The Siege Of Baler: Versions And Contradictions
by Jose Maria A. Cariño

The truth about what really transpired inside the walls of the church in Baler may never be known. It should be noted that there appeared to be a code of silence among all the Spaniards who suffered the Siege of Baler. According to writer Manuel Leguineche: "The military kept their silence because they are the military, the priests for being priests, the best words are those that have not been uttered. There was a pact of silence, nobody uttered a word."

On the other hand, from the side of the Filipinos, there was no local chronicler or writer who meticulously wrote a detailed account on all the events from a Philippine perspective. Thus, most of what is known today is secondary information passed on and handed down from generation to generation of Baler inhabitants and descendants of the Filipinos involved in the saga.

The two primary sources in Spain are firsthand written accounts on the Siege of Baler: Saturnino Martin Cerezo's EI Sitio de Baler; Notas y Recuerdos, Guadalajara, 1904, and the diaries of Father Felix Minaya y Rojo, O.F.M, which used to be kept in the Archivo de Pastrana, Guadalajara, but are now at the Franciscan archives in Madrid. Father Minaya's diaries were never published, although journals based on the diaries of Father Minaya, written by Father Lorenzo Perez and published by the Franciscans in Spain, came out much later. The fact that Father Minaya's diaries were not published in toto pointed to the possibility that there were passages that would have put the church in a bad light, thus Father Lopez's "sanitized" version. Cerezo's book went on to become a best-seller, with several editions and reprints including the latest in October 2005. Martin Cerezo's book translated into English by F.L. Dodds as notes and recollections of the Siege of Baler, with the title in red and gold. It became a vade mecum, a handbook or guideline, for American military academies on survival in a siege.

Among the first noticeable differences between the stories of the military man and the priest was that Father Minaya's diary was written during and immediately after the siege, just as a personal record of what transpired in Baler. On the other hand, Lieutenant Cerezo's account was published in 1904 for a general public in mind. It also appears that Lieutenant Cerezo's account has the triple objectives of glorifying the military, of serving as a venue for his own promotion within the military, and as his own public relations campaign for the consumption of the public.

Another observation that must be highlighted is that after the siege, the Spanish soldiers were feted and honored then sent back to Spain. On the other hand, both surviving priests, Father Juan Lopez and Father Felix Minaya, were retained by the Katipunan in Baler after the end of the siege, and were only allowed to leave Baler on 4 June 1900. Both priests arrived in Manila on 28 August of the same year. In 1901 Father Lopez was sent back by the Missionary Prelate as parish priest of Baler. He also became parish priest in Calauan and Bay in La Laguna. He then returned to Spain and died in Pastrana on 20 July 1922. On the other hand, Father Felix Minaya continued his evangelical work in the Philippines and became parish priest of Los Banos, Laguna, for many years, and there he died on 3 January 1936. These facts seemed to point to the fact that it was the two priests, Father Minaya and Father Lopez who should be considered "Los Ultimos de Filipinas," rather than the soldiers, because these priests were retained in Baler and continued to do evangelical work in the Philippines long after the soldiers had returned to Spain. Both priests appeared to have been loved by their parishioners.

Father Minaya's diary has a full reference on the suicide of the young Lieutenant Mota, while Lieutenant Cerezo's account dismisses it as a loss and without any reference to the suicide. On the side of the priests, this emphasis may be attributed to the fact that Father Gomez Carreno was initially suspected of having sided with the Katipuneros and was himself suspected of murdering Lieutenant Mota. This was later disproved by the testimony of the Guardia Civil Corporal Pio Enrique. On the other hand, a suicide among the ranks of the military may have been considered dishonorable by Lieutenant Martin Cerezo, thus the effort to omit or dismiss the whole incident completely.

The distrust between the priests and the soldiers is evident when comparing the two accounts. In his book, Lieutenant Cerezo writes about his suspicion that the 70 cavans of rice that Father Gomez purchased from the natives of Binagonan de Lampon was meant to be resold to the Baler inhabitants later for profit. As this was against the canons of the church, the Franciscans denied this completely after the release of the book stating that the rice was for the consumption of the priest and the people who served with the priest. Of course, it cannot be denied that some Spanish priests did abuse their authority and committed un-priestly acts during their stay in Spain's colonies.

Lieutenant Cerezo also accused the two priest of being unpatriotic and siding with the Katipuneros when they were sent to the church of Baler during the siege to mediate the surrender of the detachment and to convince the Spanish soldiers of the futility of their action. Lieutenant Cerezo was further irked when Captain Las Morenas decided to keep the two priests in the church as they were "two additional useless mouths to feed and to share the scarce and dwindling food supplies that they were able to store in the church." Again, the priests had the advantage of knowing that Manila had surrendered to the Americans and that it was just a matter of time when the Americans would come to Baler and the Spanish soldiers would have to go home to Spain., with their tails between their legs, bearing the shame of defeat, thus their good faith and eloquent arguments for the surrender. On the other hand, the military group's obstinacy, and fear of dishonor convinced them that the priests were lying. It was a typical case of a great force meeting head-on an immovable object. The fact that the priests stayed on in the Philippines long after the end of the war caused even more distrust on the part of Lieutenant Cerezo.

In a typically military point of view, Lieutenant Martin Cerezo makes little reference to the roles that the priests played in keeping the spirits of the soldiers alive. There must have been more than one instance of desperation when the soldiers felt depressed and so emotionally drained that they required the spiritual counsel of the priests.

