Baler During The Spanish Occupation
by Jose Maria A. Cariño

There are many theories on the origin of the word Baler. The most popular, widely accepted and endorsed by the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa, is lifted from a Spanish book similar to a dictionary printed in 1860, explaining the nature and origin of Spanish terms. According to it, the word baler originated from the balod, referring to a mountain dove species abundant in the area where Baler is located. In many Spanish documents, particularly in letters from the parish priests of Baler, the town was referred to as Valero While this could be an error on the part of the priests in writing to their superiors in Manila and Spain, it may also be attributed to the fact that phonetically, in Spain, the letter V is pronounced as B.

The eastern coast of the Philippines was not of particular strategic interest to the Spaniard~ so that these areas remained purely as reference points for Spanish navigators up until the end of the 19th century. Although the Spaniards explored the area as early as 1571, it was not until 1573 that the Basque explorer Juan de Salcedo, nephew of Legazpi, visited the settlements of Infanta, Baler, and Casiguran.

In 1591 the entire eastern coast of Luzon was considered one extensive province called Kalilaya and its capital was Unisan. The province was later divided in two, with the northern part apportioned to the provinces of Laguna and Nueva Ecija, and the southern and central part becoming the province of Bonbon, also referred to as Balayan. The Distrito del Principe, of which the town of Baler is the capital, first belonged to the province of Pampanga.

It became a part of the province of Tayabas, then Nueva Ecija. At one time it was the capital of Nueva Ecija, and the shores of what is now Aurora was Nueva Ecija's window to the ocean. in 1856, during the term of Governor General Manuel Crespo y Cebrian, it became a separate district, with the town of Baler as capital, including the towns of San Jose de Casecnan, San Miguel de Dipaculao, and Casiguran.

When the Spaniards arrived, they found that their evangelization mission was going to be difficult because of the variety of tribes and races that thrived in the area, and the fact that there were three languages spoken by the natives: Tagalog, Casigurano or Aeta, and Ilongot, which the missionaries also called the language Egongot or Igongot.

Explorations And Early Missions

The first priest to explore the Caraballo mountains from 1578 to 1579 was a Franciscan from Valencia, Father Esteban Ortiz. He was among the first Franciscans to arrive in the Philippines. His exploration work in the Philippines must have affected his health because he died in Manila in 1582, only three years after exploring the areas near Baler. In 1609 another Franciscan priest Father Blas Palomino penetrated the rugged scrubland with six other priests and managed to reduce the wild vegetation into three rancherias or settlements thereafter founding three towns namely Baler, Casiguran, and Palanan. Father Blas Palomino was martyred in Macassar (present-day Borneo) on 30 August 1622 while doing evangelization work. It must be noted that although the founding of these three towns was attributed to Father Palomino and his group, native settlements already existed and occupied by a varied group, which included the Dumagat, Aeta, Ilongot, and Tagal. Considering that the words Baler, Casiguran, and Palanan do not have any equivalents in Spanish nor do they appear to have Spanish origins, it can be deduced that these were the original names of the places and that they originated from the natives of the area.

In 1611, the Province of San Gregorio, which had jurisdiction over the area, appointed Father Francisco de San Antonio as missionary and parish priest of Baler. To implement his work, he built the first church in Baler made of nipa and wood. In 1616, the Province of San Gregorio also named Father Pascual Serrano as minister for Casiguran. Thus, the evangelization of this part of the Philippines commenced. In 1658, the Franciscan priests had to abandon their evangelization work in this area due to lack of personnel and they turned over their duties to the Agustinian Recollects. The last Franciscan priest assigned as missionary to the towns of Po lillo, Binangonan, Baler, and Casiguran was Father Francisco de Ribera. On 1 September 1658, he turned over the inventory of the parish's alhajas (chalices, crosses, etc.) to the Agustinian Recollect Father Agustin de Santa Monica. The Augustinian Recollects controlled the province up until 1703, when the administration of the province was returned to the Franciscans and the alhajas were again turned over by the Agustinian Recollect Father Francisco de la Madre de Dios to the Franciscan priest Father Juan de la Torre. At this time, the Franciscans took on a more aggressive campaign to convert the people of the area to Christianitv. By 1720 the parish priest assigned to Distrito del Principe was Father Sebastian de la Madre de Dios who founded a mission in the town of Bongong where the tribes lived in conflict. In his letters to his superiors, he wrote that the Luang and the Dumagat were enemies of the Ytalones and the Ylongotes. Father Sebastian de la Madre de Dios established another mission at Dipaculao on 19 October 1719. He was later martyred by the same people he tried to convert, the Ilongot.

