Sunday Lifestyle

Love in the time of war: Manuel Quezon’s dad, Anne Curtis, Jericho Rosales & Ed Angara in Baler

- Wilson Lee Flores -

History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future. — Robert Penn Warren

What is it about sun-kissed small towns wedged between mountains and the ocean that creates an aura of timeless romance, mysteries and epic — even quixotic — dreams?

Despite having only 30,000 inhabitants, this third-class coastal municipality of Baler nestled between the Philippines’ longest mountain range of the Sierra Madre and the Pacific Ocean is the hometown of Commonwealth President Manuel Luis Quezon, his maternal cousin First Lady Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon and Senator Edgardo Angara. It also became the last bastion of Spanish colonial rule in this archipelago, due to the “Siege of Baler” from June 30, 1898 and ending only 11 arduous months later.

This history buff was invited by Senator Ed Angara to watch the documentary film showing of Returning to the Siege of Baler last July 7 at Instituto Cervantes on T. M. Kalaw Avenue, Manila. It was created by young Spanish artist Jesus Valbuena Garcia, a maternal grandson of Corporal Jesus Garcia Quijano — one of the 33 Spanish soldiers who survived inside the Catholic church of Baler, out of the original 54 soldiers.

The collapsing Spanish empire’s last soldiers in Baler — most were from poor farming families unable to bribe their way out of military service, according to the film documentary — had resisted the Filipino revolutionaries’ siege for 337 days, even as the US had already, in 1898, bought the Philippines from a vanquished Spain. It was “the longest military siege in world history” according to the Spanish filmmaker. It was almost surreal, like a plot straight out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel!

Two Angaras were among the Filipino rebels killed in the siege: Senator Angara’s son, Congressman Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, confirmed to The Philippine STAR that both Katipuneros were their kin. However, like his magnanimous forebears who had extended hospitality towards the 33 Spanish soldiers after their final surrender, it was Senator Ed Angara who pushed for the annual “Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day” celebration starting 2003 — on the June 30 date marking the start of the Siege of Baler.

After the documentary film showing, Senator Angara announced that the state-owned casino operator PAGCOR led by Chairman Ephraim Genuino would finance the production of a fictional/historical movie entitled Baler from the point of view of the Filipinos. It will be a love story drama set in this historical epoch of war.

Angara announced that Viva Entertainment boss Vic del Rosario will undertake the film project to compete in the December 2008 Metro Manila Film Festival, with Mark Meily as director, award-winning Roy Iglesias as scriptwriter, and starring young actress Anne Curtis and actor Jericho Rosales. Senator Angara added that Jericho Rosales knows Baler well, because he is a frequent surfer there — Baler being one of the Philippines’ best surfing areas, comparable to Siargao in northern Mindanao.

Apart from Genuino, del Rosario, Iglesias and Ed Angara’s two siblings, Aurora province Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo and Baler Mayor Arturo Angara, guests in the film showing included Senator Loren Legarda (who told the STAR she loves movies and strongly supports further studies of Philippine history), Instituto Cervantes Manila director Jose “Pepe” Rodriguez, former Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) chairman Gloria Manalang-Angara, history professors like Jaime Veneracion of UP, construction businessman Felipe “Philip” Cruz, Jr., Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) founder and National Artist Virgilio “Rio Alma” Almario, as well as Philippine STAR columnists Krip Yuson, Joanne Rae Ramirez and Rosalinda “Baby” Orosa.

Quezon’s dad was not a Spanish priest, but a casualty of Baler Siege

Enrique “Ricky” Quezon Avanceña, a grandson of President Quezon by his daughter Ma. Zenaida or “Nini,” said: “At the beginning of the siege, there were 1,900 inhabitants of Baler. The number of Filipino casualties after the siege was 700, with the majority presumed to be injured and the rest killed. Moreover, the town was razed to the ground… This singular act (the burning of Baler) was to cause the physical and economic dislocation of the entire town and bring about untold hardship and suffering among the people.”

A casualty just before the Siege of Baler was President Quezon’s younger brother Pedro “Heting” Quezon and their schoolmaster father Lucio Quezon, who were killed by local Katipunero revolutionaries because of the elder Quezon’s assistance to the Spanish soldiers. Ricky Avanceña said of the violent deaths: “It had been a direct but unnecessary consequence of those stubborn ‘ultimos de Filipinas’ (the last Spanish soldiers unwilling to surrender the Philippines) holding siege in the church of Baler… Their remains were never given proper burial and had been left exposed to the elements.”

Avanceña added: “What distressed (President) Quezon greatly was not only that they had abandoned the bodies in utter disrespect. Soldiers of the Katipunan were not wont to do such things. He was grieving the loss of his younger brother whom he felt did not deserve to die. Quezon understood, his father Lucio… was loyal to the Crown of Spain to the very end.” 

A few years ago, taipan John Gokongwei, Jr. told me the late President Manuel L. Quezon was a Chinese mestizo and he read that fact in an article by former Senate President Jovito Salonga. Ricky Quezon Avanceña confirmed this data: “Historians and family agree with the description Chinese mestizo. Lucio Quezon’s father was of Chinese ancestry and they lived in the Parian or Chinatown district outside Intramuros. His mother could have been of Spanish origins because Lucio spoke Spanish and thus became maestro (teacher) in Baler after retiring as a sargento in the guardia civil. However, he could have learned his Spanish in his stint in the Spanish military.” According to historian Augusto de Viana and as written in his timeline on the history of Baler, Lucio Quezon, the father of President Quezon, was a Spanish-Chinese mestizo.”

For generations, people have whispered about the alleged Spanish friar father of President Quezon. In the American colonial era when Quezon once accompanied Jose P. Laurel on horseback from Manila to Baler to campaign, at a public rally in the town, an old man of Baler stood up to ask: “Totoo daw na si Quezon ay anak ng pari?” (Is it true that Quezon is the son of a priest?). Ricky Avanceña recounted: “Quezon looked indignant, glared at the man directly and, without skipping a beat, answered: “Kasinungalingan! Si Quezon ay anak ng Obispo!” (That is a lie! Quezon is the son of a bishop!). The crowd roared in laughter.

Actually, the Spanish priest in President Quezon’s lineage was that of his maternal grandfather Father Jose Urbina de Esparragosa who arrived in Baler in 1847 and served as the town’s parish priest. Father Urbina’s half-Spanish daughter by Baler woman Brigida Molina — Maria Dolores Molina — was the mother of President Quezon.

Jesus Valbuena Garcia’s film documentary is an eye-opener and raises questions, not only for the Spanish people about the true circumstances here but also the social costs of their colonization policies. When will a similar documentary be done on America’s controversial war in early 20th century Philippines, their very first Vietnam War? The well-made documentary also raises questions on the Filipino perspectives of colonial history and the need to further reexamine this part of our past.

The truths we learn from history — unvarnished, unembellished and unemotional — should help set us free as we struggle to write a new and hopefully more just and free national destiny in the 21st century. The young filmmaker Valbuena accurately said it best after the film showing: “Baler is a lighthouse for many of us who are lost in the ocean.”

* * *

Thanks for your messages, all will be answered. Comments, suggestions and jokes welcome at [email protected] or [email protected].






  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with