Philippine military personnel unload one of the three Balangiga church bells after it arrived from the US at a military airbase in Manila on Dec. 11, 2018. Church bells seized from the Philippines by the US as war trophies over a century ago were returned on December 11, in a bid to turn the page on a difficult chapter between the historical allies.
AFP/Ted Aljibe
Duterte: No single person or government can claim credit for Balangiga bells return
Ryan Macasero ( - December 13, 2018 - 8:52pm

MANILA, Philippines — Amid talk over who is responsible for the return of the Balangiga bells to the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte Thursday evening in Las Piñas City that the credit does not belong to any one person.

“It doesn’t belong to a worker or government,” Duterte said. “Nobody should ever claim success of that. It is the property of the Catholic faith."

The bells arrived in Manila on Tuesday from Wyoming after 117 years in the hands of the US military.

READ: Balangiga bells return home

This is where they have been since taken from the Philippines by American troops in 1901 after a clash in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, during the Philippine American War.

Duterte originally said he was not going to attend the turnover ceremony of the bells, but decided to go "due to the persistent requests from the people of Eastern Samar."

READ: Duterte to attend Balangiga bells turnover due to 'persistent requests'

While he acknowledged that the bells belong to the church, it seems the president is still not yet ready to put his quarrel with the church aside for the event.

“There's going to be a high mass, I will not go to mass. I will float along the coastal shores of Samar,” Duterte said at the speech at the opening of a drug rehabilitation center in Las Piñas.

“I have heard all the masses in the world,” Duterte said, who often slams the church in his speeches for its criticism over the administration's war on drugs.

“The American government will give it back to me. The local reps will give it back to its rightful owner,” he said.

Duterte also did not attend the turnover ceremony at Villamor Air Base where United States Ambassador Sung Kim handed over the bells to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

While Duterte demanded the return of the bells during his 2017 State of the Nation Address, the United States Embassy in Manila's spokesperson Molly Koscina said the return was not due to any particular event or statement.

"There are number of presidents, a number of [defense] secretaries, a number of US and Philippine ambassadors who worked for the return of the Balangiga bells. It was decades worth of work and protest from the veterans, and the legal issues that came with it," Koscina said at a press briefing on Monday.

Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in a statement that the return of the bells was due to a "strong sense of history and justice" that led to the return of the Balangiga bells.

“It would be wrong and insensitive for the Duterte administration to claim sole credit for the return of the bells and insist that this was the result of its so-called independent foreign policy,” Hontiveros said.

'Political will'

And while Duterte is unwilling to take credit for the return of the bells, his allies and supporters credit the return to Duterte's "political will."

“Many have tried, but it is our President’s strong political will and unquestionable dedication in asserting the rights of our country and its people which significantly contributed to this event coming into fruition,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Wednesday.

The turnover ceremony is scheduled for this Saturday, where the bells will be placed in their original home at the Church of San Lorenzo de Martir in Balangiga, Eastern Samar.

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