Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - June 30, 2009 - 12:00am

Seven years ago, Senator Edgardo Angara sponsored a bill, R.A. 9187, which created the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day. Appropriately, June 30 was chosen as the day for this celebration. Historically, there is no better day to celebrate such an occasion. This was the day when General Emilio Aguinaldo issued a decree honoring the 31 Spanish soldiers stationed in Baler, Aurora Province, who, using the Baler church as their fort, continued resisting the Filipino forces for 11 months after Spain had already surrendered to the American forces.

The Spanish troops had no access to the news and they could not believe that Spain has already lost the war. When a news item in the newspaper convinced them that Spain had already lost the war, they nobly surrendered. But by then they had already lost 19 men. The noble thing about the siege of Baler was the way both sides — the Spanish and Filipino troops — conducted themselves in warfare. Not a single atrocity was committed. Both sides conducted themselves like noble soldiers. Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo honored them with a decree saying that, “they realized an epic as glorious as the legendary valor of the son of El Cid and Pelayo.”

 In the sixties, Lamberto Avellana directed a documentary on the 50 Spanish soldiers who stood their ground for almost a year bravely resisting starvation, sickness and enemy bullets in defense of a battle that had already been lost. Avellana’s documentary not only won the Conde de Foxa Award in Spain, it inspired a full-length Spanish movie called Los Ultimos en Filipinas. Avellana’s La Campana de Baler and Los Ultimos en Filipinas should be a part of every Philippine-Spanish Day celebration.

The movie La Campana de Baler, which I was honored to produce, had a simple plot centered around the classic theme of forbidden love. During the siege of Baler, there was a Spanish soldier, who would scale the walls of the church where all the other soldiers were barricaded every night. He was sneaking out each night to visit his girlfriend in the village. One night a fellow soldier sighted him and, thinking he was a deserter, shot him. Our ill-fated lover’s dying words were, “I just want you to know that I am not a deserter. I went out every night to visit my Filipina girlfriend, that is all.” The movie ended depicting how close the Spaniards and Filipinos had become. After they surrendered, some of the soldiers even remained to marry Filipinas from the town. It gives proof to the idea that love conquers all.

June 30 is an appropriate day for Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day and we should do more to celebrate our past. We should also remember that there were many different ethnic minorities who came to the Philippines; Asturians, Castillians, Basques and so on. They were separate people who swore fealty to the King of Kastile. This is also why we referred to anyone who came from Europe (even mistakenly the French and British) as kastila. It would be interesting to study the influence of these different minority groups on the Philippines. As we have written before, the Basques were very influential in the history of our country. What of the Asturians? The Andalusians? We should recognize all of their contributions.

To remember Phil-Spanish Friendship Day we would like to quote the book A Visit to the Philippine Islands by then Governor of Hongkong Sir John Bowring (written and published in the 19th century): “I found a kind and generous urbanity prevailing — friendly intercourse where that intercourse had been sought — the lines of demarcation and separation between ranks and classes less marked and impassable than in most Oriental countries. I have seen at the same table Spaniard, mestizo and Indian — priest, civilian and soldier. No doubt a common religion forms a common bond; but to him who has observed the alienations and repulsions of caste in many parts of the Eastern world — caste, the great social curse — the blending and free intercourse of man with man in the Philippines is a contrast well worth admiring.”

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