Borongan diocese renews appeal to US gov’t to return Balangiga bells
TACLOBAN CITY – The diocese of Borongan has reiterated its appeal to the United States government to return the historic Balangiga bells to the town in Eastern Samar where these rightfully belong.
“We appeal to the goodwill of the American government that the Balangiga bells be returned to us. The diocese of Borongan is willing to cooperate in any effort for the return of the Balangiga bells,” said Fr. Neil Tenefrancia, chancellor of the diocese of Borongan, which covers the Balangiga parish.
The diocese has been an active player in efforts to retrieve the bells taken by the American soldiers 117 years ago, he said in a phone interview.
Maida Elaba, secretary of the Sangguniang Bayan of Balangiga, shared the priest’s sentiments.
“We just hope that they will stop opposing efforts for the eventual return of the Balangiga Bells,” said Elaba, great-granddaughter of Valeriano Abanador.
Abanador was one of the guerrilla leaders who attacked the American troops on Sept. 28, 1901 that led to the removal of the bells from the local church’s belfry.
“We have been campaigning for their return for the longest time now. We hope this issue will be put to rest by returning the bells,” she added.
Elaba said the bells were owned not only by the people of Balangiga but by the entire Filipino people.
She described the opposition of the senators from Wyoming as “disappointing.”
On Sept. 28, 1901, Filipino guerrillas rang the bells of the church at Balangiga to signal the attack on the US troops occupying the town.
The assault left 48 American soldiers dead and drew a horrific counterattack from the American forces, who, on orders from Brig. Gen. Jacob Smith, killed all Balangiga residents aged over 10, turning the town into a “howling wilderness.”
After the massacre, the US troops seized the church bells as war booty.
The residents of Balangiga have been clamoring for the return of the bells.
Two of the bells are in the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming and another is with the US Army in South Korea.
President Duterte, during his 2017 State of the Nation Address, demanded the return of the bells, which he described as part of the national heritage.
But Wyoming’s congressional delegation opposed the return of the bells.
“These bells are memorials to American war dead and should not be transferred to the Philippines,” US Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, and US Rep. Liz Cheney said in a joint statement on Monday.
Most US veterans oppose returning the bells to the Philippines. The Republican delegation is against any effort by US President Donald Trump’s administration to return the bells without veterans’ support, the statement said.
The position of the Wyoming lawmakers disappointed Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone.
“I hope they will subordinate their parochial interests to the best interests and relations of the US and the Philippines,” he said in a text message to the Inquirer.
“I continue to appeal to them to reconsider their position on the issue so that there will be closure to that unfortunate period of US-Philippine relations. After all, the bells rightfully belong to us,” Evardone said.
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