After 117 years, bells ring again

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
After 117 years, bells ring again
President Duterte gestures as he rings one of the Balangiga bells during a handover ceremony in Balangiga, Eastern Samar yesterday.

BALANGIGA, Philippines — Finally, the bells tolled seven times, sounding once again over the town that had paid dearly for its people’s courageous action 117 years ago.  

“The bells are returned because of the fervent prayers of the entire Filipino nation,” President Duterte said last night at the town plaza here, paying tribute to the Filipino and American soldiers who gallantly fought during the Philippine-American War in 1901.

After he formally turned the bells over to local officials, Duterte kissed one bell, to the delight of the crowd who beamed with pride as they heard the bells tolling for the first time since their return.

“Nobody but nobody can claim a single credit for the generous act of the Americans. When there is a return, the credit goes to the American people and the Filipino people,” the President said.

“It’s a property of the Catholic faith – the Roman Catholic faith,” Duterte said, adding that it was a sentimental occasion for both the Filipino and American people.

The President was in a pleasant mood as he acknowledged the presence of his spiritual adviser, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president and Davao archbishop Bishop Romulo Valles. He greeted government officials, including those from from the US State Department and the US embassy.  

He stressed the importance of the return of the bells as well as the solidarity among Filipinos and Americans.

Setting aside his angst about Catholic priests, the President shook the hands of the papal nuncio and other Church officials. 

After the turnover ceremonies, Duterte passed by the historic mural at the plaza in memory of the tragic incident in 1901. He also paid tribute to the memorial wall for US and Filipino soldiers. He did not enter the St. Lawrence the Martyr church where a mass was held. 

Earlier, US deputy chief of mission John Law underscored the importance of the return of the bells.

Duterte left Manila at 3:45 p.m. yesterday for Samar, after the program and mass.

He skipped the official turnover last Tuesday at Villamor Air Base where Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Ambassador Sung Kim led other officials.

Tourism destination

With the return of the bells, the Department of Tourism (DOT) sees Eastern Visayas as one of the emerging tourist destinations in the country. 

“We, at DOT, are so happy for the people of Eastern Samar as the homecoming of the Balangiga church bells may yet turn not only Balangiga town, but the whole Eastern Visayas, into an emerging tourist destination,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said. 

Puyat added that the return of the bells could be the best Christmas gift for the residents of Balangiga as she assured them that the historical treasures will be preserved. 

She said the bells could be among the tourist attractions in Eastern Visayas, adding that the local tourism department in the region has already identified some tourist guides for the bells. 

Puyat will visit Balangiga in January next year when the DOT will start promoting the bells and the region’s other tourist attractions.

DOT Region 8 director Karina Rosa Tiopes said they have been assisting the local government unit (LGU) of Balangiga in the area’s tourism development projects.

“Foremost of these is the improvement of the Balangiga Incident Marker, funded under DOT-Yolanda Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Project worth P9.7 million, which was downloaded to the LGU,” Tiopes said.

The improvement includes landscaping and beautification of the park and the small museum located at the back of the marker to make it more presentable to tourists and pilgrims who will be visiting the town.

The Balangiga Incident Marker is the work of National Artist Napoleon Abueva, inaugurated on the 102nd commemoration on Sept. 28, 2003.

Preparations set by the DOT include training for mangrove paddling guides, waiter servicing and food handling, community tour guides, mountain guides, effective customer service and entrepreneurial development.

DOT said it also gave the LGU P629,000 for the procurement of tourism livelihood gear that include kayak with paddles, personal flotation device, fisherman’s hat, rash guards, first aid kits, tents, solar lamps, beach umbrella, plastic tables, mono-block chairs, abseiling ropes, harness, carabineers and various office supplies for Bayakha Falls, Ladder-Bangon Falls and Sitio Marag Mangroves.

“Enhancing other tourist destinations in Balangiga will make visitors stay longer, giving them the opportunity to get to know our people, experience our culture, taste our cuisine and discover the ‘Infinite Escapes in Eastern Visayas’,” Tiopes said. – With Edith Regalado, Robertzon Ramirez, Catherine Talavera

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