The Baler Revolt Account
by Jose Maria A. Cariño
0ne of the grave mistakes committed by the Spanish authorities during the revolution was the dispatch of groups of soldiers, numbering 30 to 50, to defend detachments located in isolated areas where the population and the interests they were defending were small. While preemption was the most logical justification for this strategy, it exposed the small detachments to the grave danger of being overrun by the revolutionaries who could blend easily with the local population. When cornered, these small detachments would have no chance of escape and no option of a possible rescue because of their distance from the center of operations. This resulted in victories for the Filipino revolutionaries. At the same time, while the logical solution to this dilemma of the Spanish authorities, particularly in the case of coastal towns like Baler, was to have warships patrol the seas and lend support when necessary, the breadth and width of the Philippine Archipelago and the numerous towns and cities along its coasts made this strategy difficult to implement.
It may be argued that concentrating forces in focal and strategic points could have saved the day for the Spanish forces, but such was the confidence of the Spanish authorities on their superior fire power and training that they forgot the lesson of Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat: the more you spread out your troops, the lesser the force they have. Moreover, the retreat of General Emilio Aguinaldo to Biak na Bato, while assuring the central government that the revolutionary forces were on the run, made the politico-military commanders of the areas near Biak na Bato jittery, thus Politico-Military Commander of the District of Principe Lopez Irizarri's urgent plea for reinforcement of his tiny detachment.
The Troops Arrive In Baler
As reply to Irizarri's request, 50 experienced cazadores (sharpshooters) from the 2nd Battalion were quickly sent to beef up the Baler detachment. These soldiers had won in the battles of Silang, Imus, Cavite Viejo, and their last victory was on 7 September 1897 in Aliaga, Nueva Ecija, and from there were ordered to proceed to Baler.
The group was headed by a young lieutenant, Jose Mota, all of 19 years and already with a bemedalled chest and on his way to becoming a captain in a short period of time. They left Aliaga on 16 September and arrived at San Jose de Casignan, near Baler on the 20th after crossing the Caraballo and the Caraballito. Upon hearing the news that reinforcements had arrived, Irizarri, accompanied by the parish priest of Baler, Father Candido Gomez Carreño, and another priest Father Dionisio Luengo, who was in Baler to learn the local languages, rushed to welcome the troops. The Spanish soldiers marching into Baler with their uniforms and guns must have been quite a sight for the inhabitants of the town who numbered 1,688 that day in 1897.
The lack of aggressive resistance since their departure in Aliaga to the time they reached Baler, and the welcome given to them by the bewildered town folks, may have put Lieutenant Mota at ease and contributed to his committing the most grievous mistake of his military career, one that cost him his life. He divided his soldiers, sending ten to stay in the civil quarters, 18 in the house of the town teacher, Lucio Quezon, and the rest in the Comandancia or the office of Irizarri. Lieutenant Mota himself stayed with the 18 soldiers in the house of Lucio Quezon because it was located at the center of the town. Lieutenant Mota also set up a sentry point at the town plaza.
This strategy for dividing his soldiers was highly criticized by Lieutenant Saturnino Martin Cerezo in his book Los Ultimos de Filipinas and Lieutenant Cerezo considered this as the cause of the defeat of the Spanish in the Battle of Baler. However, in 1897, Baler was a poor town and the only really solid structure that could be used as a fort was the church but to convert it into a military barracks would have been construed as sacrilege and may cause the religious people of Baler to turn against the soldiers. There was no structure that could be fortified and, at the same time, made into comfortable lodging for 50 soldiers. Most if not all the houses were made of nipa and bamboo. The houses where the soldiers stayed were the only ones made of thatched roof and wood plank walls. (Contrary to popular belief that the house where President Manuel Luis Quezon was born was made of nipa and cane, it was actually larger than the normal nipa huts of the period and, in fact, was built of wooden planks with a nipa roof, otherwise it would not have been able to accommodate the 18 soldiers of Lieutenant Mota.) Apparently Lieutenant Mota had to make do with what little there was. Lieutenant Cerezo would have been hard put to make another solution considering the situation. To fortify the defenses, Lieutenant Mota ordered two trenches built in such a way that incase of an attack and the soldiers had to abandon the first trench (circular in shape and surrounding the town center), the second trench would lead to the doors of the church where the soldiers could barricade themselves until reinforcements arrived from Manila.
