Three Milestones in Baler

Address delivered by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN during the 113th Anniversary of the Historic Siege of Baler, the 10th Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day and the 200th-Year Anniversary of the Cadiz Constitution held in Baler, Province of Aurora on June 30, 2012.

May I thank Senator Edgardo J. Angara (fondly called Ed, Edong, EJA or SEJA by his admirers and friends) for inviting me to this beautiful and historic capital town of Baler. I met Senator Angara many decades ago when he was elected president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in 1979. Since then, I have become his loyal admirer. I joined him when he organized and became the founding president of the Asean Law Association (or ALA) in 1980. And I still vividly remember when, as president of the University of the Philippines (1981-1987), he gave me a small replica of the UP Oblation, as a token of appreciation for my effort in arranging the donation to UP of a fire truck from Japan.

Though not a UP alumnus, I treasure the Oblation because my classmates at Mapa High School and I used to go to the UP campus in the 1950s, and before the Oblation, we promised one another that we would study hard so we could earn an entrance scholarship for our college studies at UP. Though granted a scholarship, I unfortunately could not enroll at UP because my very poor parents could not afford the then 15-centavo ride (30-centavos for roundtrip) from our small rented apartment at Cataluna Street in Sampaloc, Manila to the UP campus in Diliman, Quezon City.

Longest Serving Senator.

As we all know, Senator Angara is the longest serving member of the Philippine Senate. In fact, he was Senate President in 1993-1995. He is very versatile. Aside from being a topnotch lawyer, educator, legislator, civic leader and art connoisseur, he had also been a Cabinet member, having served as Executive Secretary and Agriculture Secretary. While he was UP President, he was offered to be Chief Justice when all the justices of the Supreme Court resigned because of the bar scandal. However, he demurred because he wanted to preserve the tradition of having only insiders, or former associate justices, to be elevated chief justice. I believe he is the best trained and most well rounded President, the Philippines will ever have.

Even if I have never been a legislator, he has asked me to serve as Program Chairman of the forthcoming International Conference of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption, or GOPAC, to be held in our country in January next year.

Given this long history of my humble association with Senator Angara, I could not – though feeling thoroughly unworthy and unqualified – refuse his invitation for me to be the Guest of Honor and Speaker during this program marking the 113th Anniversary of the Historic Siege of Baler and the 10th Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day.

Symbolism in Baler.

Baler symbolizes first, bravery in battle; second, honor in capitulation; third, friendship in victory; and fourth, progress in peace. These four virtues – bravery, honor, friendship, and progress – characterize every great nation and every great leader. Permit me to explain.

History tells us that the final Filipino revolution against Spain broke out in 1896. A year after, in 1897, the revolution was temporarily halted by the Pact of Biak-na-Bato which was the treaty executed between the Filipino and Spanish armed forces. However, in June 1898, the American navy under Admiral George Dewey entered Manila Bay and brought the Spanish-American War into the Philippines. Because of this, the Filipino revolutionaries resumed their fight for freedom against not only the Spaniards but also against the Americans.

Unfortunately, due to poor communications, the protagonists in Baler did not know these developments in Manila. The three officers and 50 Spanish soldiers stationed in the town did not get any news of the renewed hostility against the Spain.

The Filipino rebels or Katipuneros of Baler led by Teodorico Novicio Luna launched an uprising on June 28, 1898. Out numbered, the Spanish cazadores, led by Capitan Enrique de las Morenas, retreated to the stone walled Baler parish church. Despite deficiencies in supplies, food and occasional attacks by the Katipuneros, the Spanish troops held courageously on for 11 months, or to be exact, 337 days.

Outside Baler, the revolution raged on in Luzon. The Americans however became more aggressive as they wanted to wrest the islands from Spanish control, while the cazadores in Baler fought on gallantly to defend the last bastion of Spanish authority in the country.

For their part, the Katipuneros continued with their siege of Baler. Notwithstanding the death of Capitan Morenas in December 1898, the Spanish troops held on bravely under their new commander, Lieutenant Saturnino Martin Cerezo who by his “iron will and strict discipline kept his men under absolute control.”

Meanwhile, revolutionary groups from nearby towns helped the local Katipuneros. Colonel Calixto Villacorta from Nueva Ecija took over in leading the siege. Nonetheless, the revolutionaries failed to enter the church due to the unfailing resolve of Cerezo and his men to defend their bastion.

In May 1899, a Spanish officer, Lieutenant Coronel Cristobal Aguilar asked Spanish defenders to surrender because Spain had already ceded the Philippines to the United States. Initially, Cerezo did not believe the information until Aguilar showed him a copy of the Spanish newspaper El Imparcial reporting the conclusion of the Spanish-American War.

End of the Siege.

With this inevitable ending, the Spanish cazadores surrendered on June 2, 1899. Only one officer and 30 soldiers came out of the church alive. The survivors were brought to Tarlac, where they were treated with admiration for their bravery and dedication to their duty. On June 30, 1899, exactly 113 years ago, President Emilio Aguinaldo issued a presidential decree directing that Cerezo and his men should be deemed “not as prisoners but as friends.”

