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Historical Background: Baler, Aurora

Baler, located on the eastern coast of Luzon, is some 225 kilometers distant from the Philippine
capital city of Manila. In 1898 it was reachable only by ship or by traversing on foot through nearly
impassable jungle trails that were often washed out by torrential tropical rains.
[1]

The Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonial rule, which had started in 1896, formally resumed
in 1898 after a truce in 1897. At the same time, the Philippines was involved in the Spanish-American
War, and the Filipino rebels allied themselves with the American forces. This alliance would end with
the outbreak of the Philippine-American War in 1899.
Baler was garrisoned by a fifty-man detachment of the Second Expeditionary Rifle Battalion, under
Captain Enrique de las Morenas y Foss. On June 1, 1898, Morenas began work to dig a well, stock
food supplies and ammunition and to fortify the church compound of San Lus de Tolosa in Baler's
town square against a possible attack.
[1]
The church was the only stone building in the area.
[2]

The Siege of Baler
On June 26, it was noticed that the town residents were deserting. On the night of the 30th, 800
Filipino troops under Teodorico Luna (a relative of the painter Juan Luna) attacked, and the garrison
fell back to the church. The town priest, Father Candido Gomez Carreo, also quartered himself in the
church.
[1]

The first few days of the siege saw several attempts by the Filipinos to get the Spanish to surrender
by leaving letters, while they surrounded the church with trenches. On July 8 the revolutionary
commander, then Cirilo Gomez Ortiz, offered a suspension of hostilities until nightfall, which was
accepted. On July 18, Calixto Villacorta
[2]
took command of the Filipinos. He also sent a warning
letter, which was rebuffed.
[1]

The Spanish had to endure confinement in a small, hot, humid space. As the siege progressed, their
food supply began to diminish through usage and spoilage. Enemy rifle fire did cause casualties but
diseases such as beriberi, dysentery, and fevers did more damage. The first Spaniard to die was
Father Gomez Carreo. In September, Captain Las Morenas came down with beriberi. His second in
command, Lt. Juan Alonzo Zayas died of wounds and command fell to Lt. Saturnino Martin Cerezo
when Las Morenas died in December.
[1][2]

More than once the Spanish made forays to burn nearby houses to deprive the Filipinos of much
needed cover. The Filipinos attempted to smoke them out by setting fires beside the church wall but
this was repulsed and their timber captured. They also tried psychological warfareon the Spanish by
arranging for a couple to have sexual intercourse in plain sight.
[2]

At the start of the siege, the Spanish had provisions of flour, rice, beans, chickpeas, bacon, corned
beef, sardines, wine, coffee and olive oil - but no salt, and this caused much discomfort. To
supplement their food supplies, the Spanish foraged for squash and other vegetables and killed
animals, including carabaos (water buffaloes). As the siege wore on, they were forced to eat dogs,
reptiles, snails and crows.
[1][2]

By mid-November, having failed to dislodge the Spanish defenders, Villacorta, under a flag of truce,
left newspapers on the church steps that told of Spain's planned departure from the Philippines and
that the Spanish-American conflict was over. Martin considered this a ruse. Next Villacorta brought in
Spanish civilians and ultimately a uniformed Spanish officer left behind to wrap up Spain's affairs on
the island, to no avail.
[1]

By the end of 1898, 134 days had elapsed since the siege began, during which one Spanish soldier
died of wounds and thirteen of disease. Of the thirty-eight remaining troops, only twenty-three were
effective, with the rest being sick. The Filipinos also had suffered casualties, mostly from Mauser rifle
fire the Spanish were able to inflict on them from their protected firing positions. Gomez Ortiz was one
of these.
[1]

