took to the church for it was built of corals and stone plastered together by lime and honey.  Inside, they were able to stock ammunitions and other provisions.  In the churchyard, they dug a well that supplied them with water. 

On June 29, Captain Las Morenas sent out a patrol and encountered a strong unit of the Filipino insurgents.  The patrol retreated back to the church were the barrage of insurgents gunfire broke the tranquility as small arms bullets and lantacas, locally made cannons, ricocheted against the thick wall of the garrison. 

Early the morning of July 19th, the besieged received a letter signed by Captain Calixto Villacorta, Commanding Officer of the Filipino insurgents, which demanded the surrender of the garrison.  He wrote:

I have just arrived, with the three columns of my
 command; and, aware of the useless resistance you
 are keeping up, I inform you that if you will lay
 down your arms within twenty-four hours, I shall
 respect your lives and property, treating you with
 every consideration.  Otherwise, I shall force you
 to deliver them; I shall have no compassion on no
 one; and shall hold the officers responsible for
 every fatality that may occur.
                                    Given at my headquarters, 19th of July 1898
                                                            Calixto Villacorta, Commander”
The next morning the defender answered with the following message:
 
 “At midday today terminates the period fixed in
your threat.  The officers cannot be held responsible
 for the fatalities that occur.  We are united in the
determination to do our duty, and you are to
understand that if you get possession of the church,
it will be only when there is left in it nothing but
dead bodies; death being preferable to dishonor”
 
Upon the rejection of the demand, the insurgents dug trenches surrounding the church and from there directed a series of fire from all directions at the defenders. It continued from days to weeks and then to months, and with its passing days situations in their sanctuary became unbearable.  Extreme exhaustion, the insufficiency and bad condition of their foods, the staunch and ever-present apprehension, the unclean air and the other bad unhealthy conditions to which the Spanish were subjected to, produced the fatal epidemic against them to which they had no defense.

 

The disease such as beriberi and dysentery overcome them and later took its toll.  One of its first fatalities was Fray Candido Gomez Carreño, the parish priest who succumbed to it on 25 September.  While he lay dying, a truce was arranged.  During this time a Baler resident, Pedro Aragon, better known in Baler as husband of Zenaida Molina, presented himself and requested for allowance to talk to the priest.  He had explained to Captain Las Morenas that he had been a prisoner in Manila, for his involvement in the assault of Don Mota’s detachment.   He also explained that he had been set free after the signing of the Pact of Biacnabato, and was instructed on important matters to see the priest of having the priest convince them to surrender.  Las Morenas told him that Fray Carreño was dying and had no change of speaking with him.  Pedro left despondently.  A day later Captain Las Morenas had fallen gravely ill.  His second in command, Lieutenant Juan Alonzo Zayas died of beriberi.
 
dequinones.jpg (20364 bytes)As the attack progress, the Spanish force diminished.  During this occurrence, the numbers of Filipinos grew, and a more modern cannon had been acquired, which complemented their lantacas that were carved out from palm tree trunks.  Favorably for the Spanish, the Filipino artillerymen were untrained, most of their shots fired were near misses and with poor quality ammunition.  Nonetheless, the horrible sound of an oncoming missile was deafening and nerve-racking.
 
Filipino casualties were mounted in the rain-filled dugouts.   They became easy prey for the Spanish sharpshooter stationed in the church belfry.  The Filipino problems were also aggravated by the unyielding and continuous refusal of Captain Las Morenas to come to terms.  Although, on several occasions he had been informed about the downfall of Spain.
Around October, more men were stricken by beriberi.  Captain Las Morenas was one of several who died and following his death Lieutenant Martin Cerezo had taken responsibility of the command.
 
In mid-November, in spite of the earlier lack of persuading the Spaniards to surrender by force, Villacorta once again attempted to convince the remaining force.   Holding up a flag of truce, he informed Lieutenant Martin Cerezo that Manila had befallen to the Americans and that the Philippines were no longer the property of Spain.  The lieutenant declined to believe.  Villacorta then deposited miscellaneous newspapers from Manila, substantiating the loss of the Philippines to the Americans, at the church entrance.  Despite the evidence that had been placed, Cerezo still did not believe. 
 
cerezo.jpg (16627 bytes)On the night of 14 December, Don Cerezo determined on a courageous plan to replenish their waning food supply.  Under barrage of rifle fire, he dispatched Private Jose Chamiso and Jose Alcaida Bayuna to rush out of their sanctuary of safety to nearby empty houses of the inhabitants and set it on fire.  The fury of the flames that had rapidly spread throughout the town compelled the Filipinos to withdraw further from the Spanish garrison.  Moreover, they left behind their foods consisted of tomatoes, oranges, gourds, and other fresh vegetables.   The seized produce were a welcoming sight for the Spanish, it did not only replenish their food supply, but also aided in the plight to terminate the miserable affliction of beriberi.
Unknown to the Spanish cloistered within the church, Spain had already ceded the Philippines to the United States in exchange for $20 million under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.  Lieutenant Martin Cerezo and his force, ironically, were now defending a territory that legally belongs to the United States.
 
