Baler: Around Town

BALER is one of the oldest towns in the Philippines having marked its 400th year in August of 2011. Because of this, its culture is enriched by history and heritage as seen in its streets and structures, and as spoken by its people. 

Yet the capitol town of Aurora province is also teeming with adventures. Nestled in the Caraballo Range of the Sierra Madre Mountains and outlined by the Pacific Ocean in east, Baler is home to Sabang Beach, which is famous for surfing, as well as a number of other natural wonders--making it a promising hub for eco-tourism.

As a first-timer in this new land, I could say that all my cravings for culture and adventure were satisfied in a span of three days--with many more places left to see and experience.

In this story, join me as I followed Baler's historical trail starting from Kilometer Zero.

 Baler Church where the historic Siege of Baler took place
Baler's historical trail begins with its church, established by Franciscan priests using nipa and bamboo only at Sabang Beach in 1500s. Destroyed by a tsunami in the 17th century, it was transferred and built where it stands today.

Besides being the town's symbol of Catholicism and faith, the church is also a historical place as it is where Spanish soldiers last stood against the Filipino revolution from 1898 to 1899.

Quoting its historical marker: "A Spanish garrison of four officers and fifty men was besieged in this church by Filipino insurgents from June 2, 1898 to June 27, 1899. . . The garrison learned for the first time that the Philippines had been lost to Spain and that for many months, there had been no Spanish flag in Luzon, except the one waving over Baler Church."

A reproduction of the signatures of the Spanish soldiers who survived the Siege of Baler.
The original is displayed in a museum in Spain.
The brave Spanish soldiers had to endure so much from the equally brave Filipinos who fought for freedom at last. Many died from disease and some were killed. Those who survived from the siege were "rewarded by the Queen Regent" upon their return to their homeland.

After Baler Church, a visitor/tourist/wanderer then follows the trail (quite literal because there are actually footsteps imprinted at the the streets) to the residence of Doña Aurora Quezon, wife of Philippine Commonwealth President and Father of Filipino Language Manuel Quezon. Both hails from the town and lived very near from each other. (The provinces of Quezon and Aurora were named after the president and first lady, respectively.)

The residence of Dona Aurora, the wife of President Manuel Roxas
A local friend even told me, that the people of Baler believe that Doña Aurora and President Quezon were even related by blood (magkamag-anak?!).

Moving on, next stop is the town's Municipal Plaza. The current location of the plaza is where survivors of the December 27, 1735 tsunami rebuilt the new town hall, as well as the church. Only a few families survived by climbing up Ermita Hill, considered as one of the highest peaks of Baler.

I bet the monuments of Jose Rizal and President Manuel Quezon are enjoying this youthful scenery  
In front of the municipal hall, a monument of National Hero Jose Rizal stood the test of time. Beside him, a bust of Andres Bonifacio was also built. A few paces to his left, a monument of President Quezon was erected by former Sen. Edgardo Angara, also a favorite son of Baler thanks to the legacy left by his parents.

Also at the plaza is the "Baler 400 Years" commemorative monument by Filipino installation artist Junyee. It features four pillars interconnected by 100 horizontal lines to represent the town's four centuries of history. Again, it was commissioned by former Sen. Angara.

Museo de Baler was built at the site where Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon was born
Last on the list is the Museo de Baler located on a site where President Quezon was born on August 19, 1878. The Commonwealth president is very much associated to Baler that even up to this day, many Filipinos still think that the town is still part of Quezon province. (Aurora used to be part of Quezon until it was created a province in 1979 and Baler was chosen to be its capitol town.)

The museum is built only in 2003 again through the efforts of the Angaras. Large and old trees surround the museum, and in the middle, sits a very majestic sculpture of President Quezon.

The museum features a traditional structure covered in red bricks and bronze bas-reliefs depicting historical moments of the Philippines.

Inside, a collection of town artifacts are found, as well as contemporary collections in partnership with other institutions like the Instituto Cervantes Manila.

Beyond the historical trail, there is also so much more to see in downtown Baler. Here are the sights I spotted and shot:

Balerianos are devout of the Nazareno too; The defunct Bank of Baler spotted
(Clockwise from top left) The old Georgina Cinema, the town market, an old establishment and a printing press

Baler in numbers:

9,255 hectares: land area;
about 39,109: population;
3rd class: municipality;232 kilometers away from Manila with
4 to 8 estimated travel time.


Baler: Beyond Sabang

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