The New Year brought more Spanish emissaries to Baler but again Martin Cerezo turned them away.
In April, the Americans intervened when Lt. Commander James Gilmore and U.S. Marines from the
gunboat USS Yorktown attempted to relieve the Spanish. But shortly after coming ashore, he and his
twenty-five Marines were ambushed by the Filipino forces, as the Philippines had been at war with the
United States since February.
[2]
Several Marines were wounded and Gilmore was captured and held
prisoner for eight months before he escaped and made his way through the jungle and Filipino lines to
Manila.
By May, Filipino artillery shelling hit an improvised cell that held three Spaniards who had attempted
to desert earlier in the siege. One of them, Alcaide, ran out and joined the Filipinos. This was a blow
to the Spanish as the deserter had important intelligence to share.
[1]

On May 28, 1899, there was yet another attempt to get Martin Cerezo to surrender. Again, another
Spanish officer appeared under a flag of truce and was turned away. He had brought a copy of a
Madrid newspaper, which the lieutenant dismissed as bogus. However, the paper contained an article
concerning the upcoming wedding of a fellow officer he knew personally. Martin-Cerezo was thus
convinced the paper was genuine and that indeed Spain had lost the war. On June 2, 1899, he
surrendered to the Filipinos.
General Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the Philippine revolutionary government, decreed that they
were to be considered "not as prisoners of war but as friends". He further stated that "they realized an
epic as glorious as the legendary valour of the son of El Cid and of Pelayo".
[2]

Three months later, on September 1, the survivors, including Martin Cerezo, arrived in Barcelona
where they were received and honored as heroes.
[1][2]
Martin-Cerezo later published a memoir, El
Sitio de Baler, where he gave his reasons for holding out:

It would be somewhat difficult for me to explain, principally, I believe through mistrust and
obstinacy. Then also on account of a certain kind of auto-suggestion that we ought not for any
reason surrender because of national enthusiasm, without doubt influenced by the attractive
illusion of glory and on account of the suffering and treasury of sacrifice and heroism and that
by surrender, we would be putting an unworthy end to it all.

General:
The Siege of Baler commenced during the Spanish American War. However, cut off from
communications with its owngovernment and military, the defenders of Baler were not aware
that the war had actually ended on December 10, 1898, and continued their heroic, if futile,
defense against the Philippine forces for 337 days. This is the story of the defense of Baler.
Background:
Even today, the town of Baler on the Eastern coast of island of Luzon in the Philippines is quite
isolated from that nation's capital city, Manila, some 225 kilometers distant, as the crow flies.
But in 1898 it was even more remote, reachable only by ship or by traversing on foot through
nearly impassable jungle trails that were often washed out by torrential tropical rains.
It was no wonder that Captain Enrique de Las Morenas y Foss, the commander of a fifty-seven
man Spanish detachment of the Second Expeditionary Rifle Battalion knew nothing of
the defeat of the Spanish fleet at Cavite by Commodore George Dewey on May 1 1898. And,
more importantly, he was unaware that the fighting of the Spanish American War had ended
with an Armistice on August 13, 1898. Nevertheless, Captain Las Morenas was fully cognizant
of the threat posed by Filipino insurgents in northern Luzon. Earlier, on June 1, 1898 he began
work to dig a well, stock food supplies and ammunition and to fortify the church compound of
San Lus de Toledo in Baler's town square against a possible attack.
The Siege Begins:
On June 28, 1898 Las Morenas received a report that the towns residents had fled into the
surrounding jungle and on the afternoon of the 29th Filipino troops bombarded the church
with their "Lantaca" cannons made of hollowed out palm tree trunks and strengthened with
bands of iron. They used mostly stone shot and caused little damage to the building but they
made a tremendous noise when they hit the church's metal roof.
Following the noisy cannonade, a flag of truce appeared in the square in front of the church. It
was carried by the town's priest, Father Candido Gomez Carerro who also bore a message from
the Filipino commander, Colonel Calixto Villacorte who had a force of approximately 800 men.
His note said, in part, "surrender now and you will be treated as gentlemen and if you do not, I
will leave no stone standing in your stronghold." It was the first of many offers to submit made
over the following eleven months that were refused by the Spanish. On that first day Las
Morenas' defiant answer was, "Commence firing any time you like. The Spanish held on to
their fortress for the next 337 days despite the almost continuous Filipino assaults and
worsening conditions inside the church.
Since they were trapped in the confines of a small building with windows and doors shut there
was little air circulating. And, as if that was not enough discomfort, the heat and the humidity
and the stench from overflowing latrines in the church yard, magnified the problem. To say
nothing of the deafening missiles showered on them every day. Meanwhile, the food supply
began to diminish through usage and spoilage. Enemy rifle fire did cause casualties but diseases
such as beriberi, dysentery, and fevers did more damage. The first to die was Father Gomez
who had elected to stay with his countrymen.
In September Captain Las Morenas came down with Beriberi. His second in command, Lt.
Juan Alonzo Zayas, a native of Puerto Rico, died of wounds and command finally fell to Lt.
Saturnino Martin-Cerezo when las Morenas died in October.
By mid November, having failed to dislodge the Spanish defenders Villacorte under flag of truce
left newspapers on the church steps that told the story of Spain's planned departure from the
Philippines and that now the war was between the Spanish and the Americans was over. Lt.
Martin-Cerezo refused to believe it. As far as he was concerned this was simply a Filipino ruse.
Next Villacorte brought in Spanish civilians and ultimately a uniformed Spanish Officer left
behind to wrap up Spain's affairs on the island. This was to no avail. To the Lieutenant they
were just Spanish turncoats in the employ of the Filipinos.

