Baler Catholic Church
The Baler Catholic Church is a historic church constructed from stone and brick which is found in the town of Baler in the province of Aurora. Originally constructed in 1611, the church is dedicated to San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and is known as the site of the Siege of Baler, which took place from 1898-1899 shortly following the end of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. The current church was built in 1939 but authentic original details may be seen inside, including the old bell, La Campana de Baler. There are markers that indicate the locations where events connected with the Siege of Baler took place. The film Baler (film), presented during the 2008 Metro Manila Film Festival, was based on this historic event.
The Baler Church lies south of the Quezon Memorial Park, near the town museum, Museo de Baler, and the Mount Carmel College (Baler, Aurora). Near the plaza in front of the church is a marker in the spot where American military personnel stood when they came to negotiate with the Spaniards who were besieged in the church in 1899.
The church of Baler was originally built in 1611. A Franciscan friar named Francisco de San Antonio supervised the construction of the wooden church, which was thatched with nipa. Dedicated to San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (St. Louis, Bishop of Toulouse), the church was later rebuilt in stone.
On June 27, 1898, 50 Spanish soldiers and 4 officers took refuge inside the stone church, fearing that the Philippine insurgent army was too large for them to overpower. In reality, the Filipinos actually made their army seem more intimidating by burning wood to mimic the sounds of gunfire. Despite the fact that Philippine independence from Spanish domination had just been declared 15 days before they fortified themselves in the church, the Spanish contingent remained there for close to a year.
Under the command of Capt. Enrique de las Morenas, the troops stayed in the church with rations that would last them for 6 months. However, the soldiers began to suffer from malnutrition within 2 months of the siege, contracting scurvy and dysentery. Morenas himself died from disease and was replaced by Lt. Saturnino Martin Cerezo, who proved to be a tough and rigid commander. Under his command, the troops continued to hold out against the Filipino troops as Cerezo refused to believe reports in the newspapers sent by the Filipinos to the garrison which cited that the Spanish government in Manila had already surrendered to America.
The Filipinos attempted to break down the morale of the troops with the use of some unorthodox methods such as holding a fiesta in front of a church. There have also been reports that women were also used to tempt the soldiers to come out but these are unconfirmed. On April 11, 1899, Lieutenant James C. Gillmore landed in Baler and attempted to rescue the Spanish soldiers against the wishes of Major Nemecio Bartolome, an officer in the Philippine army. The Philippine army captured Gillmore and his troop of 14 soldiers, marching them all the way to the Ilocos region and abandoning them there. The American party was later rescued on December 28, 1899.
The Spanish troops finally surrendered on June 2, 1899. A month before, Cerezo was already considering surrender due to the army’s extreme privation. Hewas finally convinced that the war was over by a newspaper left by Lt. Col. Cristobal Aguilar, which reported the surrender of Spain. The remaining 33 soldiers left the church in June to the sound of their trumpet of surrender and to the cries of “Amigos! Amigos!” from the Filipinos who had besieged them. The Spanish solders were officially commended by President Emilio Aguinaldo for their courage, given safe conduct passes, and permitted to go directly back to Spain.
The church dating from this period eventually deteriorated. By 1939, First Lady Aurora Quezon led a move to renovate the church. The new stone and brick church has a painted exterior while the interior of the church has largely been preserved.
- Alba, Reinerio A. “Amistad Duradera: A Hoped-for Friendship Between the Philippines and Spain.” In the NCCA Website, July 11, 2003 .
- Quezon, Manuel L. III. “Baler During The American Period: The Reign Of Quezon.” 
- Salazar, Marlet D. “Back to Baler.” In the Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 2, 2009. 
- “Year-starter edit with ‘Baler’ director Mark Meily.” In Supreme. Ph, January 4, 2009 http://supreme.ph/2009/01/04/year-starter-edit-with-baler-director-mark-meily/