A question that was raised by the Franciscan priests after the siege was why Lieutenant Cerezo obstinately refused to surrender in spite the sure defeat of the Spanish armed forces by the Americans, comparing his action with Teodorico Luna y Novicio's immediate surrender of his arms and soldiers after the Pact of Biak-na-Bato too effect.

There appears to have been disagreements too between Lieutenant Martin Cerezo and the medical officer Doctor Rogelio Vigil de Qui´┐Żones. Lieutenant Martin Cerezo dismisses the role of the good doctor with very few words in his book. His praise is limited to the statement that the doctor was proficient in matters of sanitation, but that he had few skills in other tasks. Doctor Vigil de Quiñones, whose Hippocratic oath committed him to the saving of lives, did not agree with the last-minute execution of the two soldiers whom Lieutenant Martin Cerezo accused of trying to desert. The doctor found the executions an unnecessary loss of lives.

Neither did the lieutenant make reference in his book to the fact that Doctor Vigil de Qui´┐Żones often left the church to help the wounded Filipino Katipuneros and to treat, the sick among the inhabitants of the town. These actions of Doctor Vigil de Quiñones rankled Lieutenant Cerezo and resulted in arguments between the two, which the surviving soldiers refused to talk about. Lieutenant Cerezo considered these life- saving missions as acts of treason, while Doctor Vigil de Quiñones argued that he was only doing his job as a doctor and following the Hippocratic oath of saving lives, that what he did had nothing to do with his loyalty to his country and that he did not believe in any ideology: For his part, Lieutenant Cerezo probably did not mention these medical missions of the kind doctor in his book in order to protect him from accusations of treachery.

This endeared the doctor to the people of Baler and resulted in acts of mercy from the Katipuneros and the Balerenos, including providing the besieged soldiers with food and even allowing their carabaos to wander within firing range of the Spaniards so that they would have food to eat. In his book, Lieutenant Cerezo calls the sudden appearance of carabaos in the fields between the combatants a stroke of luck. little did he know that the Filipino's love for this domesticated animal would have prevented them from putting the animals in harm's way. Lieutenant Cerezo wrote that the carabaos were wild and had been allowed to wander in also as food for the Katipuneros. This was quite illogical as the Katipuneros controlled the town and had all the food and the carabaos they needed. Other acts of kindness by the Filipino troops, such as the time when Captain Antonio Santos of the Katipuneros presented himself at the doorsteps of the church and offered to allow the besieged Spanish soldiers to gather native oranges from the trees of the town plaza without being fired at and which was immediately accepted, were not given importance in Lieutenant Martin Cerezo's book. It appears that an acceptance of any form of act of mercy from the enemy may lessen the heroic stance of the detachment.

Doctor Vigil de Quiñones was a man of excessive modesty and a man of honor. When later asked about Lieutenant Martin Cerezo, Doctor Rogelio Vigil de Quiñones, in his typical discreet, reserved, and gentlemanly fashion had answered, and one has to read between the lines, "The lieutenant had to be harsh to maintain discipline. He was a good military man."

It is not for us to judge the acts of each and every protagonist. Rather we are only showing the post-siege observations of the protagonists and the public, as well as the hindsight analyses of their actions made by them and other observers. The protagonists acted in the manner they thought best considering the situation at that moment in time. They also acted based on their social background, educational level, experience, and the training that each received in their chosen careers. Nothing much can be gained from criticizing their mistakes, but rather, what is important are the lessons that the future generations can learn from the Siege of Baler, like the futility of war and the unnecessary loss of lives.

Heroes, Friends

The story of Baler is one of heroism, courage, love of freedom, patriotism, endurance, chivalry and humanity. It is however also a story of conflict, distrust, suffering, self-preservation, selfishness, obstinacy, and self-interest. In the final analysis, the story of the Siege of Baler is really the story of heroes. The Katipuneros fought for their independence, their freedom, thus Teodoro Luna Novicio and his soldiers are heroes of the Philippine revolution. They fought off the foreign invader for their God- given right to liberty and self-governance. The Spanish soldiers are heroes who stood by their principles and obeyed the orders of their superiors, for their own perception of the glory of God and country. The priests are also heroes, who had to tread the thin line between remaining patriots of their motherland, while serving the spiritual needs of their parishioners who were at the same time their flock and their enemies. Theirs was the more difficult task of balancing what was required of them as patriots with the demands of Christian canons. In this conflict all the protagonists have learned the truth in the saying "It takes nine months for a man to be born, but only a second for him to die."

Using today's libertarian and egalitarian principles, the true hero of the story of Baler among the Spaniards, in my opinion is Doctor Rogelio Vigil de Quiñones, who, in spite the grave wounds inflicted on him, continued to cure and tend to the sick of both sides. He did not allow his loyalty for his country to interfere with his humanity and his Hippocratic oath to save lives and his love for the gift of life. On the part of the Filipinos, the act of treating the beaten enemy as friends and heroes instead of prisoners is also one of the greatest expressions of mercy, chivalry, and humanity. Many times Rogelio Vigil de Quiñones reminded his children and his grandchildren that were it not for the generosity, mercy, and the chivalry of the Filipinos, he would not be alive and his descendants would not have been born.

The story of Baler is not the story of the end of Philippine relations with Spain. In fact one hundred years later, it created the ground for new relations between the two countries. Today it is a relationship based on fraternity and equality. More importantly, it has created and eternal bond and a threshold for future relations based on a bedrock of shared history, civilization and culture.