Balangiga bells’ return thrills Eastern Samar town

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TACLOBAN CITY — The town of Balangiga in Eastern Samar is preparing for the celebratory welcome for the much-awaited return of three bells seized by American soldiers 117 years ago.

After hearing the report on the bells’ repatriation, priests, local government officials, and some volunteers have met to talk about possible activities for the welcome ceremony, said Balangiga town tourism, culture and arts officer Fe Campanero.

Campanero, a great-granddaughter of one of the women who plotted the attack against American soldiers in 1901, said they have been mapping out plans to give “proper honor” to the historic bells.

“Those bells deserve a grand welcome after 117 years of waiting. This is going to be a bigger ceremony than the return of a bell in Bauang, La Union,” Campanero told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Tuesday.

The official was referring to the San Pedro bell returned to Bauang town in 2016. It was taken to the United States in 1901 by Gen. Thomas Barry who gave the bell in 1915 to the US Military Academy in West Point, New York, where he became its superintendent.

Church officials and the local government have been consulting with Bauang authorities on the conduct of welcome ceremony for the historic bell.

“I share the same feeling of joy and gratitude with the people of Balangiga town and Eastern Samar province that after decades of promises, the bells will finally return home. This is going to be a big celebration. I thank President Rodrigo Duterte for his courage to ask the US government and the many volunteers who worked for the bells’ repatriation,” Campanero added.

The bells’ return is seen as a big boost to the Balangiga’s tourism industry as this will attract more visitors who are eager to see the historic bells, the official said. “Aside from drawing tourists, it will boost our advocacy to the younger generation love our identity and history.”

Rolando Borrinaga of the Committee on Historical Research of National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) said a ceremony will be held on Nov. 15 at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming for the repatriation of the Balangiga bells.

The third Balangiga bell at a US Army museum in South Korea, Borrinaga said, had also been crated weeks ago and is ready for shipment.

“The targeted date for arrival in the Philippines is mid-December. There will be ceremonies in Manila before the bells will be delivered to Balangiga. There is still some hope that the bells will reach Balangiga by Christmas. At least as far as the bells, campaigners are concerned,” Borrinaga said in a message sent to PNA.

“The latest successful campaign for the return of the Bells of Balangiga was largely a veterans-to-veterans effort. So many in the US Veterans community have let their voices be known and lent their support — including national resolutions of support from both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion,” he added.

The Balangiga Encounter happened on Sept. 28, 1901, when town residents led by Valeriano Abanador initiated an attack against US soldiers while having breakfast. The villagers killed several American soldiers using bolos.

Around 2,500 Filipinos were killed by the US retaliatory attack. The Americans took the Balangiga bells as war trophies.

For over a century, the three bells have been in the custody of the US government. Two of the bells are at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, while one is in the 9th US Infantry Regiment in Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.

President Rodrigo Duterte, during his 2017 State of the Nation Address (SONA), called for the return of the church bells taken during the Philippine-American war.

“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage,” he said.

During his visit to Balangiga town on Sept. 28, 2017, Duterte admitted that he turned emotional when he demanded for the return of the bells during his SONA.

In August, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signed documents favoring the return of the war booties to the Philippines.

US President Donald Trump earlier signed the US National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, which gives Mattis the authority to decide on the return of the Balangiga bells. (PNA)

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