Peace, friendship dominate Balangiga Bells handover

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BALANGIGA, Eastern Samar — It was indeed a day of friendship and peace in this town when President Rodrigo Duterte witnessed the handover of Balangiga Bells seized by the US government for 117 years.

The President arrived at around 5 p.m. Saturday at the town’s covered court where hundreds of government officials, Roman Catholic priests, and residents gathered to witness the historic event.

After greeting Cabinet officials at the left side of the covered hall, Duterte proceeded to the other side to shake hands with top church officials led by Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President and Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, whom the Chief Executive identified as his “personal spiritual guidance counsellor.”

The President’s friendly gesture to the CBCP leader has elicited big applause from the crowd as people watched the blow-by-blow event on big screen set up by the Presidential Broadcast Staff Radio-Television Malacañang.

The President also shook the hands of Borongan, Eastern Samar Diocese Bishop Crispin Varquez, Papal Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, Archbishop of the US Military Ordinariate Timothy Broglio and other church officials seated in front facing the stage.

“The rest of the Filipino nation joins the Diocese of Borongan in celebrating this historic event. Indeed, this victory is the result of the optimism and solidarity and patriotism of those behind the bells’ return, just like when our forefathers fought for freedom against foreign domination more than a century ago,” Duterte told the crowd.

US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission John Law and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Felter represented the US government at the return ceremony of the Balangiga Bells in this town.

“The return of the Bells of Balangiga demonstrates the enduring strength of the U.S.-Philippine alliance and the deep bonds of friendship between the peoples of our nations, as we work together to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the US Embassy said in a statement.

Minutes before the handover ceremony, Valles told reporters that “the bells’ repatriation underlines deeper appreciation of respect and friendship.”

Varquez echoed Valles’s statement saying the bells’ homecoming “is a symbol of peace and reconciliation and remind us that we have to move on from the Balangiga Encounter.”

A few hours after the handover, a post circulated on social media claiming that priests, including top church officials, were earlier told to go out of the venue since Duterte only wants Valles to be in the area.

The post also claimed that “priests present were asked to remove their Roman collars so as not to offend the President. Also, chairs were placed in front of the priests to cover them.”

Facebook user Aloysius Trejo observed in the video that “the President cordially greeted and shook hands with church officials and even waved to other local priests at the far end of the row while on his way to the stage.”

“It is not a directive of the President. Before his speech, he greeted the Apostolic Nuncio and even called Archbishop Valles his personal spiritual guidance counsellor,” he said.

Another Facebook user Nnie Que tagged the post as “malicious and makes no sense other than to sow intrigue.”

Borongan diocese officials are unavailable for comments on the issue. –PNA

 

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