The early history of Baler is fragmentary though sufficient to indicate that during the early years that preceded the arrival of Franciscan Missionaries, continuous change took place in the human and political geography or the regions, as a result of the migration of people and dissemination of new ideas and cultures.

It has been foresaid that Baler was already a very progressive and prominent community long before its discovery by the Franciscans. The populace source of economic was fishing, hunting, and farming.

The early Spanish Missionaries of two different religious orders are pioneer builders co Catholicism in Baler, They are the Franciscans and the Recollects, men of God imbued with the gallant courage of crusaders, the fervent faith of martyrs, and noble virtues of saints, without arms, but only with their crucifixes and their rosaries, they penetrated unexplored jungles and crossed uncharted mountains to bring the gospel of Christ to the people; so doing, they suffered untold miseries, even untimely deaths. And to make the evangelization of the people successful, none of these die-hearted and dedicated missionaries left their assigned parishes unless reassigned or ordered elsewhere by their superiors. Their quest to instill the seed for Christianity, their desire for economic wealth, and their aspiration for the grandeur and political glory of Spain led to the exploration of the Sierra Madre and its coastal areas. However, despite the food deeds attributed to the missionaries, dissension arose between them and the military. Using their religious zeal, they overshadowed their military counterparts.

On their arrival into the Philippines, missionaries of different religious denominations were reorganized according to the regions they were assigned to evangelize. For the Franciscans Orders, their assigned region was designated “Provincia de San Gregorio Magno” (Province of Saint Gregory the Great).

The first Franciscan to reach the eastern coastal region of the Sierra Madre was Fray Ortiz, O.F.M., in June 1579. At that time, he was ministering the parishes of Tayabas, Mindoro and Batangas. Incidentally, before he achieved his goal for the evangelization of the regions, he was recalled and assigned for a more priority mission.

Thirty years later, in April 1906, Fray Blas Palomino and company continued their journey northward and found the towns of Casiguran; and Palanan in the province of Isabela. He stayed in Palanan for a while until recalled by his superiors in Manila. His service to God tragically ended on 30 August 1622 in Macasar in the island of Celebes. He was killed when the Dutch invaded the island.

When Baler was discovered, it was located to the right of San Jose River (today’s Aguang) that wound its way from the Caraballo (Sierra Madre) mountains to the north estuary (Kabilang Sabang) of Baler Bay. The town was desolate with stern mountain walls enclosing it upon the landward side, and to the east, the harborless Pacific Ocean.
Baler’s location made access by both land and sea extremely difficult. At certain time of the year, the sea route was almost impossible. Although, it has good anchoring place for ships, its entrance to Baler Bay offers no danger except at the “S” point of point Encanto where there were several scattered reefs known as “Confites” but can be avoided by rounding off the point.

The legend of the name “Baler” is well noted and defined in “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala” authored by Fathers Juan de Noceda and Pedro de San Lucar, published 1754, that Baler originated from the word “Balod” a large mountain pigeon (Paloma Montes) commonly found abundant in the sea. There are many other legends by words of mouth, hearsay, telltale, and backstairs stories, however, unconfirmed. The most advocate and accepted revelation is the aforementioned record.

On 24 October 1611, another Franciscan Fray Francisco de Dan Antonio ventured into Baler. He was the first Parish Priest assigned to Baler and pioneered the construction of the first Catholic Church. After five years as pastor, he was transferred to Pililia, Laguna on 31 March 1616. He died in Pila, Laguna on 6 February 1624, and was succeeded by Fray Miguel Soriano, et. al.

On 1 September 1658, due to the shortages of the Franciscan Missionaries, Fray Francisco de River, OFM, turned over the parish of Baler to the Recollects Order, under Padre Augustin de Santa Monica, AR. The last Franciscan administrator of the Baler parish before taken over by the Augustinian Recollects.

On 7 May 1703, the Franciscan reclaimed their foothold on Baler; and, in like manner, it was handed over by Padre Francisco de la Madre de Dios, AR, to Fray Juan de la Torre, OFM. Since then, Baler remained under the Franciscans until June 2, 1899, when finally the Spanish Garrison under the command of Lt. Saturnino Martin Cerezo surrendered to the Filipinos commanded by Col. Simeon Tecson.

In 1719, when Fray Sebastian de la Madre de Dios, OFM, administered the parish of Baler, he established the mission of Dipaculao and the hamlet of Ditale as staging areas for the Christianization of Ilongots and other indigenous tribes. Thirty four (34) years later, in 1753, Fray Manuel de Olivencia, OFM, established the mission of San Jose de Casecnan and Sitio Kadayakan.

Tromba Marina Sculpture | Ermita Hill Brgy. Zabali, Baler, Aurora | photo: Joel Tecuico

The day of 27 December 1735, was a devastating event for the town of Baler. Around 2:00 am, while the town was asleep, an uncanny phenomenon occurred. A tidal wave tremendous proportion engulfed the town without a warning that within an hour it was gone, Fray Jose de San Rafael, OFM, the parish priest of Casiguran, who was on vacation in Baler survived the deluge by swimming to the hill of point Baja (Ermita). Others who survived the catastrophe included members of the Angara, Bihasa, Bitong, Carrasco, Ferreras, Lumasac and Poblete clans.

The phenomenon was weird, because it happened so suddenly. There was no sign or manifestation of bad weather and no predicted typhoon; besides, the night was clear and bright. The nearby town of Casiguran, mission of Dipaculao, and the hamlets of Dingalan were not affected despite the fact that they were located on the same shoreline.
After the devastation, a new town was resurrected on a land belonging to Sitio Zabali located 15045’ latitude on a hilly terrain about 8 kms, west of Baler Bay. It borders 15 km. northwest, with the mission of San Jose de Casecnan (Maria Aurora); 62 km. southwest, the district Pantabangan; 52 km. to the north, the town of Casiguran; 97 km. south, the district of Infanta; and, 99 km west, the town of Bongabon. The previous site of the town that was wiped out by the devastating tidal wave was renamed Kinagunasan (washed out). Except for the memories and legend that has behind, the destruction of the old town still remains a mystery to this day.

Life of the missionaries was not all favorable; on occasion their missionary work was disrupted by Muslim pirates from Sulu Archipelago. With their swift vintas, they extended their depredations to the northeastern coast of Luzon. Rounding the easternmost tip of Sorsogon province, they would swoop on the defenseless towns. This happened in the summer of 1798; Moor (Moro) raiders plundered the towns of Infanta, Polillio, Casiguran and Palanan. They captured the parish priests and the town leaders. In Baler, they kidnapped Fray Lucal de la Resurreccion, OFM, and held him for ransom.