President Rodrigo Duterte’s public pronouncements “triggered” the return of the Balangiga bells by the United States to the Philippines, the Palace insisted on Friday while the 73-year-old leader himself refused to bask in such success.
“It was the President’s call that triggered the series of meetings that finally resulted into the coming home of the Balangiga Bells. But this is not to say that the attempts were all futile. To us, it was just like a ladder—it was a step that finally reached the pedestal,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in his Palace press briefing Friday.
But Panelo noted that Duterte’s refusal to take credit for the successful return of the historic church bells to the country highlights the latter’s “action-oriented and no frill public service marked by humility.”
“He gives credit to all Filipinos under this administration and it is our desire as a community which motivates him to perform his best,” he said.
“While we act in accordance with the President’s actions, he acts pursuant to his, and of course to the public’s, always, interest and welfare,” Panelo added.
In related developments:
* The Bells arrived in Guiuan, Eastern Samar at 10:28 am Friday, an official of the Philippine Air Force said.
“The C-130 aircraft carrying the bells left Villamor Air Base at 8 am and arrived in Samar at 10:30 am),” Maj. Aris Galang, PAF public affairs office chief, said.
Before sundown, the Bells were reported on their way to the church in Balangiga two hours away from Guiuan.
* The Roman Catholic Church and Tingog Sinirangan party-list expressed their opposition to a Senate proposal to keep one of the historic bells in the National Museum instead of returning it to Balangiga.
“We, the Bishop and Clergy of the Diocese of Borongan collectively object and strongly stand against the transfer of one or all of the Bells of Balangiga from their historical and rightful habitat, which is the Parish Church of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, Diocese of Borongan,” said Rev. Crispin Varquez, the bishop of the Diocese of Borongan.
Varquez’s statement came after Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri filed Senate Resolution 965 seeking the transfer of one of the three Balangiga Bells to the museum, saying the youth and the general public would be “informed of the historical significance of the said religious artifact.”
In his speech in Las Piñas City on Thursday evening, the President stressed that no one should ever claim success for the return of the bells to its original place.
“Now, let me be very clear on this, here and now. The credit of the return of the Balangiga does not belong to any worker or officials of government. The return of the bells was upon the demand of the Filipino people,” Duterte said.
“Nobody but nobody should ever claim success for that.”
According to Panelo, the President’s recent statement showed sincerity in upholding sovereignty through the use of diplomacy as a leverage to achieve what the country rightly and truly deserved.
“If there’s stressing that all of PRRD’s actions are based on the constitutional address to him to serve and to protect the people. Nothing more, nothing less,” he said.
In his State of the Nation Address in 2017, the President himself called on US officials as he demanded the swift return of the bells, explaining that the bells form part of the country’s patrimony.
He also reiterated that the Philippines would not forget the massacre committed by the American soldiers against Filipinos in Balangiga in 1901, stressing the passage of time could not cure an act of injustice.
For his part, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the return of the three bells to its origin would be a time for closure and healing between the two nations.
The US government, on the other hand, said the return became possible after the federal law prohibiting the return of war memorial items, including the bells, had expired.
The country has been asking the US for the return of the bells since 1958 as Jesuit priest Horacio de la Costa wrote to American military historian Chip Wards requesting for help for this purpose.
Then President Fidel Ramos even initiated a negotiation with US President Bill Clint to return the bells but to no avail due to an apparent dispute in US military laws.
Duterte, who noted that the historic bells were the property of the Roman Catholic faith, would attend the handover ceremony in Balangiga on Saturday but informed his aides that he would skip the Catholic mass in honor of the occasion.
The bells were taken from display at the PAF Aerospace Museum at about 10 p.m. Thursday and transferred to the 505th Search-and-Rescue Group Hangar in Villamor Air Base before being loaded Friday.
Last December 11, the US Department of Defense turned over the bells to the Philippines, culminating in the decades-long return process involving numerous initiatives and negotiations between the two governments.