The Evangelization Of Baler And The Distrito Del Principe

The evangelization process of the Franciscans could be gleaned from the letter that, on 20 February 1721, Father Santiago de Jesus Maria wrote from Baler to his superiors in Spain.

"A Doctrina and Tocsohan (question and answer catechism) has been made in the language of the Ylongot with the aid of the inhabitants of this town and Casiguran, as well as one of their leaders, who are experts and more capable in Tagalog and Ylongot. As they do not understand a word of Tagalog, nor can they hardly pronounce the words as their teeth have been filed, they say that they can understand the prayers, although they are a bit confused. Not knowing the language substantially, we do not know if there are substantive errors, although inevitably there must be some mistakes in composition. Nevertheless we have tried to follow the rules of the language. And with what has been done by Brother Guardian and what we have done afterwards, practically all the words and conjugations have been gathered. However, it is not complete as there is a lack of space and because there are very few here in Baler who can understand simultaneously the two languages. We will do what we can in the hope that this will serve as a reference for others.

In another letter which he wrote in Bongong on 1 July 1721, Father Santiago de Jesus Maria recounted,

"In the place of Damag, populated by Dizalines, six children were baptized since 1 June 1719. In the place called Tambaguen, populated by Ylongotes, six adults and six children were baptized; all were converted except for one who was rebellious. In the places of Dicapulao and Ditalis, populated by Ylongotes, all were converted and two adults and 24 children were baptized. Even though all these towns and places have earlier been converted to Christianity, they returned to their old fierce ways due to the lack of missionaries, as evidenced by the number of cruel and un-Christian killings that have occurred in these places, and which reduced the number of people. The exact number by which the population has been reduced to cannot be quantified as many have fled the towns and headed to the mountains for fear of the outbreaks of smallpox that have occurred in these towns. In the rancheria de San Yldefonso in the mountains of Casiguran, 20 Negrito adults and 12 children were converted and baptized. In the town of Umirey, 3 adults and 25 children were baptized."

On 14 February 1723 the same missionary wrote the following about the Aetas:

"As they do not understand a single word of Tagalog, I have made a Doctrina and Tocsohan, aided by the natives who are more adept in the language of Casiguran.

The Tsunami of 1735

The present site of Baler is not the original site of the town founded by Father Blas Palomino. Two Franciscan priests, Father Lucas de la Resurreccion and Father Jose de San Rafael, described the event of 26 and 27 December 1735 thus:

"Having started at around nine in the evening, a great storm occurred with bolts of lightning and thunder and a great abundance of water, such that in less than five hours it sank and inundated all the outskirts of the town. The amount of water was such that when it reached the floor of the convent, and having flooded all the houses, water exploded in the middle of the town at two in the morning. The wave carried out the town center to the sea, houses, convent and church became part of the coconut plantation the existed in the southern portion of the town near the kitchen of the convent."

A few families of Baler survived this natural disaster by swimming through the floods and waves toward the hill where the hermitage of the Franciscans was located. The surviving families were the Angara, Bijasa, Bitong, Carrasco, Lumasac, and Poblete. The trauma of the disaster led some of these families to transfer to other towns. The Bijasas moved to Inategan (San Luis) and the Bitongs transferred to San Jose (Maria Aurora). The Angaras and the Lumasacs remained in Baler although they moved their houses to higher ground.

Because of this natural disaster, the town was transferred three miles inland by the survivors to its present location in the southernmost part of the cove of Baler, near the mouth of the Baler River. Here the Franciscan missionaries built a church that looked more like a fortress, a purpose that ironically it would eventually serve. The new church was built with pebbles, limestone, and sand, and its walls were one meter and a half wide. The church, measuring 30 meters in length and 10 meters in width, had six windows with two facing south where the facade is located, three facing east and one facing west. It had two doors: one in the south and the other in the east.

A little over a year after this natural disaster, Baler parish priest Father Lucas de la Resurreccion created a barangay form of government that was run by its townsfolk. Of course, the priest continued to exert a strong influence on all matters relating to the town.