The bewilderment shown by the town folks was also understandable. They had not shown any hostility towards the politico-military commander of Baler or his motley crew of five native soldiers. In fact, most of them were poor fishermen and farmers who remained loyal to Spain and respected the authority of those few men who were assigned to Baler to run the government. Their main concern was the daily task of making a living. When 50 soldiers entered Baler, they realized that their quiet and relaxed way of life was gravely threatened. The presence of the soldiers meant feeding them and housing them. It meant giving them the meat and the fish that were supposed to be for their own children. It also meant a possible increase on the taxes that they paid to the government. Because there never was any trouble or rebellion against Spain in that small town, the town folks felt that they did not deserve the burden that was suddenly forced upon them. The townsfolk also knew that the presence of said soldiers could incite the Katipunan to attack Baler.
Recruitment Of Katipuneros
When news of the arrival of 50 soldiers in Baler to reinforce the detachment reached General Aguinaldo, he immediately thought of overrunning the town because of its isolated location. To implement his plan, he called on one of his soldiers, Teodorico Luna N ovicio, cousin of the painter of the Spoliarium, Juan Luna. Teodorico was a native of Baler, had studied in Manila where he became a member of the Masonic Lodge. Aguinaldo promised Teodorico the position of Commander of Baler if he was able to capture and destroy the Spanish detachment there. Leaving Biak na Bato, he gathered some followers in Dingalan and Binangonan de Lampon, some of whom were his town mates from Baler. On 20 September, his group arrived in the outskirts of Baler where he encamped to plan his next move. Through his town mates, Teodorico sent word to all his relatives and friends about his arrival and invited all interested men to the encampment. He cautioned secrecy about his presence and his intentions. He contacted Antero Amatorio, a gobernadorcillo or retired mayor, whom he knew to be influential and much respected in Baler. Teodorico explained his plans to Amatorio and exhorted him to join the revolution and repel the invaders who have enslaved the Filipino people for too long. Teodorico also requested Amatorio to support his group financially and logistically, to ensure the success of his mission.
With the support of many, Teodorico left his hideaway and entered Baler to stay in his house without arousing suspicion. In the next few days, Teodorico held many nighttime meetings with the men of Baler in a rice field owned by Amatorio at Sabale. He was able to convince many of them to join the Katipunan and in a brief period became the leader of the Baler revolt.
On the night of3 October, Teodorico held a meeting in his house and gave the following speech:
"Brothers, as you have happily accepted the idea of becoming part of a revolution against the Castilas, and you enjoy therefore the privileges and advantages that the Katipunan provides its members, it is necessary for you to also accept the duties and responsibilities that this society imposes on you. In its service, you must not hesitate, not even for a minute, to sacrifice your lives. In a few hours, we must undertake a risky operation, an operation that if we are successful, we will contribute tremendously a service to our nation and we will take one step closer to liberty. The objective is to kill tomorrow night all the Spaniards who have arrived in our town. Brothers, do you have the courage and strength to follow me?"
After everyone signified their intention to join the revolt, Teodorico appointed the officers of the organization and outlined his plan to attack the Spaniards. Among his appointments were Moises Sison and a man named Miguel from Binangonan de Lampon as cabeza de barangay or mayor, Norberto Valenzuela and his cousin Ricardo Novicio as lieutenants, and his supporter Antero Amatorio as captain for military administration. He then organized his rebels into three groups to be led by the two captains and the third group was under his own command. His final instructions were for the revolutionaries to all meet at eleven 0' clock at night near the trenches built by the soldiers, which surrounded the town. His final words to his men were:
"Anyone who does not obey me and is disloyal to me, I will shoot without mercy."
Little did the revolutionaries know that despite efforts at secrecy, information about their planned attach has been passed on to the Spanish soldiers. Antero told his wife about the attack without noticing that an eight-year-old girl was listening in on the conversation. The girl told her mother about the conversation, and the mother reported the matter to Irizarri. However, as the information came from a little girl, the commander treated it as mere rumor and did not instruct the soldiers to take any precautions in case it held true. The soldiers were confident that the Katipuneros were neither armed nor trained for combat, and they wielded only bolos and bamboo spears.
A factor that favored the Katipuneros was that the Spaniards were unaware that the cuadrilleros or native policemen had already transferred loyalty to the Katipuneros, thus when they presented themselves at the municipal hall for their nightly duty to ensure peace, it was actually to monitor the activities of the Spanish soldiers. As precaution, the Spanish soldiers did patrol duty and came across several groups of men that night. This should have alerted them as the presence of so many men around the town at such a late hour was unusual and had never taken place since they arrived in the town. When the soldiers came closer and saw that the men wore cuadrillero uniforms, they did not bother them.
