The Balangiga bells are on their way home
SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Bobit S. Avila (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2018 - 12:00am

After 117 years, the three Balangiga bells taken by the United States Army in 1901 are en route to the Philippines for their historic return on Tuesday. This was a news report that Filipinos have long waited for. What we saw are the two photographs that the United States embassy in Manila released of the two bells in Wyoming being packed and crated for shipment last month. This was without any doubt America’s true intention to have those bells returned to the Philippines. No less than President Rodrigo Duterte will witness the turnover of the Balangiga bells at Villamor Air Base of the Philippine Air Force in Pasay City.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told the media “The aircraft that will be bringing the three bells will arrive before lunch at Villamor Air Base. They are going to unload and then they are going to remove it from the crate, put it on display.” The Defense Secretary also said that he would also be at the event to receive the historical pieces from US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim and the US Department of Defense.

The Defense Secretary also pointed out “I will go around with Ambassador Kim, look at the bells then I will sign a document that says that I am accepting the bells from them.” Defense Sec. Lorenzana said that the President is not expected to deliver a speech during the event that will put closure to the bitter story that surrounded the bells. We don’t have to write once more about the incident that led to the confiscation of the Balangiga bells, but that finally this piece of history has finally been returned to Philippine shores and for all historians to basked and remember. Someday those bells will become a tourist destination in the town of Balangiga, which is located in the southern part of Samar.

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We found out that Associate Justice Geraldine Econg was one of the five Sandiganbayan Associate Justices who literally freed former Sen. Ramon Revilla for the crime of plunder, yet the same Justices who freed Revilla ordered him to pay P124.5 million of the money that he was supposed to use. Accordingly the prosecution failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that Revilla had received the amount from Janet Lim Napoles. So the disturbing question swirling in our heads is why were the Justices so convinced that Revilla had the P124.5 million in his custody? Surely Revilla knew the original amount of P224 million given to him which the Justices said that he had in his possession?

The Sandiganbayan First Division last Friday handed down a historic ruling – the first since the pork barrel scam was revealed – on the plunder case against Revilla, his aide Richard Cambe and businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, believed to be brains behind the pork barrel scam, but it was a decision literally full of holes! The Ombudsman prosecutors said Revilla, through Cambe, allegedly received from businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles a total of P224.5 million in kickbacks in exchange for the allocation of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to her bogus non-government organizations. The Sandiganbayan in 2015 ordered a freeze of P224 million in assets of Revilla. So after all, this fund was identified to have been in the custody of Revilla?

The Sandiganbayan Justices may claim that Revilla cannot be held liable for plunder as the prosecution failed to establish “beyond reasonable doubt” that the former senator “received, directly or indirectly the rebates, commission and kickbacks from his PDAF.” But whether they like it or not, so many people believe that this decision was wrong. Already too many in social media talk about corruption, but can we help it? In clearing Revilla, the court, however, convicted Cambe and Napoles and sentenced them to reclusion perpetua, or imprisonment of 40 years.

Still related to this story, the Philippine STAR came up with the breaking headline entitled, “Trillions lost each year to bribes, corruption.” This was apparently a report made by the United Nations (UN) marking the International Anti-Corruption Day the other day. As the front-page report went, “Every year trillions of dollars equivalent to more than five percent of global gross domestic production, are paid in bribes or stolen through corruption worldwide.” The UN went on to say “Around $2.6 trillion is lost annually to corruption – money that is urgently needed for healthcare, education, clean water, infrastructure and other essential services.

The UN noted, “Corruption harms societies in multiple ways. It undermines democracy and rule of law, erodes quality of life, slows economic development, and enables organized crime and terrorism.” This year marks the 15th anniversary of the landmark United Nations Convention Against Corruption. I say that the Sandiganbayan decision was wrong and ill-timed!

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Email: vsbobita@gmail.com

BALANGIGA BELLS
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