The Aguinaldo decree lauded “the valor, constancy and heroism with which that handful of isolated men – without any hope of help – defended their banner for a period of one year, they realized an epic as glorious as the legendary valor of the son of El Cid and Pelayo.” Upon their return to Spain, Cerezo and his men were hailed as heroes and promoted by the grateful Spanish government.

June 30, 1899 was a victorious day for both Spain and her former colony, the Philippines. While the Katipuneros wanted to vanquish the Spanish troops, at the same time, they hailed their courage and patriotism as worthy of emulation and admiration.

Indeed, the two sides fought the Baler war gallantly. Both the Filipinos and the Spaniards kept their battle lines to the best of their ability without treachery and without any ungentlemanly behavior. Though short in supplies and ammunitions, the Spanish troops would not have surrendered, had they not been convinced of the war’s end.

Because of their bravery in battle, they were honored even when they had already laid down their arms. Indeed, they were not treated as enemies but as friends. And now, after peace had been restored, our two countries maintain a peaceful and progressive relationship, not as vassal and superior, but as equal and sovereign partners in the world.

There are many mementos of friendship exchanged between our countries, but the sister city hood between Baler and three other famous cities in Spain, namely Marbella, Sevilla and Martos speak volumes on the bravery in battle, honor in capitulation, friendship in victory and progress in peace that the Siege of Baler has fostered between the peoples of the Philippines and Spain.

One of the most enduring and endearing mementoes is Republic Act No. 9187 approved on February 5, 2003 declaring June 30 of every year as Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day. Appropriately, the law was sponsored by the favorite son of Baler, Senator Edgardo J. Angara, who coined the commemoration slogan for the celebration, “Amistad Duradera” or Enduring Friendship between Filipinas and Espana.

The presence today of His Honor, Francisco Perez de los Cobos Orihuel and His Excellency, Ambassador Jorge Domecq, witnessed by several outstanding officials like Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Laura Q. del Rosario, Vice Minister Jesus Gracia Aldaz of Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Benigno Pendas, Political Science Professor and Director of the Centro de Estudios Politicos y Constitucionales of Spain, Dr. Maria Serena I. Diokno, Chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Executive Director Ludovico D. Badoy of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Aurora Governor Bella Angara Castillo, Congressman and future Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara also known as Sonny Angara, and Mayor Arturo J. Angara of Baler, among others, is a splendid affirmation of this celebration of Amistad Duradera.

Cadiz Constitution. Ladies and gentlemen, I would have happily ended my little talk today with the toast to the saga of the Siege of Baler that turned war into peace, capitulation to admiration, surrender to heroism, had I not been reminded by the letter of Senator Angara inviting me to be your guest of honor, that this year, 2012, marks also the bicentennial, the 200th year anniversary of the Cadiz Constitution which the Spanish Cortes promulgated on March 19, 1812.

The Cadiz Constitution was enacted by the Spanish government while on retreat from Napoleon’s army, and while Joseph Bonaparte was installed as the monarch of Spain, replacing King Ferdinand VII. In the making of this fundamental law, representatives from the Spanish territories in North and South America, notably Chile, Peru, Equador, Cuba and Mexico, as well as from the Philippines participated.

Among the 303 representatives, 37 were born in overseas Spanish territories, including our country. The Cadiz Constitution was signed on behalf of the Philippines by Ventura de los Reyes of Vigan who traveled by boat to and arrived in Spain on December 6, 1811. Prior to his arrival, his two deputies – Pedro Perez de Tagle and Jose Manuel Cauto – attended on his behalf the sessions of the Cortes, the Spanish Parliament at the time.

Though rejected after just two years (1814) the Cadiz Constitution was nonetheless reinstated twice, in 1820-1823 and 1833-1837. And though short lived and never completely implemented, the Cadiz Constitution is significant to the world in general and to the Philippines in particular, because it reflected the spread of constitutional liberalism in Spain and the territories she had colonized. Significantly, this Constitution provided for a limited monarchy, vested sovereignty in the people and no longer in the king, instituted universal male suffrage, differentiated citizenship from nationality, instituted freedom of the press as well as the concept of private ownership of property, and recognized the liberty of the citizens and nationals of Spain.

The Cadiz Constitution for the first time recognized Philippine representation in Spanish lawmaking and inspired the nationalist movement in our country. Many historians consider the Cadiz Constitution as really our first sovereign charter, followed by the 1897 Biak na Bato Constitution, the 1898 Malolos Constitution that was framed by the leaders of the Philippine Revolution, the 1935 Constitution that established the Philippine Commonwealth and initiated the eventual independence of the country from American rule, the 1973 Constitution of the Martial Law years, and finally, the 1987 Constitution which continues in its original form up to the present.

May I add that we owe Spain not just the liberalism of the Cadiz Constitution; we also adopted from mother Spain our Penal Code, Civil Code and Code of Commerce. Of course, much of the provisions of these codes have been revised and amended but the basic provisions still exist and remain good law up of the present.

To sum up, this year, we celebrate three milestones in our historic ties with Spain: first, the 113th anniversary of the Siege of Baler; second, the 10th anniversary of Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day; and third, the 200th anniversary of the Cadiz Constitution which is considered by many historians as the first Constitution of the Philippines.

Maraming salamat po, muchas gracias, thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.

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