A worker cleans the Balangiga Encounter Monument at the town plaza in Balangiga, Eastern Samar yesterday ahead of the turnover of the bells to the San Lorenzo de Martir church this weekend. The monument depicts the attack by Filipino fighters from Balangiga and nearby villages on US soldiers after the church bells of Balangiga were rung on Sept. 28, 1901.
KrizJohn Rosales
Transfer of one bell to museum opposed
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - December 14, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Church leaders yesterday expressed their opposition to the proposed transfer of one of the three historic Balangiga bells to the National Museum in Manila.

Bishop Crispin Valdez of the Diocese of Borongan, Eastern Samar, led Church leaders in the region in opposing Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri’s proposal to move one of the bells to the National Museum, pointing out they are the property of the Catholic Church.

“We, the bishop and clergy of the Diocese of Borongan, collectively object to and strongly stand against the transfer of one or all of the bells of Balangiga from their historical and rightful habitat, which is the Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, in Balangiga, Eastern Samar,” the diocese said in a statement. 

Zubiri filed Senate Resolution 965 seeking to transfer one of the three Balangiga church bells to the National Museum.

“Senate Resolution 965 does violence to history and the sacred character and purpose of the Balangiga bells. It must be rejected,” the diocese said.

“They are also sacred artifacts that call the faithful to prayer and worship. But they especially call them to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the highest form of prayer and worship for Catholics. Therefore, they belong in the Church, not in a museum,” it added.

While aware that the bells hold a “national significance,” the diocese said bells should be installed in their proper place.

“Just as we do not transfer Jose Rizal’s family mementoes from the Rizal residence in Calamba to Manila, nor do we move from Kawit, Cavite the artifacts of the First Philippine Republic, neither should we transfer any or all of the Balangiga bells from their historical and rightful location: namely, the Roman Catholic Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr,” the diocese said.

“Any effort aimed at such a transfer is a disrespectful mangling of history and the right of the Catholic faithful of Balangiga to their private property. The Balangiga encounter in which the bells played a role happened in Balangiga. It is only right that they be returned to Balangiga and stay in Balangiga,” it added.

Hundreds of Filipino villagers in 1901, armed with bolos and disguised as women, used one of Balangiga town’s church bells to signal the start of a massive attack that wrought one of the bloodiest single-battle losses of American occupation forces in the Philippines. The US Army brutally retaliated, reportedly killing thousands of villagers, as the Philippine-American War raged.

After the violence, the Americans took three church bells as spoils of war that Filipinos would demand for decades to be handed back.

On Tuesday, a giant US Air Force cargo aircraft brought the bells of Balangiga back to the Philippines in a poignant ceremony that saw US defense officials and the American ambassador to Manila return the war relics 117 years after they were seized.

President Duterte, who has had an antagonistic attitude toward the US and has revitalized ties with China and Russia, asked Washington in his State of the Nation Address last year to “return them to us, this is painful for us.”

“Give us back those Balangiga bells... They are part of our national heritage,” Duterte said in the speech, attended by the US ambassador and other diplomats.

On Tuesday, the three bells arrived in a US Air Force cargo plane in a ceremony twith Duterte to supposedly witnessing the handover.

Duterte, however, changed his mind but said he would attend the ceremony in Eastern Samar tomorrow.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte gives more importance to the historic significance of the bells’ return to the country.

“The fact that after 117 years, the Balangiga bells, which symbolize the bravery and patriotism of the Filipinos who refused to be subjugated by a foreign power and shed blood to assert the sovereignty of our country, have been returned to their origins where they properly belong,” Panelo said. “The bells are now indeed home.”

Panelo said the President adjusted his busy schedule to join the Filipino community in welcoming the return of the bells.

“Due to the persistent requests from the people of Eastern Samar who look forward to President  Duterte’s personally bringing the Balangiga bells to the town of Balangiga, the President has decided to attend the turnover ceremony of the Balangiga bells to the local officials on Saturday, Dec. 15,” Panelo said. 

Monsignor Pedro Quitorio III, chairman of the committee handling the return of the bells in Borongan, said the bells would be returned to the Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr.

Quitorio added there are some modifications that need to be done on the belfry to accommodate the three bells.

“The bells would temporarily be placed at the garden area of the Church to give way to the reconstruction of the belfry,” he said.

Quitorio said they have been preparing a series of activities for the return of the Balangiga bells. 

“The overall program is that there would be prayers, welcome talk, unveiling of the bells and the ringing of the bells,” Quitorio said. 

“There will also be a one-minute of silence to pray for the dead because there is a cemetery beside the church and the bones of those who died during the massacre are buried there,” he added.

The diocese issued a statement relaying its gratitude to those who contributed for the return of the bells. 

“Please be assured that we will return the bells to their original religious purpose – and care and cherish them as a precious legacy of the profound faith, heroism and courage of our forebears,” the diocese said.  – with Christina Mendez, Jaime Laude

BALANGIGA BELLS JUAN MIGUEL ZUBIRI
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