In December there were only 35 Spanish effectives left and Martin-Cerezo embarked on a bold
plan to replenish the dwindling supply of food. Under intense covering fire he sent Privates
Chamiso and Alcaide sallying out of the church and into a nearby house and set it afire. This
fire rapidly spread to adjoining houses being used by the Filipino troops and forcing them to
move further way from the church. The fire also burned a stand of trees that deprived the
Filipinos of much needed cover. In the confusion of the fire. the Spanish recovered a
considerable amount of food the insurgents left behind as well as vegetable seeds.
Unbeknownst to the defenders on December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed, in which
Spain transferred the Philippines to the U.S. for a payment of $20 million. From that time,
technically the Spanish defenders at Baler were fighting to defend U.S. territory. By the end of
1898, 134 days had elapsed since the siege began, during which one Spanish soldier died of
wounds and thirteen of disease. Of the thirty-eight remaining troops only twenty-three were
effective, with the rest being sick. The Filipinos also had suffered a casualties but mostly from
the high rate of accurateMauser rifle fire the Spanish were able to inflict on them from their
protected firing positions in church windows as well as from the enclosed church yard walls and
bell tower.
The new year brought more Spanish emissaries to Baler but again Lt. Martin-Cerezo turned
them away. In early March the Spanish defenders had a stroke of luck when a water buffalo
wandered near the church during a lull in the siege. A well aimed shot brought the animal down
and the Spanish dragged the carcass back to the church yard where butchered and had meat
for the first time in months.
In April the Americans got into the act when Lt. Commander James Gilmore and U.S. Marines
from the gunboat USS YORKTOWN attempted to rescue the Spanish, but shortly after coming
ashore, he and his twenty-five Marines were ambushed by the Filipino forces. Several Marines
were wounded and Gilmore was captured and held prisoner for eight months before he escaped
and made his way through the jungle and Filipino lines to Manila.
By May the Filipinos had more modern artillery and one of their shells hit the improvised cell
that held three Spaniards who had attempted to desert earlier in the siege. One of them, the
heretofore heroic Pvt. Alcaide dashed out and joined the Filipinos. As can be imagined this was
a blow to the Spanish as Alcaide had important intelligence to share.
The end of the siege:
In any event, on the 28th of May , 1899 there was yet another attempt to get Martin Cerezo to
surrender when again, another Spanish officer appeared under a flag of truce and was turned
away. Before leaving he left among other items, a copy of a Madrid newspaper which the
lieutenant dismissed as bogus. However the paper contained an article in the social column
concerning the upcoming wedding of a fellow officer he knew in Malaga. Since there was no
way the Filipinos could have known many of the facts in the column including the name of the
bride and her parents with whom he was also familiar, Martin Cerezo realized that the paper he
held in his hand was genuine and that indeed Spain had lost the war. On June 2, 1899 he
