Press Release
August 9, 2011

Statement on Philippine Spanish Relations
8 August 2011
Senator Edgardo J. Angara

I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege to bring to the Chamber and the entire country's attention an extraordinary occasion that should go down as probably one of the most significant in our diplomatic history.

On June 30, the country commemorated the 9th Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day. The center of the celebration was in Baler, Aurora, the venue of an unbelievable siege more than a century ago that characterizes the long-standing relations between the Philippines and Spain.

In the course of the program, His Excellency Ambassador Jorge Domecq announced to a large gathering of members of the diplomatic corps, public school teachers and students, and townspeople of Aurora, that on that same day Spain's Congreso de los Diputados passed a momentous parliamentary declaration expressing their nation's gratitude toward the Philippines for recognizing the two nations' enduring friendship.

Nine years ago, this chamber championed the passage of the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day Act, an unprecedented initiative that made us the only former colony to proclaim its friendship with its former colonial master by law.

Spain has now reciprocated with a historic parliamentary declaration which was unanimously approved by all political parties and passed by the Congreso de los Diputados.

Mr. President, esteemed colleagues, I wish to place into our Congressional record this unprecedented declaration in its original Spanish text, sponsored on the floor by the President of the Congreso de los Diputados, the Honorable José Bono Martinez.

Allow me to read the letter of Hon. Bono on behalf of the Congreso de los Diputados.

"With these few words, I am attaching a copy of the Journal of Debates of the Congreso de los Diputados from yesterday, 30th of June.

The text of the Institutional Declaration on the Day of Spanish-Philippine friendship appears on page 15 and 16. I read the Declaration before the Sitting of full House yesterday 30th of June and it was unanimously acknowledged by all parliamentary groups.

I am deeply convinced that yesterday will remain in the memory of the people of the Philippines and of the Kingdom of Spain."

At this point, I would like to pause and invite you all to watch the video of the actual proceedings at the Congreso de los Diputados.

I also submit for our records the report of His Excellency Ambassador Carlos C. Salinas regarding the institutional declaration in both its Spanish and English text, as well as a copy of the Journal of Debates of the Congreso de los Diputados in which the declaration appears.

Spain's declaration recalls the memory of June 2, 1899, when 35 surviving members of the Spanish detachment - battered, weary, even near death - emerged from the Church of Baler.

Nearly 12 months before this, on June 30, 1898, 54 Spaniards - 49 soldiers, three officers, one medical officer and a parish priest - barricaded themselves inside the Church of Baler as Katipuneros started to descend on them. Just two months before, the United States officially declared war, which prompted General Emilio Aguinaldo to order the takeover of all Spanish detachments.

The Spaniards converted the church into a fort. They stationed sentries and marksmen at strategic locations so even though they were surrounded by the Katipuneros, they were still able to defend their position. The Katipuneros fired at the church with their guns and canons, but could not, however, demolish the solid structure.

Episodic skirmishes and exchange of gunfire ensued over the next 337 days. There were occasional truces during which the Katipuneros and other emissaries, including a Spanish military officer, tried to persuade Lieutenant Saturnino Martín Cerezo, the Spanish detachment's leader, to surrender and be treated justly.

Over and over, they refused to capitulate, adhering to their orders to fight for the Spanish Crown no matter what - even when they had nothing left but rotten food and comrades ill with beriberi.

The Katipuneros, meanwhile, were far from being brutal adversaries. It is believed that they even allowed carabaos to wander near the church for the Spaniards to capture when the town had long been deserted by civilians.

When the Spanish detachment finally surrendered to the command of Lieutenant Colonel Simon Tecson, only 35 of them remained. They sustained five deaths from gunshot wounds, 14 deaths from beriberi and dysentery, and six desertions.

The Spaniards were not met by jeers of enemies, but cheers of friends. "Amigos, amigos! Friends, friends!" shouted the Katipuneros and locals of Baler, who gave them decent food and clothing after those long harrowing months.

