Movie review: An Empires’ last stand: 1898, Our last men in the Philippines (‘1898, Los Ultimos de Filipinas’)

Updated:June 18, 2021, 1:13 P.M.

“End of the Spanish global Empire but the beginning of the US neocolonial power.”

Teodoro ‘Ted’ Alcuitas
Editor, Philippine Canadian News.Com (PCN.Com)
As Filipinos in the Diaspora celebrate Philippine Heritage Month in June, this movie is a timely reminder of the continuing struggle of Filipinos to liberate themselves from colonizers.
As one reviewer said, this Spanish-made movie set in the town of Baler, Quezon(now Aurora Province), “represents not only the end of the Spanish global Empire but the beginning of the US neocolonial power.”
It is a story of a futile attempt by a Spanish regiment of 50 soldiers sent to retake the village that massacred the Spanish occupiers leaving only one Spanish survivor and the parish priest.
Soon after their landing and occupation, the Filipino revolutionaries forced the Spaniards to retreat inside the church.
Defying all odds, Captain Enrique de las Morenas ordered Lieutenant Martin Cerezo the church fortified and prepare it for a long siege. Filipinos have surrounded the church and kept the Spaniards at bay, trying to starve them without food and supplies.
Intermittent battles between the two protagonists lasted for 11 months with the Spanish holding fort and Filipinos unable to storm the church. As food and supplies dwindled and disease ravaged the soldiers inside, the Filipinos sent emissaries asking the Spanish to surrender.
They were informed that the Philippine-Spanish War has ended and Spain has sold or ceded the country to the U.S. for a measly $20-million together with Cuba and Puerto Rico.They were told that they were no longer enemies but the Americans were.
But the Spanish commander stubbornly stuck to his belief and sworned duty to defend the empire by all costs.
He refused to surrender and the battles continued, albeit within the confines of the church and the surrounding Filipino outposts.
The siege continued and so do the toll on the soldier’s morale. There were some defections and and a raging mutiny within the ranks.
Even the arrival of a Spanish officer bearing the official letter of demand from Manila to surrender went unheaded. There were copies of newspapers announcing the defeat of Spain  by the Americans.
When Morenas died and more men succumbed to ’beriberi’, a deadly disease caused by malnutrition, Sergeant Jimeno took over command. He became even more determined than Morenas to fight till the end.
The movie depicts the horrors of war and the havoc it plays on men’s character – some wanted to die with honour remaining loyal to the empire, while others wanted to accept the reality of defeat and return home.
In the end, Jimeno came to his senses and made the decision to surrender. Of the original contingent of 50 men, only 13 survived.
Displaying the magnanimity of the Filipino soldiers, the defeated Spaniards were allowed to keep their arms and marched out of Baler to Manila, some 200 miles away.
The movie depicts the use of women as weapons of war – in this case, as ‘whores’ or ‘puta’. It has been said that before Spanish colonization, no such word existed in the Philippine language. It is now commonly used in the curse word ‘putang ina’ (‘son of a bitch’).
It is revealing that this seemingly minor element in the movie looms large in the Philippines of today.
Its current president, Rodrigo Duterte, uses the word as a weapon, cursing his enemies including the Pope as ‘putang ina’.
Shot in the Canary Islands to mimic the Philippine island scenery, the movie (2016) is an added repertoire of historical movies that includes Heneral Luna and Goyo.
It is available on Netflix.

2 thoughts on “Movie review: An Empires’ last stand: 1898, Our last men in the Philippines (‘1898, Los Ultimos de Filipinas’)”

  1. I didn’t know about this part of our history – Baler being the last stand of our colinizers! My beef is the portrayal of Filipino women only as “putas”. Very demeaning!

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