Duterte to attend Balangiga bellsâ turnover in Samar
Children carry cutouts of the Balangiga bells yesterday ahead of the turnover of the historic church bells to the local officials in Eastern Samar today.
Krizjohn Rosales
Duterte to attend Balangiga bells’ turnover in Samar
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - December 15, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte will witness today the turnover of the Balangiga bells to the local government in simple ceremonies in Eastern Samar.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo yesterday said the President is not keen on getting credit for the return of the war loot from the United States, more than a hundred years after American soldiers took the bells from the town’s church.

“The President’s statement shows his sincerity in upholding sovereignty through the use of diplomacy as a leverage to achieve what the country rightly and truly deserves,” he said.

Duterte will fly to Samar today for the formal turnover to be attended by US Ambassador Sung Kim and local officials.

On Thursday, he said he would not attend the high mass which follows shortly after the turnover rites at a covered court near the Parish Church of St. Lawrence.

Taking a cue from the President, Panelo said the credit does not belong to the President alone but to the concerted efforts of officials of the US and Philippine governments.

“He gives credit to all Filipinos under this administration and it is our desire – as a community, which motivate him to perform his best. While we act in accordance with the President’s actions, he acts pursuant to his and the public’s interest and welfare,” he said. 

Panelo maintained that the recent remarks of Duterte disowning credit for the successful return of the Balangiga bells to the country “highlights the style of the Chief Executive’s action-oriented and no frill public service marked by humility.” 

The Chief Executive is not directly handing over the bells of Balangiga to the church leadership but to the town’s leadership.

“The President is handing over the three bells directly to the people of  Balangiga through the mayor of the town. These bells are the source of pride and patriotism of the  people of Balangiga,” a Camp Aguinaldo insider said.

But Catholic Church leaders in the province and those from other dioceses would join key personalities during the turnover rites scheduled at 3 p.m. today, he added.

‘Declare Dec. 11 a holiday’ 

Three lawmakers are proposing the declaration of Dec. 11 as a national non-working holiday to celebrate the return of the Balangiga bells.

Reps. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar, where Balangiga town is located, Raul Daza of Northern Samar and Victoria Isabel Noel of party-list group An Waray, whose constituents are mostly from Leyte and Samar, made the proposal in House Bill 8792.

In filing the measure, the authors said declaring Dec. 11 of every year as a national holiday would give people the opportunity to remember and celebrate the day “when the Balangiga bells finally returned to the country.”

It would also recognize “decades-long friendly, cooperative and diplomatic initiatives for the return of the bells,” they said.

The three House members noted that since then, diplomatic initiatives “gained traction, getting stronger and louder each year, the strongest and loudest perhaps was that made by President Duterte in his July 24, 2017 State of the Nation Address.”

They quoted the President’s appeal to the United States, “Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage. Those bells are reminders of the gallantry and heroism of our forebears who resisted the American colonizers and sacrificed their lives in the process.”

Evardone, Daza and Noel said the bells were taken “during a dark period in Philippine history and ‘imprisoned’ on foreign shores for more than a century as war trophies.”

Evardone, however, opposed Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri’s proposal to put one of the three Balangiga bells in the National Museum.

“The bells should be placed in the rightful place where they belong – the bell tower in Balangiga church,” he said.

Tour Balangiga bells – Grace Poe

Sen. Grace Poe offered a possible compromise on the opposing proposals on how to display the Balangiga bells.

Poe said she appreciated the point of Zubiri on having one of the historic bells displayed at the National Museum so more Filipinos could view it.

She said Balangiga town in Eastern Samar is not that accessible to the public as it was also evident the people there were excited to receive the bells.

“Maybe in the near future, because Christianity, Catholicism is about sharing also, so maybe they could lend it for a tour, like what they do on (religious) images, that are taken around the country, and brought back where its history originated,” Poe told reporters.

Zubiri on Thursday filed Senate Resolution 965 appealing to the leadership of the Catholic Church to display one of the bells at the National Museum.

He said the public display would educate students, whose schools organize annual visits to the National Museum. – With Jaime Laude, Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero

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