Onscreen are three of the Spanish survivors, Doctor Lieutenant Rogelio Vigil de Quiñones, Corporal Jesús García Quijano who served as the lieutenant's aide, and Lieutenant Saturnino Martín Cerezo.

These now are their surviving grandchildren, all of whom are friends of the Philippines: José Ignacio Bidón, the Philippines' Honorary Consul to Seville and grandson of Dr. Rogelio Vigil de Quiñones; Jesús Valbuena Garcia, who wrote and directed the television documentary Los Hijos de Baler and the full-length film Returning to the Siege of Baler and grandson of Corporal Jesús García Quijano; and Fernando Cámara Martín Cerezo, grandson of Lt. Saturnino Martín Cerezo.

Meanwhile, the Filipinos' magnanimity did not stop there. President Aguinaldo issued a decree on June 30, 1899 stating that the survivors of the Siege of Baler shall be treated as friends, not as prisoners, ensuring their safe travel back home. Manileños then even launched a campaign to pool monetary gifts for the Spanish soldiers.

This is the unique spirit of the legendary Siege of Baler, the spirit of courage, honor, compassion and charity. It is the same spirit we strive to revive each year through the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day.

The Siege of Baler marked a fresh chapter in Philippine-Spanish relations. If the colonization is remembered for abuse and hostility, the period subsequent to the siege was characterized by mutual respect and kindness.

The Philippine Congress demonstrated this through the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day Act and the Congreso de los Diputados showed this in their unforgettable institutional declaration.

This is also what we have been trying to uphold through other initiatives. You may recall that in June 2007, a Senate delegation composed of Senators Franklin M. Drilon, Juan M. Flavier and Ramon B. Magsaysay, Jr. and myself visited Madrid on the invitation of then Senator José Manuel Barquero, president of the Spain-Philippines Parliamentary Friendship Group.

In itself, the visit was singularly special because it was the first ever of its kind. Over and above that, the Spanish Senate and the Senate of the Philippines signed a landmark memorandum of agreement to further enhance bilateral relations - also a first between the two Senates.

Through this cooperation agreement, we committed to promote regular parliamentary encounters, fora and projects in areas of mutual interest such as peace, human rights, security, terrorism, poverty alleviation, sport, arts, culture, tourism and infrastructure development.

Beyond our accord with our counterparts in the Spanish Senate, we also engaged other institutions that were very eager to collaborate with us in other areas such as language, culture, history, sport and academic exchange.

We built on these commitments. The Department of Education (DepEd) reintroduced Spanish into the curriculum under the Special Program in Foreign Languages. This was made possible through the agreement signed between then Secretary Jesli Lapus and Professor D. Virgilio Zapatero Gómez, president of the University of Alcala, one of the oldest educational institutions in Europe.

In support of this initiative, all public school teachers conducting foreign language classes have enrolled in intensive Spanish language training at the Instituto Cervantes. Last May, we graduated the first batch of 98, thanks to the help of the Spanish agency for international development cooperation, the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID).

The Andalusia-based Centro de Estudios, Desarrollo e Investigación del Fútbol Andaluz (CEDIFA) also came over and conducted football training camps in Aurora and Negros Occidental for elementary and high school students.

Bilateral trade with Spain, while still modest, is growing steadily. Last year, the Philippines' exports to Spain amounted to €178 million, or about P10.8 billion, while Spain's exports to the Philippines reached €167 million, or an estimated P10.1 billion. These figures are dwarfed by the value of our commerce with other countries, but with our resolute vow to doubly strengthen relations in every way, I am certain that trade, tourism and investment will be on the upswing.

These are but a few examples of how we are revitalizing bilateral relations with Spain.

Spain sees us as a partner - a coequal no less. They may be our former colonizer but today they seek an alliance based on 500 years of shared legacy, a common vision for the future.

Let us seize this opportunity to be Spain's primary partner in Southeast Asia, and Spain our gateway to Europe and South America.

Thank you, muchas gracias, salamat!

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