In the Mausoleum of the heroes of Cuba and the Philippines of the cemetery of the Almudena of Madrid, between figures like Eloy Gonzalo, hero of Cascorro, or Vara del Rey, hero of El Caney, rest the remains of a Franciscan friar from Madridejos who united his destiny to the heroes of Baler, the last of the Philippines. His name is Friar Cándido Gómez Carreño.
The Franciscans in the Philippines
The scarce Spanish presence in the Philippines and the limited miscegenation (only 3500 Spanish and 20 000 mestizos are estimated by 1842), the neglect that always made the Government to the Archipelago and the few incentives that found both civil servants and military, gave religious orders, including the Franciscans, a fundamental role in the administration of the islands as the only link between European and Filipino societies. “It is more important for the conservation of the colony 200 religious than 2000 bayonets”, commented the captain general Pedro Antonio Salazar in 1837 in one of his letters.
In their eagerness to evangelize, the orders, exclusively integrated by Spanish friars, had reached the very confines of the archipelago, taking charge at the beginning of the 19th century of nearly half of the parishes. The parish priest was, in most cases, the only white man in his community, and of course the only one who spoke the local language.
The growing climate of distrust that began to arise around the secular clergy, integrated mostly by Filipinos, a mixture of racism and political prejudices –let us not forget the outstanding role of some clerics (like Hidalgo or Morelos) in the recent independence of the American territories– came to further reinforce the enormous political influence and economic power of the orders by promoting the return of secularized parishes to them, a cause of bitter controversies with the secular Filipino clergy that would come to further alienate the local population.
Friar Cándido Gómez Carreño and the Tagalog insurrection
Baler, founded on the east coast of Luzon in 1609 by Franciscan missionaries, in 1897 did not reach 2000 inhabitants, but had a church where his parish priest, Friar Cándido Gómez Carreño, resided. Natural of Madridejos (Toledo), after being ordered in 1885 had arrived to Manila in 1893 to be destined to Baler. In the context of the Tagalog insurrection, a garrison of 50 soldiers from the Expeditionary Battalion of Cazadores No. 2 was sent to Baler under the command of the 19 years old Lieutenant José Mota.
Knowing this circumstance, the katipiuneros attacked Baler on October 4th, massacring the garrison. José Mota shot himself before being captured. Friar Cándido Gómez Carreño ran to the jungle together with a corporal from the Civil Guard to escape, but after several days they were captured and transferred to Aguinaldo’s headquarters in Biak-na-Bató, where they were sentenced to death. However, the subsequent peace, signed on December 14th, led to the release of the prisoners, on the 20th of that month.
Once in Manila, Friar Cándido Gómez Carreño requested his return to Spain, but when he was denied, he decided to remain as parish priest of Baler.
The siege of Baler
Friar Cándido Gómez Carreño returned to Baler in February of 1898 with another 50 soldiers of the Battalion of Cazadores no. 2, this time under the command of the Captain Enrique de las Morenas y Fossi. Despite the peace signed in Biak-na-Bató, the climate became increasingly hostile and, in anticipation, Fray Cándido Gómez Carreño decided to acquire “70 cavanes de palay” (70 barrels of rice) to supplement the supplies for four months that the garrison had brought with it.
At the end of May, news of the outbreak of the war with USA were received and a month later, the inhabitants of Baler began to leave their houses, unmistakable prelude of the beginning of the siege, 27th June 1898.
During the following months Friar Cándido Gómez Carreño “was a real shoulder to cry for those heroes”, in the words of Father Minaya, another of the two Franciscan friars who arrived to Baler on August 20 with a letter in which the Spanish garrison was asked to surrender. His energetic and decisive character and the strength of his faith were undoubtedly an indispensable moral reinforcement for the soldiers, of whom he gained his appreciation, perhaps with the exception of Lieutenant Martin Cerezo, from whom there were insurmountable differences.
After the capitulation of Manila, on August 25th, a second emissary arrived to Baler to request the surrender. This was a former neighbor of the town, but the friar, already sick of dysentery and beriberi –the scourge of the Spaniards– was unable to recognize him.
In what was a severe blow to the garrison, Friar Cándido Gómez Carreño died of illness on September 27th, and received burial in the presbytery of the church. His remains would remain there until December 1903, when permission was finally granted for the repatriation of the corpses of the dead during the siege. After an exhumation ceremony in which American troops paid homage, the bodies were transported in the steamship Mauban to Manila, and thence to Spain, aboard the Isla de Panay, which sailed for Barcelona on February 15th, 1904. Friar Cándido Gómez Carreño found his final rest in the cemetery of the Almudena.
“Hermano, morir habemos.
Hermano, ya lo sabemos”
In homage to Friar Cándido Gómez Carreño, parish priest of Baler, we wanted to dedicate him a limited miniature, included in the Philippines Collection.