Enhancing Fil-Hispanic ties

In the past three Sundays, I wrote about the qualifications, duties and role of the chief justice. My purpose was to help nominees understand the intricacies of the office they are seeking. Also, I wanted to suggest some standards to the Judicial and Bar Council, the public, and eventually the President, in evaluating the nominees. But today, let me digress a bit.

 

Three milestones in Baler. During my high school and college days, our history books and teachers were very critical of the Spanish occupation of our country. The brutality, lust and greed of the guardia civil and of many Spanish friars left indelible revulsion in my young psyche.

 

Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” convinced me that only unfettered love of country could free our people from the yoke of tyranny and poverty. Rizal’s passion for reforms inspired me to co-found and head the National Union of Students as a means of liberating our people from Filipino surrogate colonials who continued to abuse our people despite our independence from foreign conquerors.

 

Last week, however, three Fil-Hispanic celebrations, though ignored by Queen Sofia but graced enthusiastically by top Filipino and Spanish officialdom, ushered an opposite and benign view of Spanish colonialism. I was invited by Senator Edgardo J. Angara to be the guest of honor and speaker in his idyllic hometown of Baler in the province of Aurora to celebrate three milestones: the 10th Philippines-Spain Friendship Day, the 113th year of the Siege of Baler, and the 200th anniversary of the Cadiz Constitution.

 

Senator Angara and his amiable sister, Aurora Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, also invited Justice Francisco Perez de los Cobos of the Spanish Constitutional Court, Spanish Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Jesus Gracia Aldaz, Spanish Ambassador Jorge Domecq and about two dozen members of the diplomatic corps, along with several local VIPs led by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Laura del Rosario and National Historical Commission Chair Maria Serena Diokno.

 

Aside from the formal daytime rites, the two-day grand celebrations included a gala evening of folk, classical and popular music, dances and ballets featuring several bands, dance troupes, solo instrumentalists, Spanish poetry readers, baritone Andrew Fernando, soprano Camille Lopez Molina and pop icon Sarah Geronimo.

 

Siege of Baler. The last bastion of Spanish resistance to the 1898 Philippine revolution was in Baler. Although the main Spanish force in Manila had surrendered, three officers and 50 Spanish calzadores held on courageously for 337 days (almost a year) while holed out in the stone-walled Baler church.

 

Short on logistics, ammunition and food, the Spanish soldiers nonetheless fought the Katipuneros until they were shown by a visiting Spanish officer, Cristobal Aguilar, a copy of the Spanish newspaper El Imparcial that the Philippine revolution and Spain-US war had ended.

 

So on June 2, 1899, the Spanish forces came out of their church sanctuary and surrendered. On June 30, 1899, then President Emilio Aguinaldo, to whom the survivors were brought, issued a presidential decree lauding the “valor, constancy and heroism with which that handful of men—without any hope of help—defended their banner for a period of one year…”

 

While the Katipuneros wanted to vanquish the Spanish troops, at the same time, they hailed their courage and patriotism as worthy of admiration and emulation. Both the Filipinos and the Spaniards kept their battle lines gallantly and without treachery.

 

Because of this, the vanquished Spanish soldiers were, after peace reigned, honored and treated as friends, no longer as enemies. The Siege of Baler fostered bravery in battle, honor in capitulation, friendship in victory and progress in peace. In recognition of this memorial, Republic Act 9187 was sponsored by Senator Angara and approved on Feb. 5, 2003, declaring June 30 of every year as Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day to be held in Baler.

 

Cadiz Constitution. The Baler rites also marked the 200th anniversary of the Cadiz Constitution. This charter is significant to our country in many ways. First, it was crafted with the participation of the Spanish colonies including the Philippines. Signing the Constitution for our country was Ventura de los Reyes of Vigan, who sailed to and arrived in Spain on Dec. 6, 1811.

 

Second, the Cadiz Constitution spread constitutional liberalism to all Spanish colonies including Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Cuba, and, of course, the Philippines. Among its many reforms, this Constitution limited the powers of the monarchy, vested sovereignty in the people, allowed universal male suffrage, instituted the concept of private ownership of property, provided the rudiments of a bill of rights, and recognized Filipinos as Spanish nationals.

 

These three grand Baler celebrations energized our political, social and economic ties with Spain. They once more proved the adage that, in international relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests.

 

Britain and the United States were protagonists during the American revolution but became close allies during World War II, while some allies during that world war, like the United States, Soviet Union and China, became Cold War nemeses, with the United States gaining the support of its former enemies, Japan and Germany. And so it is with the Philippines winning the friendship and economic partnership of Spain, its former colonizer for almost four centuries.

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