Exploration And Conquest

The difficulties in converting the Aeta were described by Father Bernardo de Santa Rosa, missionary of Casiguran in a letter which he wrote to his provincial superiors in 1747.

"As to the language, it is like Babylon here or something in between, as if some have come from Rome, some from Iberia and others from England as each rancheria of these Aetas have a different language, different tone and accent but all understand the Tagalog Language which for them is a middle language. This is precisely why whoever comes here must understand it must have patience."

In 1753, it was decided that the evangelization work in the Distrito del Principe had to be expanded and that a more accurate evaluation of the number of natives to be converted was needed. Thus, in the next two years, two separate exploration missions were organized by the Provincia de San Gregorio then headed by Father Alejandro Ferrer. He ordered Father Manuel de Jesus y Maria of Fermoselle, Zamora, and Father Manuel de San Agustin of Billaute, Burgos, to explore the areas north of Baler through the Dicapulao River. No less than 73 settlements were discovered during this expedition. In 1755, the priest from Fermoselle and Father Jose Gonzalez de San Pascual did another expedition southward from Tabueyon, exploring the mountains around Tabueyon. During this expedition they estimated the Ilongot population at 1,292 of which 348 were converted to Christianity. At this time too, another Franciscan, Father Manuel de Olivencia embarked on an expedition 14 leagues westward until he reached the missions in Pantabangang, Caranglang, Puncang, Buhay, and Dupac, which at that time were part of the Province of Cagayan and which now belong to Nueva Ecija. After these expeditions, it was decided that more missionaries had to be sent in order to more effectively Christianize the area. Four more priests, Father Mateo de la Cruz, Father Pedro Malo, Father Juan de Ocana, and Father Francisco Maceira, were then dispatched for this purpose.

In the beginning, the apparent docility of the natives and their easy conversion led the priests to believe that soldiers were not necessary to protect the missions. The natives' love for freedom, their tendency to victimize the recently converted among themselves, and their penchant for inter- tribal warfare however forced the missionaries to request for protection from the governor general, who in 1759 ordered that the corporal heading the Presidio of Buhay protect the missionaries when and if they asked for it. On 26 May 1766, with the elevated number of killings that the natives keep committing against the converts and the danger posed to the lives of the missionaries themselves, the Provincia de San Gregorio asked that a detachment of soldiers be assigned to the district but the lack of personnel and logistics prevented the governor general from acceding to the request of the priests. In 1770 the missionary assigned to Tabueyon, Father Juan Beltran, was assassinated by the Ilongot at the Cabiganan settlement while on a conversion mission. The killings gradually increased and the converted Ilongot, after centuries of living in freedom in the forest, became bored with town life and felt the need to go back to their homes in the Caraballos. This forced the missionaries to retreat and consolidate their missions in the towns of Baler, Binatangang, and San Jose de Casignan.

From this period survive several documents, many letters and two brief treatises in the Franciscan Archives transferred from the town of Pastrana in Spain to their archives in Madrid. These include: Toyaral ni Apo sean Jesu Christo na sulat a opon egongot (Question and Answer Cathecism on the Life of Jesus in Egongot Language), Ditoy empaquibuegue to, pansibueg tomana (Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity) and No tepot a simba tar d. n. dim a fiestan tegon cruz y devaf de n mandasal ditto mapian ogali n mam pa aguen iteg de se no d, Apo sen Dios (Mass and Prayers).Another folder in the same collection is titled Catecismo de Doctrina Cristiana en Egongot, signed in Binatangan on 15 December 1792 by the missionaries Father Casimiro de Tembleque, Father Tomas Marti and Father Francisco de la Zarza.

The Chinese And The Moros

Without a doubt, the Chinese reached Baler long before the Spaniards arrived on our shores. Some could have been migrants in search of fortune or seeking trade, some may have been survivors of shipwrecks. Others were perhaps descendants of pirates like Li-ma-Hong. Based on their observations, the Franciscan priests considered the Ilongot, who inhabited the central portion of the Caraballo mountains, as appearing to have Chinese origins due to their facial characteristics and physique, and their language and customs. Some of the settlers of Chinese origin became members of Baler society and in many cases converted their names into Spanish or simply Hispanized their Chinese names. To be part of the community, they also converted to Christianity.