After 184 days, the Spanish detachment suffered 14 deaths; 13 succumbed to disease and one from wounds.  An additional five had deserted the garrison.  Out of the 38 of what were left, 15 were still agonizing from beriberi.  In total, there were only 23 able troops left to fight.
 
On December 29, after a long and difficult journey through the mountains, Captain Miguel Olmedo, emissary to General Diego de los Rios, arrived in Baler to repatriate his country’s army.  He approached the Filipino insurgents commander, with a flag of truce in hand, to explain he was sent from Manila by Spanish high command to deliver the treaty of peace between Spain and the United States to the commander of the Baler garrison.  The Filipinos allowed him to pass through their line of defense and escorted him forty paces where he could talk to Lieutenant Martin Cerezo.
 
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                Spanish Uniform During The Assault of the Garrison in Baler

Upon introduction with Captain Olmedo and after having learned that he was sent from General Rios with an official order, Lieutenant Cerezo asked one  of his men to obtain the letter for him to see.  Due to some clerical errors in the written order, Lieutenant Cerezo suspected a ruse and refused to believe Captain Olmedo.  After failing to persuade Lieutenant Cerezo of his identity and honesty of the order, Captain Olmedo had no choice but to retrace his unbearable trek back to Manila with his mission unaccomplished. Around the end of February, Lieutenant Cerezo suspected that three of his heroic men, Corporal Vicente Gonzalez Toca, Private Jose Alcaida Bayona, and Antonio Manache Sanchez, were contemplating desertion.  Upon an inquiry, they admittedly reveal their plan and were placed under arrest and jailed in an improvised cell.
 
Barrage of fire continued throughout the month of March.  Filipino forces continued unwavering cannonade of the church.   The garrison jolted, but in spite of the wreckage, the church stood still.  Peeping out through the hole, the deadly Spanish shooters made an easy prey for the Filipino artillerymen to put them out of action.
 
A puzzling event had occurred to the defenders the afternoon of April 11.   The garrison heard a cannon fire from the vicinity of the sea.  The restricted view of the ocean from the church steeple revealed no ship.    Nevertheless, that evening, a ray of searchlight crisscrossing the sky brought eventful joy to the detachment.  Thinking that the war with the United States was over and that the Spanish government had dispatched a ship for them to be rescued, they rejoiced.  In actuality, the war had ended eight months before, and the shot they had heard was fired by the U.S.S. Yorktown, a Navy gunboat commanded by Commodore William Sperry.  The ship was dispatched to Baler to learn the fate of the Spanish detachment.
 
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                            Survivors of Spanish Detachment in Baler
 
2  Gregorio Catalan Valero             3  Vicente Predrouzo Fernandez
4  Loreto Gallego Garcia                5  Ramon Buades Tormo
6  Miguel Mendez Exposito           7  Jose Jimenez Berro
8  Felipe Castillo Castillo               9  Jose Pineda Tura
10 Jose Martinez Souto               11 Eufemio Sanchez Martinez
12 Ramon Ripolles Cardona        18 Manual Menor Ortega
13 Temoteo Lopez Larios            14 Pedro Planas Basagañas
15 Francisco Real Yuste              16 Luis Cervantes Dato
17 Juan Chamizo Lucas               1  Saturnino Martin Cerezo
19 Marcelo Adrian Obregon           20 Marcos Mateo Conesa
21 Antonio Bauza Fullana             22 Jose Hernandez Arocha
23 Eustaquio Gopar Hernande     32 Ramon Mir Brils
31 Pedro Vila Gargante                 30 Domingo Castro Camarena
29 Bernardino Sanchez Cainzo s  28 Jesus Garica Quijano
27 Emilio Fabregat Fabregat       26 Jose  Olivares Conejero
25 Miguel Perez Leal                     24 Santos Gonzalez Roncal
 
The commodore summoned Lieutenant James C. Gillmore and Ensign William H. Standley and instructed them to map out where the church was located.  At dawn, of 12 April 1899, a whaleboat was lowered from the starboard side of the ship with Lieutenant Gillmore, officer-in-charge of the operation, and 14 of the ship’s crews.  They were to take Ensign Standley and Quartermaster J. Lysaught to the foot of Point Baja (Ermita) and walk their way up the summit to locate the church.  After unloading their passengers, Lieutenant Gillmore, for unknown reason, pressed onward up Baler Kinalapan-Pingit River despite a warning from an onlooker.  About a kilometer away they were befallen by misfortune.  The Filipinos ambushed them.  Gillmore with his crews were captured.  They were held prisoners for eight months until miraculously turned lose in the middle of jungle by their captors, and subsequently rescued by the American forces under Lieutenant Colonel Luther R. Hare.
           