Two of these bells were housed for more than a century at the Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, while the third was placed at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.
The bells were seized and declared as war trophies by US troops during the aftermath of the infamous Balangiga Massacre, which took place on September 28, 1901.
Political and religious observers said the Bells were at the crux of the struggle of the people of Samar, amid a dark period in Philippine-American relations during the war at the turn of the twentieth century.
Descendants of Balangiga villagers who fought during the Philippine-American war in 1901 criticized Zubiri over his plan.
“While our erstwhile colonizers, now strong allies, have magnanimously returned the BalangigaBells, our compatriots are thinking of keeping some booty for themselves. Let the bells be where they should be,” said Philip Jude Acidre, a former seminarian and the second nominee of Tingog Sinirangan party list.
“More than a hundred years, rising from the ashes of war and conflict, American soldiers took as war loot three bells from the belfry of the Balangiga parish church. For the next hundred years, these bells remained as mute witnesses to the sad consequences of war, seemingly exiled in a foreign land. With their return back to the belfry where they once hang - this sad episode in our nation’s history comes to a close,” said Acidre whose family roots come from Balangiga.
According to Acidre, he is happy to be personally witnessing the historic event on December 15.
“Our ancestors, Juan ‘Boyang’ Acidre and Callixto Acidre were among the Filipino soldiers who were in the Balangiga Encounter on September 28, 1901. Apoy Boyang died while Callixto was wounded during the incident. Both are well-remembered as heroes,” Acidre said.
“Placing the bell in the National Museum will give every Filipino from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao an opportunity to get a glimpse of an important piece of our nation’s history,” Zubiri said in his proposal on December 6, a week before the historic bells arrived in the country.
“[The] said gesture will make the bell accessible to the countless students who make school-sanctioned visits to the National Museum every year, providing them an opportunity to learn from the struggles of our forefathers through the study of this historically significant property,” said Zubiri.
The senator maintained that displaying the bell in the museum would “give chance to many Filipinos to see for themselves this religious artifact and be reminded of the role it played in one of the bloodiest chapters of the Philippine-American War.”
Yet, the Diocese of Borongan said that while they recognized the national significance of the bells, they also “likewise desire that they be correctly appreciated by all Filipinos, in particular by the young and also by the future generations.”
“But just as we do not transfer Jose Rizal’s family mementos from the Rizal residence in Calamba to Manila, nor do we move from Kawit, Cavite the artifacts of the First Philippine Republic, neither should we transfer any or all of the Balangiga Bells from their historical and rightful location: namely, the Roman Catholic Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr.
“Any effort aimed at such a transfer is a disrespectful mangling of history and the right of the Catholic faithful of Balangiga to their private property. The Balangiga Encounter at which the bells played a role happened in Balangiga. It is only right that they be returned to Balangiga and stay in Balangiga,” the diocese said.
According to the church officials, the Balangiga Bells “are sacramental.”
“That is, they are also sacred artifacts that call the faithful to prayer and worship. But they especially call them to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the highest form of prayer and worship for Catholics. Therefore, they belong in the Church, not in a museum,” Varquez said.
The bishop also said that Zubiri’s proposal “does violence to history and the sacred character and purpose of the Balangiga Bells.”
“It must be rejected,” Varquez said.
Zubiri’s resolution has yet to be tackled by his colleagues in the Senate.
Meanwhile, Leyte First District Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez filed a House resolution recognizing the heroism and legacy of the “brave sons” of Balangiga.
In her House Resolution No. 2371 received by the Congress on December 13, Romualdez called for the recognition and commendation of the “bravery, courage, and sacrifice of the unarmed heroes of Balangiga and the Parish of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr.”
The plot against the American garrison in Balangiga was led by Police Chief Valeriano Abanador, captain Eugenio Daza, and Sergeant Pedro Duran Sr, and five other unarmed individuals. With PNA and Ronald Reyes
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