News Commentary

US returns La Union’s 400-year-old bell

Jun Elias - The Philippine Star

BAUANG, La Union, Philippines – A 400-year-old bell taken by American soldiers in 1901 from a Catholic church here has been shipped back to the Philippines and arrived at Clark, Pampanga Tuesday night.

Reports from the office of Mayor Martin de Guzman disclosed that the bell was transported from the West Point Community in New York on April 30 and will be fetched by government and church authorities at Clark for ceremonial rites on Monday, May 23.

Retired US Air Force officer Dennis Wright, who worked for the bell’s return, told The STAR in a telephone interview that as of yesterday, the bell was in the custody of the Bureau of Customs for processing, but he expected it to be delivered to him here last night or this morning.

“I have visited Bauang several times in preparation for the return of the bell. Up to Sunday, the folk there would be preparing the mount for the bell in time for its arrival on Monday for a proper mass, to be attended by local dignitaries and other people,” he said. ?Wright said that when he first went to Bauang in line with his project for the return of the bell, he found that most local folk were not even aware that such bell existed, much less the bell’s role in their history.

Before the bell’s shipment, a ceremony and mass at West Point’s Most Holy Trinity Catholic Chapel were conducted with Philippine consulate officials and representatives of the United States government in attendance.

Myrna Romero, the town’s information officer, said the San Pedro Bell, also known as the Barry Bell, weighs around 400 kilos. It is a long-lost treasure of the Saints Peter and Paul Church of this town.

Romero said the return of the bell was facilitated by two US Navy veterans who are also working to return the Balangiga Bells of Eastern Samar.

She said Wright discussed the details of the return of the bell with Mayor De Guzman and Fr. Ronald Raymund Chan when he visited Bauang last year.

The bell was taken by American soldier Thomas Barry in 1901, during the Philippine-American War. He gave it to the US Military Academy at West Point, which hung it outside the academy’s chapel.

Historical records show that in 1883, Gobernadorcillo Mariano Balancio, who became mayor of Bauang, and Lt. DD. Hilario Calica gave the bell to Father Mariano Garcia. Father Garcia was the parish priest of San Pedro from November 1872 to July 25, 1876.

The bell was almost destroyed during the Philippine revolution, but the advance of American forces prevented it and other bells from being melted down and made into guns and other war ammunition.

The bell is made from an alloy of gold, silver and copper. – With Ding Cervantes


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