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Bells that saved Pampanga folk from lahar stolen

THIEVES stole San Vicente Chapel’s two bells that warned residents of the lahar flow from Mt. Pinatubo that erupted back in 1991. E.I.REYMOND T. OREJAS/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

BACOLOR, Pampanga—Two church bells that alerted some 3,000 families in Barangay (village) San Vicente here of the need to evacuate from lahar flows after Mt. Pinatubo’s eruptions in  1991 had been stolen early this month.

The missing bells make the village’s feast on Jan. 22 sad, said Orlando Singian, a village councilor and the chapel’s caretaker.

“We were put to safety by those bells against lahar from  the Gugu Creek. I wish the police could recover them,” Singian told the Inquirer on Sunday.

It is not only for sentimental reason that residents want the bells back. Aside from being part of a local warning system, he said the bells called on the faithful to Masses, rosary prayers, funerals and other community events.

The bigger bell’s diameter is 20 inches, while the smaller one  is 14 inches.

Singian said while they could not determine the age of the smaller bell because there were no inscriptions, older residents in the village recalled seeing it since they were young. Very old church bells are rare in Pampanga because these were either burned or destroyed during the Philippine revolution in 1898.

The bigger one was donated in 1974 by the village fiesta committee, led by Jun Galura and the late Ramoncito Joven.

Both bells hung from the original bell tower along the old provincial road until Jan. 7.

“I think those who stole it took advantage of the rains,” Singian said.

The bell tower is beside what remained of the roof of the old chapel, which is buried under 25 to 30 feet of lahar. Behind the remnant is a new and bigger chapel that is given an antique finish to approximate the old one.

Singian said Bacolor residents who have returned here or still scattered in four resettlement sites pooled money to build the chapel eight years ago.

He said the old and new chapels were reminders of the disaster that almost erased Bacolor, the former capital of Pampanga  and the Philippines,  from the map.

At least 17 of the town’s villages are ringed by the 56-kilometer FVR Megadike. While San Vicente is outside the dike, it sits next to  the Gugu Creek after Barangay Sta. Inez.

Police have yet to arrest any suspect in the theft of the bells. The thieves cut the thick metal bars that held the bells from the ceiling and later cut the ropes that pulled the bells’ hammers.

Fr. Jesus Manabat, Bacolor parish priest, believed the thieves were not residents of the village.

“The villagers are very pious. They value their church and properties,” Manabat said.

Searches in junkyards have not yielded any clue.

“We would be asking some antique collectors soon [if any bell was offered to them for sale],” Singian said.

To lift the people’s mood, a fiesta committee member suggested recording the sounds of bells at the town’s San Guillermo Church and play this aloud during the Mass. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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Tags: church bells , Crime , lahar , Mt. Pinatubo , Natural Disasters , News , Philippine calamities , Regions , theft

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