On June 30, 1899, thirty-five Spanish soldiers were captured at the Siege of Baler in the Philippines. With this triumph, the Philippine rebels declared their victory over the remaining Spanish forces. However, despite being within their rights to treat these captives as prisoners of war, President Emilio Aguinaldo decreed that they be treated as friends. Eleven years ago, Philippine Senator Edgardo J. Angara spearheaded the legislative enactment of the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day, in remembrance of this unique deed of magnanimity. While the Friendship Day is generally celebrated on the 30th of June, in Spain, Senator Angara and Philippine Ambassador to Spain, Carlos C. Salinas, celebrate this day on the 12th, in conjunction with the Philippine Independence Day.
We at Guidepost had the pleasure of speaking with Ambassador Salinas, his wife Isabelita Salinas, Senator Angara, and his wife Gloria Angara at the Intercontinental Hotel in Madrid where they hosted Mabuhay: Kalayaan 2013.
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Today we celebrate Filipino independence and the sacrifices necessary to attain that freedom, as well as the unique relationship between Spain and the Philippines. How is the day meaningful for you, personally?
Ambassador Salinas: Today is a double celebration. One is our Independence Day…and the other, which is just as important, is the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day…because, you see, as a result of our allowing the peaceful return of the very last Spanish soldiers at Baler [to their country]…a lot of friendship was developed. So to us in Spain, we always celebrate the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day on the same day: our Independence and our Friendship.
Gloria Angara: Filipinos are very hospitable. My husband has invited several Spaniards to the Philippines, in connection with Los Ultimos [descendants of the last Spanish soldiers at Baler], because in the whole Spanish empire, Baler was the last stand, the last stronghold to surrender to native revolutionaries.
You have worked tirelessly to secure friendship between Spain and the Philippines. What would you say are the qualities that allow the governments of the Philippines and Spain to work together amicably?
Senator Angara: It is easier to work back in history because Spain has been with us for over 300 years, and we used to be a very active member of the Ibero-American Alliance…For a while, we—in a way—were separated…So we all forgot our Castellano, but now, 11 years later, I have tried to restore that relationship. And fortunately, 11 years later, the relationship is not just better than it was before but is now extraordinary.
Isabelita Salinas: We sent [the soldiers at Baler] away as friends and not as prisoners of war…During war people sometimes do not act like people, but when it is over you realize that we are all brothers under the skin. And so, [our] coming to Spain. . . after Spain had left the Philippines is like going back to one’s ancestors…Freedom does not come free. It is not a gift. It is not something you inherit. You have to work for it, and many of our ancestors died, sacrificed for us to be free. And therefore, we have to take care of it, we have to honor it, and we have to love our country, because of where it is today and because of lots of sacrifices…
We are trying to reinforce the similarities [between Spain and the Philippines] and the economic connection and the traditions and the culture that we have in common. The only way to do this is to focus on what we have in common and not to emphasize the differences.
What are the specific goals that the Philippines have in working with Spain, culturally and economically speaking?
Senator Angara: What I am suggesting to my brothers in Spain is that perhaps now they should begin looking east, rather than us looking west. Because the center of gravity, the center of innovation, and the center of production is now moving to Asia, especially to the Philippines, and we are offering ourselves as a platform to Spanish development and expansion…The Philippines’ growth is being powered by tourism, just as Spain’s growth during the fifties through the nineties was propelled by tourism, by the hospitality industry. We are now at the cusp of that same [economic] revolution, and we hope that Spain will help us and will invest in the hospitality and tourism industry of the Philippines.
Gloria Angara: “We can look to Spain, because even in its critical state, Spain still enjoys much tourism. We can learn from them in that respect.”
What are some other current or upcoming projects that most excite you? What are your goals?
Senator Angara: For the first time in the economic history of the Philippines, we are at the confluence of Western and Eastern cultures and civilizations, and, happily, prosperity. The Philippines is one of the most dynamic economies in Asia right now, and our growth rate will continue on the upward trajectory.
Gloria Angara: When my husband was present at the flag raising [i.e., the ceremony when the Philippine flag was raised, signalling the end of the colonial era in the Philippines], he said that now that we have freed ourselves from the Spaniards and the Americans, we have to avoid being enslaved by our own countrymen. What I think he means is that we must generate more wealth, strengthen the middle class in the Philippines, and foment equal opportunities in order to avoild the risk of enslavement not by foreigners but by fellow Filipinos who by virtue of their wealth and their connections will endeavor to enslave their countrymen.
What do you like best about living in Spain? What is the biggest difficulty you have encountered in adjusting to life in this country?
Isabelita Salinas: It has been a very, shall we say, challenging transition [from living at home to moving to Spain]. First of all, because of the language and the way Spanish is spoken in Spain which is very speedy. This has been a problem for me, but not the ambassador. . . The rest was also quite a challenge, but I enjoyed every step of the way, and now that we are here I find that it is such a beautiful place for a temporary home…Spain is beautiful and very cultured and has a lot to offer…And so for me, it has been a very beautiful experience, and I relish every day that I am here, and I thank God for bringing us here…Living in Spain, I realize how much Spain has left behind in the Philippines. There are a lot of food similarities, a lot of traditions and customs; we have a lot of words that come from the Spanish language… And so, coming to live here is like returning to our roots.
What cultural mores are shared between Spain and the Philippines and which differences do you find to be the most striking?
Ambassador Salinas: Culture, religion, architecture, literature, all of this we have adopted from Spain, and at the same time, we are the only Catholic country in Asia, because the Spanish missionaries were there. If the Spanish missionaries had not gone to the Philippines, we would be professing another religion, but because they went there and they had the first baptism and they said the first mass, now the people in the Philippines are predominantly Catholic. Many people in Spain ask me: ‘Of all the good things that Spain left behind in the Philippines, what do I consider the best?’ Two things: religion and [sense of] family.
Isabelita Salinas: Of all the traditions we got from Spain, the greatest gift was the faith that they brought, the Christian religion that they brought. . . We are the biggest Catholic country in Asia, and we are very grateful to them for brining that to us. Just for that, we thank the Spaniards. It is a heritage that is very meaningful and lasting. We would not have been the same without it. The country would not have been the same without it.
The majority of our readers are Americans living in Spain. Is there any advice that you would give to those striving to create a home far from where they grew up?
Ambassador Salinas: Well, it is now two years that [my wife and I] have lived here. During the first few months we had to go through a learning curve; but once you settle down, you get your feet on the ground, you gain new friends and you move [in the right direction]… One thing we tell our friends is, you come to Spain, you adjust to Spain. That’s very important. I had lived in New York for six years, and you cannot go there and bring everything you want from home. You have to adjust. And the moment you are willing to adjust, you are fine.
Sarah has a BA from the University of Norte Dame, IN, magna cum laude. Majors: History, and Spanish. She’s Phi Alpha Theta as well as Sigma Delta Pi.
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