Diocese claims priests told to leave Balangiga bellls turnover ceremony
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

Diocese claims priests told to leave Balangiga bellls turnover ceremony

(Philstar.com) - December 16, 2018 - 11:53am

MANILA, Philippines — Priests were allegedly asked to leave the turnover of the Balangiga bells on Saturday, according to a Facebook post by the Diocese of Borongan. 

The diocese said priests, including Borongan Bishop Crispin Barrete Varquez, the archbishop of the Military Ordinariate of the United States, and the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Gabriele Giordano Caccia, were told by presidential staff leave the Balangiga plaza.

But CNN Philippines quotes Fr. Serafin Tybaco, parish priest of the San Lorenzo Martir Church in Balangiga, as saying this was due to the original program for the ceremony.

READ: War trophy bells formally back in Balangiga

President Rodrigo Duterte, US Ambassador Sung Kim and local officials also attended the ceremony.

The post said Duterte only wanted Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, to attend. "Some priests were even asked to remove their Roman collars so as not to offend the president," the post added. It said chairs were also placed in front of the priests to hide them from the president.


The three Balangiga bells were formally returned to its original home, the Church of San Lorenzo de Martir in Balangiga on Saturday after 117 years in the hands of the US military, which took them as war booty in the Philippine-American War. 

The bells were used to signal an attack on American troops by the townspeople of Balangiga in Eastern Samar. The US answered the attack, which left 48 US soldiers dead, with a pacification campaign that turned Samar into, as Brig. Gen. Jacob Smith is quoted as ordering, a "howling wilderness" and killed thousands of Filipinos.

According to local media reports, it was the Presidential Management Staff who asked the priests to leave.

Priest: It was part of the program

But CNN Philippines' Carolyn Bonquin quotes, Fr. Serafin Tybaco, parish priest of the San Lorenzo Martir Church in Balangiga, as saying priests and bishops were only asked to leave the plaza before Duterte arrived for the turnover because Presidential Management Staff were following the original program.

"The original instructions were that we were only supposed to be in Part One, we weren't told to leave," he told CNN Philippines in Filipino. "It was in the program that we were supposed to leave after the preliminary program, but because the Nuncio was there, our presence was needed there."

Tybaco said the public should avoid taking the incident negatively and that the president didn't say anything against the church during the ceremony and even shook the hands of the priests,

After initially saying he would not attend the turnover ceremony, Duterte decided to go last minute "due to the persistent requests from the people of Eastern Samar."

READ: Duterte No single person or government can claim credit for Balangiga bells return

Relations between the administration and the Catholic Church — a vocal critic of Duterte's war on drugs — have strained over the past several months, with the president slamming church leaders and clergy in almost every public speech.

Duterte had called for the bells' during his 2017 State of the Nation Address, but said on Thursday that no one could take credit for the bells' return. “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."

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