The priests constantly tried to educate and convert inhabitants of the Distrito del Principe, some with success others with failure. From the end of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, the succession of missionary priests in the area resulted in the growth of the towns, particularly because they became safe havens for the priests who resorted to only sporadic missions in the remote settlements due to the ferocity of the tribes. The towns became a refuge against the tribal wars and attacks of the Ilongot and the menace posed by Moro pirates who in the late 18th and early 19th centuries raided the towns of the Eastern coast of Luzon, including Baler. These pirates had their lairs in the islands of Burias and Ticao. In 1798, the pirates raided Baler, captured approximately 450 inhabitants and held three Franciscan priests for ransom of 250 pesos, which was paid for their freedom. Because of this unfortunate incident the Franciscans planned for two watchtowers to be built in Baler, one on top of the hill called Ermita where the Franciscan hermitage stood, while the other by the sea, near the Aguang River. One of the watchtowers survives today although some restoration needs to be done to ensure that it will be returned to its former glory and preserved for another century.

The Legacy of Father Jose Urbina De Esparragosa

In 1847, the parish priest of Baler Father Jose Urbina de Esparragosa, who arrived in 1840, supervised the construction of the two watchtowers with the aid of community labor. The bases of the Moro pirates were raided and destroyed by the Spanish armed forces, whose strength and capability increased with the use of native troops and the purchase of more modern weapons and armed steamboats in 1847. Thus, the watchtowers appeared never to have been used for the purpose that they were built.

A year earlier, in 1846, he designed and opened a canal one league or three miles in length, tapping water form the Suklayin Creek in Bakong to the barrio of Kaledian to irrigate the valley area near where the waters of the Casignan, Baler, Caliselan, and Casiguran Rivers, flowed into the sea. The canal continues to exist and parts are still in use today.

A highly educated man, Father Urbina was also a visionary who cared for the welfare of his parishioners. The most important legacy of Father Urbina to the Filipino people however would be his grandson Manuel Luis Quezon, who would eventually become one of the great Filipino presidents, if not the greatest. The future president was born on 19 August 1878, to Lucio Quezon (1) and Maria Dolores Molina, daughter of Father Urbina by Brigida Molina. Both husband and wife were teachers hence the two can be credited with the education of the youth of Baler at that time (2).

Enrique Avancena, grandson of Manuel Luis Quezon by his daughter Ma. Zenaida, says this of the lineage of Lucio Quezon. "Historians and family agree with the description Chinese mestizo. Lucio Quezon's father was of Chinese ancestry and they lived in the Parian or Chinatown district outside Intramuros. His mother could have been of Spanish origins because Lucio spoke Spanish and thus became maestro in Baler after retiring as a sargento in the guardia civil. However, he could have learned his Spanish in his stint in the Spanish military." According to historian Augusto de Viana and as written in his timeline on the history of Baler, Lucio Quezon, the father of President Quezon, was a Spanish-Chinese mestizo.

In Spain there is an anecdote about how if a child calls the parish priest Uncle rather than the normal deference of Father, it is usually because the priest fathered him. Thus, priests who strayed during their missionary work and begat a child or children were called Padre dos veces or Father Twice Over.

In 1853, Father Urbina was stripped of his duties after his Manila superiors verified that he had sired five children from two Baler women who happened to be sisters. There is a possibility that he also fathered children with other Filipinas.

The Winds of Revolution

Starting in 1856, when the Distrito del Principe was created, a politico-military command was established and a commander appointed to run the government of the district from his office in the capital, which was Baler. Reporting to him was a peninsular corporal who headed a group of five to ten native soldiers. This exalted office was supposed to protect the already civilized, i.e. Christianized, towns and settlements against the wild tribes of the mountains. The politico-military command was also tasked to subjugate the non- Christianized, find means civilizing them without resistance and help them mold themselves in the lowland society. It was quite obvious that these tasks were not implemented. Rather than risk their lives chasing tribal warriors in unexplored and dangerous territories, the commander and his Spanish corporal, as well as the natives, preferred to remain comfortably in the town and reluctantly went off to the mountains only to react to any aggression by the tribes.