During the month of May several more determined attempt to force the garrison to surrender failed.  During one such attempt, a shell landed inside the church and wrecked the jail holding the three would-be deserters.  They were injured and tended medically.  During breakfast, Private Alcaide Bayuna got away from his jailer and hastily run out in a hail of gun fire but made it to the enemy line.  Being a trained artilleryman, the dispirited Bayuna was given the opportunity to man the cannon by the Filipinos and shelled the Spanish garrison.  It had caused considerable damage.  To the Spaniards, Bayna was a personified Judas.
 
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                                        The Balerian Insurgents

On May 28, General Rios dispatched another of his officers, Lieutenant Colonel Cristobal Aguilar y Castañeda to Baler.  Under the flag of truce he had no difficulty in crossing the Filipino line of defense. From the church, Lieutenant Cerezo cried out to them that he would not accept a conference so long as only one man went forward with a flag.  Castañeda, dressed in a Lieutenant Colonel of the General Staff, approached Lieutenant Cerezo as agreed.  Due to the many tricks he thought to have been attempted against him, Lieutenant Cerezo believed Lieutenant Colonel Castañeda’s story would also be another hoax.  Despite Castañeda’s endeavor to convince him of the legitimacy of his mission, which lasted for two days, he was forced to give up and return to Manila.  During his departure, he tossed several bundles of Spanish newspapers; among them was the El Imparcial from Madrid. 
 
At dawn of June 1, it was decided, by the fearless commander, that the detachment of Baler could hold no longer.  He planned to cut his way through the enemy lines, to try and reach the nearest army post, unaware that not a single Spanish garrison existed in the island.  Before leaving, he had realized the problem about the three deserters was to be resolved. He pondered for a  while and then finally came upon the conclusion to execute them according to the Spanish Code of Military Justice.  Their bodies were buried in the churchyard.
 
As he waited for an opportune time to escape, he decided to look at the bundle of newspapers hurled by Castañeda to the church entrance.
 
Upon reading, he learned from the columns of El Imparcial, Cuba, the
Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam had been liberated from Spain, and the flag waving on the church steeple of Baler, was the only flag flying throughout the island of Luzon.
 
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                                        The Town of Baler in 1897

After having realized that Spain was no longer a belligerent nation, he promptly ended the deadlock and began negotiating with the Filipino commander.  In his exchange for surrender, Lieutenant Cerezo drew up and requested the following agreement, which was received without changes or delineation:
 
            “First.  From this date hostilities on both sides are suspended.
            “Second.  The besieged lay down their arms, delivering them to the commander of the besieging force, together with the military equipments and other effects belonging to the Spanish Government.
            “Third.  The besieged force do not become prisoners of war, but shall be escorted by the Republican troops to a point where Spanish troops may be found, or to a place from which they may safely join the latter.
            “Fourth.  Private property is to be respected, and no injury to be done to individuals.
            “And, for the purpose of carrying it into effect, this agreement is executed in duplicate, being signed by the following gentlemen: Lieutenant Colonel Simon Tecson, commanding the besieging force; Major Nemesio Bartolome; Captain Franciso T. Ponce, Second Lieutenant, commanding the besieged force, Saturnino Martin; Doctor Rogelio Vigil”
 
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And Finally It Was Over.  The Siege of Baler, which lasted 337 days, finally ended the Iberian sovereignty over of the Philippines after more than 300 year; was frayed, tattered, torn, and deteriorated.  However, what was left of the remaining 33 Spanish survivors was a nation they still honored and loved, “España!”
 
On July 20, they were repatriated to Spain, reaching Barcelona on September 1, 1899.  There, they received their due honors with the exception Lieutenant Don Alonso Zayas, a Puerto Rican national.  Captain Enrique de las Morenas y Fossi was posthumously promoted to major and awarded Spain highest military medal, the Laureate Cross of San Fernando.
 
Lieutenant Don Saturnino Martin Cerezo continued his service with the Spanish Army and became a general.  He died in 1948.       

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