At eleven o'clock on the night of 4 October, the revolutionaries were in their positions near the circular trenches and Teodorico moved busily from one position to another, making sure that his men followed his orders to the letter and reminding them that Spanish soldiers had to be killed and the attack was to start at twelve midnight.
The Battle Commences
A few minutes before midnight, three men in cuadrillero uniforms entered the plaza and approached the soldier guarding the Comandancia. While two distracted the guard by asking if everything was in order, the third hacked at the head of the guard with a bolo. The guard was able to fire his gun and shout out a warning to his comrades. A second blow with the bolo killed him instantly. The other revolutionaries simultaneously attacked the two other houses where the soldiers were lodged. Screams of the wounded and the noise of the attacking Katipuneros awoke the rest of the soldiers and they scrambled for their guns and defended themselves as best they could. At the Comandancia and the cuartel, almost all the soldiers were wounded and the revolutionaries were able to capture most of their guns and weapons. At the house of Lucio Quezon, the revolutionaries had less success and the soldiers were able to ward off the attack. The soldiers chased the retreating Katipuneros who then disappeared, taking advantage of the darkness.
When the fighting stopped at the Comandancia, Irizarri stood alone at the top of the stairs with his Remington rifle. He called out for Lieutenant Mota who did not respond. He also called out for Sergeant Serrano who did not respond either. He proceeded to callout the names of the other soldiers who were staying at the Comandancia and one by one those who survived and were hiding in the darkness came out. He told them to gather all the weapons left behind and asked them to come up so that they could defend themselves better as a group against further attack. They found only five guns. Another soldier who hid in the dark rushed to the Comandancia and sought refuge. In both panic and fear, he did not shout out who he was. The soldiers thought that it was another attack by the Filipino revolutionaries and promptly shot him. Their hearts fell when they realized that they had killed one of their own. The rest of the soldiers who escaped the attack hid in the bushes, stayed at the houses near the convent, or hid in the ceiling and the tower of the church.
Lieutenant Mota who was supposed to sleep at the convent had stayed instead at the house of Lucio Quezon with the other soldiers, in reaction to the warning given by the little girl. Upon hearing the commotion caused by the attack, he jumped out of the bed, grabbed his revolver, and shot the six rounds he had in his gun at the rebels. Thinking that the rest of his men had been killed, he rushed out of the house in his underpants and ran 25 meters towards the convent where he was met by Father Carreño who was on hi way to the church for prayers of Santisimo Sacramento. When asked by the priest about the commotion, Lieutenant Mota replied that the entire detachment had been overrun by natives with their bolos and that the detachment was totally defeated. He asked the priest if he had a gun. Thinking that the lieutenant asked for the gun so as to defend himself because he had been unable to reload his own gun, the priest gave his gun to the lieutenant. Mota entered the convent while Father Carreño proceeded towards the church and met with the Guardia Civil Corporal, Pio Enrique, along the way. They exchanged information about the attack and while talking they heard a shot ring out from the convent. They both rushed there and were surprised to find that Lieutenant Mota, thinking that all was lost, had committed suicide using Father Carreño's gun. Both had to flee the scene. After Father Carreño said his prayers at the church, he fled to the nearby mountains. When the other soldiers saw the dead body of Lieutenant Mota in his underwear at the priest's quarters and beside Father Carreño's gun, they thought that the priest had joined the rebels and shot their lieutenant. Father Carreño's name would only be cleared much later when Corporal Pio Enrique returned to Baler naked and hungry after hiding many days in the forest and swore that the good priest did not kill the lieutenant.
Aftermath Of The Battle
The day after the battle, both sides took stock of their losses. Among the Katipuneros, Captain Miguel Huertazuela from Binangonan de Lampon was killed and Teodorico Luna N ovicio had suffered a gunshot wound on his side but would survive. There were ten other deaths and many more were injured. Among the dead were Francisco Angara, Isidro Angara, Eufracio Bitong, Aurelio Catipon, Julian España, Severo Gallegos, Felix Gonzales, Luis Lumasac, Santos Lumasac, and Severo Palispis. On the side of the Spaniards, Lieutenant Mota and six soldiers had died. The parish priest, the Corporal of the Guardia Civil, and eight soldiers were missing. Many had been injured by the bolos and machetes of the Filipino Rebels.