Because they could not get a proper census of the number of people living in the mountains, the Spanish government relied on statistics coming from towns that they controlled. The Distrito del Principe was sparsely populated because of its remote location. By 1896, the towns of Baler, San Jose de Casignan, and Casiguran had a Christian population of 3,551 inhabitants. Communication with Manila in the middle and late 19th century was limited to traversing the lowlands and the swamplands of Pampanga and Nueva Ecija, then climbing over the Caraballo Mountains, at the risk of being attacked by tribal headhunters. The fastest means of transportation was the steamer boat provided by the Compania de Tabacos de Filipinas, which plied the route weekly. The boat sailed around the Bicol peninsula transporting tobacco from Isabela, Cagayan, and other Ilocos provinces. It also delivered mail and cargo to the towns of the east coast of Luzon, including Baler. A small boat operation also sailed from Manila through the port of Infanta in Tayabas, but this took longer than the steamboat.

Almost throughout the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, the central government did not deem it necessary to maintain a large military detachment in Baler, In fact aside from the Spanish corporal of the Guardia Civil there were only four native soldiers assigned to Baler during the outbreak of the revolution. It was only when the revolutionary government of General Emilio Aguinaldo retreated to Bulacan and Nueva Ecija that the governor general ordered small detachments assigned to the ports located in the east coasts of Luzon to protect them and ensure that the rebels could not smuggle in arms.

In the late 19th century, due to Baler's remote location, it was also used by the Spanish government to exile Filipino filibusters, thus creating a small community of rebels that would eventually encourage the people of Baler to join the revolution and throw off the Spanish colonizers. Among the revolutionaries was Teodorico Luna y N ovicio, born in Baler and cousin of the great revolutionary General Antonio Luna and the greatest Filipino painter in history, Juan Luna. Considering that Teodorico, Antonio, and Juan Luna carry the middle name Novicio, it was highly probable that the mother of Teodorico was a sister of the mother of Juan and Antonio. Teodorico established in Baler, together with Norberto Valenzuela, Isabelo Palispis, and Antero Amatorio, a chapter of the Katipunan. Amatorio was a former gobernadorcillo of Baler. After a blood compact and tearing of their cedulas, and with the approval of General Emilio Aguinaldo, they issued a manifesto inciting the people of Baler to rise in arms against Spain. (3)

Fearing that Aguinaldo would try to retreat towards the Caraballo Mountains to elude being captured, the politico-military commander of the District of Principe, Antonio Lopez Irizarri, requested 50 soldiers to be dispatched to Baler to preempt such a possibility; thus began the events that would lead to what was now popularly known in Spanish history as the Siege of Baler.

Editor: Notes on the Text

(1-2) Manuel Luis Quezon in The Good Fight (1944) wrote that his father was born in Peñafrancia, a district of Manila now known as Paco, of a Spanish father and a Filipino mother.

According to author Jose Marra A. Cariño, the surname Quezon does not appear in Spanish heraldic books. It may be a Hispanized version of the Chinese name Que-Son or Keh-Son or a local Filipino surname.

Carlos Quirino in Quezon, Paladin of Philippine Freedom, provides more information on Lucio Quezon. "As a young man, he served in the Spanish army stationed in various parts of the archipelago. The army was then composed of Filipino soldiers and Spanish officers. By the time his term ended, Lucio Quezon held the rank of sergeant, the highest position a native could usually aspire to. He opened a tobacconist shop in Calle Real in Paco. It must have been unsuccessful for a few years later he decided to try his luck anew by changing his residence. His love of adventure prompted him to emigrate to distant Baler, where he met a young widow, Ma. Dolores Molina, with whom he fell in love."

According to Enrique Avancena, grandson of Manuel Quezon by his daughter Ma. Zenaida, "Historians and family agree with the description Chinese mestizo. Lucio Quezon's father was of Chinese ancestry and they lived in the Parian or Chinatown district outside Intramuros. His mother could have been of Spanish origins because Lucio spoke Spanish and thus became maestro in Baler after retiring as a sargento in the guardia civil. However he could have learned his Spanish during his stint in the military."

(3) Mr. Enrique Avancena disagrees with Mr. Cariño on this matter. "Baler was not a place of exile of filibusters. And Teodorico is mistakenly described in Spanish accounts as a Baler native but if the assumption is that he is the cousin of Juan and Antonio Luna, then he comes from Ilocos. He was sent by Aguinaldo from Pantabangan and led the Katipunan in Baler; he was not born there."

On the other hand, according to the author, Spanish accounts stated that filibusters were exiled in Baler.