communicated to the Filipinos that he was now ready to give up the fortress-church he held for
so long and three months later, on September 1, the thirty-three survivors, including Martin-
Cerezo, arrived in Barcelona where they were received and honored as heroes.
One wonders why Martin Cerezo held out so long and in spite of the many attempts to end the
matter peacefully. The answer he gave in his published memoir, El Sitio de Baler was:
It would be somewhat difficult for me to explain, principally , I believe through mistrust and
obstinacy. Then also on account of a certain kind of auto-suggestion that we aught not for any
reason surrender because of national enthusiasm, without doubt influenced by the attractive
illusion of glory and on account of the suffering and treasury of sacrifice and heroism and that by
surrender, we would be putting an unworthy end to it all.
Afterward:
Captain Las Morenas was posthumously promoted to Major and awarded the Lauerate Cross
of San Fernando, Spains highest military medal. His widow received a pension of 5,000 pesetas.
Lt. Saturnino Martin-Cerezo was promoted to Major with an annual pension of 1,000 pesetas,
annually. He also was decorated with the Royal Cross as well as the Military Order of San
Fernando and went on to become a major general. He died in 1948. Lt. Zayas received a
posthumous promotion. The enlisted men received the Silver Cross of Military Merit and each
of them received a monthly pension of 60 pesetas
Of the fifty-seven men who entered the church of Baler on June 27, 1898, thirty-five survived
the siege that lasted for 337 days. Nineteen men died, fifteen from diseases. Only two men died
from wounds, the only battle casualties. There were five deserters from the garrison: Filipino
natives Corporals Alfonso Sus Fojas and Tomas Paladio Paredes; and the Spaniards Felipe
Herrero Lopez, Jaime Caldentey Nadal, and Jose Alcaide Bayona. Two men Antonio Menache
Sanchez and Vicente Gonzalez Toca were imprisoned at the baptistery of the church for
helping in the desertion of Alcaide, and executed on orders of Martin Cerezo on June 1, 1899,
the day before the surrender.
The feat of the Spanish so inspired the American General Fredrick Funston that he had
Martin-Cerezo's memoir translated and gave copies to all his officers. It was published as Under
the Red and Gold: Being Notes and Recollections of the Siege of Baler.
Cast
Anne Curtis - Feliza Reyes
Jericho Rosales - Celso Resurreccion
Phillip Salvador - Daniel Reyes
Andrew Schimmer - Lt. Jose Mota
Baron Geisler - Capt. Enrique Fossi de las Morenas
Ryan Eigenmann - 2nd Lt. Saturnino Martin Cerezo
Carlo Aquino - Gabriel Reyes
Nikki Bacolod - Luming
Mark Bautista- Lope
Joe Goodall - American Soldier
Jeremiah Rosales- Jaime Caldenay
Lindley Lumantas - Ilong
Joel Torre-Commandante Teodorico Luna Novicio
Alvin Anson- Catalan
Mark Lagang - Alom
Michael de Mesa - Fr. Candido Gomez Carreno
Rio Locsin - Azon Reyes
John Richards - American Captain
Johnny Solomon- Emilio Aguinaldo
DJ Durano - Pablo/Ambo
Leo Martinez - Col. Calixto Villacorte
Bernard Palanca - Lt. Juan Alonzo Zayas
Miguel Gonzales - Celso Reyes Resurrecion Jr.
Jao Mapa - Mauro
Mikel Campos - Flag Bearer
Spyke Perez
Vince Edwards
Billy Ray Afable
Alan Perez
Allen Dizon - Lt. Col. Simon Tecson (uncredited)