A grandson of one of the Spanish soldiers seated on one row, another of a Katipunero seated across him, they wave at each other in recognition, yet two generations ago, their grandparents were shooting one another in the exact spot where the Siege of Baler happened. Today, they both came to recall that moment of gallantry, loyalty and courage.
The Siege of Baler – where a group of Spanish soldiers garrisoned inside the town’s church and defended the Spanish flag from July 1, 1898 to June 2, 1899 without knowing that Spain had already lost its principal colony in Asia on December 10, 1898 through the signing of the Treaty of Paris.
Heroism and stubbornness let the 33 soldiers, commanded by Captain Enrique de las Morenas y Fossí and Lieutenant Saturnino Martín y Cerezo, not only survive for almost a year, but to earned the respect of the revolutionary army of the Malolos Republic, whose safe return to Spain was ordered by General Emilio Aguinaldo who decreed that the Spanish soldiers “…be treated not as enemies but as friends.” After this heroic act, this group of soldiers came to be known as Los últimos de Filipinas (The last ones of the Philippines).
The Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day is deeply anchored to the town of Baler; the Bill, authored by Senator Edgardo J. Angara was established on July 22, 2002 under which Republic Act No. 9187 was approved on February 5, 2003 as a means to strengthen the relationship between two nations that share history, values and traditions.
RA 9187 states: June 30 is a day when President Emilio Aguinaldo commended the besieged Spanish soldiers in the Church of Baler for their loyalty and gallantry. To mark this momentous occasion, there is a need to declare said day a national holiday to remember the act of benevolence which has paved the way in bridging better relations between Philippines and Spain.
The 30th of June of each year is hereby declared as Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day to commemorate the cultural and historical ties, friendship and cooperation between the Philippines and Spain.
Crisscrossing the provinces of Tarlac, Nueva Vizcaya and Nueva Ecija in an almost 8 hour bus ride accompanied by pouring rain from a typhoon, I finally found myself at the quiet town of Baler in Aurora, just in time for the day’s celebration.
The commemoration started with a cultural night wherein a gala presentation titled: Magkaibigan was held at Sentro Baler.
Participated by various artists and talents from the Cultural Center of the Philippines and supported by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines under the Office of Senator Edgardo J. Angara and the Province of Aurora, the show featured colorful performances by different ethnic groups such as the Dumagats and the Manobos; the Lahing Batangan Dance Troupe; Nel Canto, Bukidnon State University Chorale; Camille Lopez Molina, Andrew Fernando and Renato Lucas; Spanish poet Marta Fernandez Portillo and guitarist Javier Alvarez; Ballet Philippines; and Philippine pop princess Sarah Geronimo.
The stunning three-hour performance, attended by various dignitaries and heads of government cultural institutions was capped with a 10-minute firework display that ended at almost midnight.
The following day saw the actual triple celebration of the 113th Siege of Baler, the 10th Anniversary of Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day, and the Bicentennial Commemoration of the Spanish Constitution in Cadiz of 1812 (where the Philippine Constitution was patterned) at the church grounds highlighted by a wreath-laying ceremony by Guests of Honor former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban and Spanish Constitutional Court Francisco Perez de los Cobos Orihuel.
A book launch was also held at the Baler Municipal Plaza by Dr. Virgilio S. Almario, National Artist for Literature for his book Komedya de Baler and Mr. Carlos Madrid for his Flames Over Baler.
The last part of the program was held at the Museo de Baler featuring oil paintings of the Spanish survivors of the Siege of Baler by Sherwin Gonzales, the Dial de Galleon exhibits by Meridian World, Seraphico: The Franciscan Missionaries in the Aurora Region by Dr. Carlos Madrid, and 44 Cineastals Filipinos (44 Filmakers) by the Instituto Cervantes.
Other notable personalities present during the commemoration included: Spanish Ambassador Jorge Domecq, Argentina Ambassador Joaquin Daniel Otero, Ambassador of Vietnam Nguyen Vu Tu, Ambassador of Indonesia Yohanes Kristiarto Legowo, Ambassador of Panama Roberto Villarino, Ambassador of Israel Menashe Bar-On, Libyan Ambassador Saad Zamuna, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Jesus Garcia Aldaz, Ambassador of Chile Roberto Mayorga Lorca, Undersecretary Laura Q. del Rosario of Department of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Maria Serena I. Diokno Chairman of National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Mr. Cahamfeuang Phanthaxay Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Laos, Executive Director Ludovico Badoy of NHCP, Executive Director Emelita V. Almosara of NCCA, and Col. Vic C. Castro of the Philippine Army.
VRs taken on June 30, 2012. Portions of text from wikipedia.org. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org