The Spaniards regrouped and were able to salvage twenty guns. The revolutionaries also went around the town counting their losses. They were at the Municipio where they had captured one of the Spanish soldiers, Rafael Alonso, when they saw the group of Irizarri and the other surviving soldiers approaching the building. When the soldiers saw them, they pretended to be ordinary peaceful town folks and hoped that the soldiers would go a different direction. Thankfully, the soldiers did not immediately fire at them, but when the soldiers came closer, the Katipuneros ran for their lives and abandoned their prisoner. The soldiers fired at the group resulting in the death of one revolutionary and the wounding of several others.
Irizarri led his group to the church and the convent to remain there until the arrival of rescue troops from Manila. While discussing with the surviving soldiers a strategy for informing the authorities in Manila of their plight, the soldiers heard the whistle of the warship Manila had docked at the Baler cove after stopping at Binangonan de Lampon.
Another Franciscan priest, Father Dionisio Luengo, and the ship accountant disembarked from the ship and headed towards the church, where Irizarri updated them on the situation. Irizarri instructed the accountant to get medical help and reinforcements from the ship captain. The accountant rushed back to the ship while Father Luengo remained at the church. The ship captain dispatched a medical officer and 12 sailors to aid and protect the surviving soldiers then immediately set sail towards Binangonan to raise the alarm and to get help. Upon arrival in Binangonan, the captain of the ship Manila informed the commander of the gunship Bulusan about what had transpired in Baler. This commander in turn rushed to Atimonan to telegraph the events to the military headquarters in Manila. The captain general in Manila immediately ordered that Infantry Captain Jesus Roldan, two lieutenants, and a hundred soldiers to sail for Baler and defend the detachment.
Meanwhile, Father Carreño who fled to the nearby forest stumbled upon Sergeant Serrano, as well as eight other wounded soldiers who fled the town and had been hiding in the forest. They discussed the events of the previous night and concluded that the town had been occupied by the insurgents and that it was not safe to return there. They also agreed that, if ever captured by the Katipuneros, they would not resist arrest to save their lives, which was exactly what happened when they found themselves surrounded by Filipino revolutionaries from Baler with guns-their own-pointed at them. The prisoners were brought to the mountain hideout of the Katipuneros, 20 kilometers south west of Baler.
Conflicts between the Church and the State appeared in numerous occasions during the battle, including the hasty conclusion that Father Carreño was a turncoat and had killed Lieutenant Mota. As parish priest of Baler, and because the town folks were very religious, Father Carreno gained the confidence, respect, and love of the people of Baler so that except for some slight disrespect from Teodorico, who was a mason, the other rebels and town members treated Father Carrefio much better than they did the other captured soldiers. This may have caused some jealousy among the soldiers. When Father Carreno hatched up a plan to take advantage of the liberty he was given to roam around the rebel camp and grab the weapons of the rebels, he was betrayed by one of the soldiers, the cornet player, and Father Carreno was immediately segregated from the soldiers.
When Aguinaldo learned that Teodorico had captured eight Spanish soldiers and the priest, he ordered Teodorico to send the prisoners immediately to Biak na Bato. When the Baler people heard that their parish priest was to be sent with the soldiers, they begged Teodorico to keep the priest. Listening to their pleas, Teodorico sent communication to Aguinaldo stating that the captives were wounded and could not e moved. Two days later, Aguinaldo answered that wounded or not the soldiers had to be moved to Biak na Bato, Teodorico immediately had the captured soldiers sent to Biak na Bato and reasoned out that the priest was too gravely wounded.
Aguinaldo was insistent and in a third message, threatened Teodorico that if the priest was not sent immediately, the priest and Teodorico would be brought tied together to Biak na Bato. Teodorico had no choice but to send the priest to Aguinaldo. Father Carreño was held prisoner there, tried, found guilty and given the death sentence. This was not carried out due to the peace treaty signed by the Spanish government with the government of Aguinaldo. He remained at Biak na Bato until 20 December and arrived in Manila on 27 December. He asked to be returned to Spain, which the padre provincial denied him. As an option, he asked to be returned to his flock in Baler rather than be sent to any other province. The only soldier who escaped from the hideout of the revolutionaries and continued to survive in the forest was the Guardia Civil Corporal Pio Enrique.