Siege of Baler

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Siege of Baler
Part of the Philippine Revolution, Spanish-American War
Las tropas del teniente coronel Tecsón en Baler (mayo de 1899, La Ilustración Artística, M. Arias y Rodríguez).jpg
Filipino troops of Colonel Tecson in Baler, May 1899
Date July 1, 1898 – June 2, 1899
Location Baler, Philippines
Result
  • Baler held beyond official cessation of hostilities and cession of Philippine Islands;
  • Failure of American relief efforts;
  • Negotiated armistice June 2, 1899
Belligerents
First Philippine Republic Philippine Republic Spain Kingdom of Spain  United States
Commanders and leaders
First Philippine Republic Teodorico Novicio Luna
First Philippine Republic Cirilo Gomez Ortiz
First Philippine Republic Calixto Villacorta
First Philippine Republic Antonio Santos
First Philippine Republic Simon Ocampo Tecson
Spain Enrique de Las Morenas y Fossí
Spain Juan Alonzo Zayas
Spain Saturnino Martin Cerezo
United States James Gilmore
Strength
unknown 50 infantry Land:
26 marines
Sea:
1 gunboat
Casualties and losses
700 dead or wounded 18 Dead several wounded

1 captured

Baler (San Luis Obispo de Tolosa) church.

The Siege of Baler, from July 1, 1898 to June 2, 1899, was a battle of the Philippine Revolution and concurrently the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War. Filipino revolutionaries laid siege to a fortified church manned by colonial Spanish troops in the town of Baler, Philippines for 11 months.[1][2]

The battle is considered part of the Spanish-American War since the Filipinos were allied with the United States at the outset. That war ended in December 1898 with Spain's surrender and annexation of the Philippines to the United States. However, cut off from communications with their own government and military, the Spanish forces continued their defense against the Filipino forces until 1899.

Background[edit]

Baler, Aurora 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 2nd Expeditionary Battalion "Cazadores" of Philippines, under Captain Enrique de las Morenas y Fossí. On June 1, 1898, Morenas began work to dig a well, stock food supplies and ammunition and to fortify the church compound of San Luís de Tolosa in Baler's town square against a possible attack.[1] The church was the only stone building in the area.[2]

Siege[edit]

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 Carreño, 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 Carreño. 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 warfare on 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 buffalo). 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 C. 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 - [First Philippine Republic], 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.”

Aftermath[edit]

The survivors of Baler on their arrival in Barcelona.

Las Morenas was posthumously promoted to Major and awarded the 'Lauerate Cross of San Fernando', Spain’s highest military medal. His widow received a pension of 5,000 pesetas or Peso, a Philippine currency. Martin-Cerezo was promoted to Major with an annual pension of 1,000 pesetas. 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.[1]

Of the fifty men who entered the church, around thirty survived the 11-month siege. Fourteen men died from disease. Only two men died from wounds. There were four deserters from the garrison. Two men were imprisoned for helping in the desertion of another (Alcaide), and executed on orders of Martin Cerezo on June 1, 1899, the day before the surrender.[1]

The feat of the Spanish so inspired the American General Frederick 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.[1]

The survivors were known as Los Ultimos de Filipinas in Spanish or Ang Pinakahuli Mula sa Pilipinas in Filipino - Philippine dialect, "The Last Ones of the Philippines". A century after their return, the Spanish government paid homage to them.[3]

1939 “The Siege of the Church of Baler” Historic Marker at the Baler Church

Baler in popular culture[edit]

The Siege of Baler is portrayed in the 1945 Spanish film Los últimos de Filipinas.[4] and in the 2008 Filipino film Baler.[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Martin Cerezo, Saturnino (1909). Under the Red and Gold: Being Notes and Recollections of the Siege of Baler. F. L. Dodds. Franklin Hudson Publishing Co. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Quirino, Carlos (1978). Alfredo Roces, ed. Epic Stand in Baler. Filipino Heritage 8. Lahing Pilipino Publishing Inc. 
  3. ^ "Homenaje a los últimos de Filipinas" (in Spanish). cincodias.com. March 9, 2005. Retrieved 2007-10-018. 
  4. ^ Los Últimos de Filipinas, imdb.com
  5. ^ Baler, imdb.com

External links[edit]