Town waits for symbols of courage of Samareños
BALANGIGA, Eastern Samar — The residents of this sleepy town in Eastern Samar are just days away from realizing their dream of getting back the bells that had been seized from them as trophies by the Americans 117 years ago.
For them, the bells symbolize their courage to stand up to a foreign power.
Constancia Calesterio, 62, said the people of Balangiga had been demanding the return of the bells as far as she could remember.
“These bells are not only owned by the Church but by the people of Balangiga,” said Calesterio, who works at the information center of the Parish Pastoral Council of the St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish Church, where the bells would be eventually installed after they arrive on Saturday.
“These symbolize the courage of our people against (the Americans). That is why, we want these back to us,” she said.
Fe “Joy” Campanero, the town’s information and tourism officer, said the bells’ return would not only serve as closure to that dark episode for the people of Balangiga but also boost local toursim.
“We expect our economy to boom with accommodation facilities to be constructed as more tourists will be coming to personally see the bells,” she said.
Watching on Tuesday the TV coverage of the arrival of the bells, which were flown on a US military plane to Villamor Air Base from Guam, Fr. Serafin Tybaco Jr., Balangiga parish priest became emotional.
“I cannot really explain how I felt. I am overjoyed,” he said.
At Villamor Air Base, 81-year-old Nemesio Duran, grandnephew of Vicente Candilosas, the altar server who rang the bells in 1901, told reporters the “best significance of these bells’ [return] are that [they mark] the friendship between the Philippines and America.”
“Those bells are our inheritance. It is a symbol of our identity, of our ancestors’ struggles,” he added.
In Manila, Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), on Tuesday thanked the government and President Rodrigo Duterte for reclaiming the “priceless religious treasures.”
“We also appreciate the very wise gesture of the US government in finally bringing back the bells of Balangiga to where they should belong, thereby giving ourselves the experience of a deeper sense of justice and respect between our peoples and consequently letting our friendship grow stronger,” Valles added.
Msgr. Pedro Quitorio III, the committee chair for the return of the Balangiga bells in the Diocese of Borongan, said in an interview that many people had worked for the bells’ return.
They include former President Fidel Ramos, former Philippine Ambassador to the United States Raul Rabe and the late Senator and Ambassador Ernesto Maceda, he said.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo gave the biggest credit to get the bells back to the President.
“Many have tried but it is our President’s strong political will and unquestionable dedication in asserting the rights of our country and its people which significantly contributed to this event coming into fruition,” Panelo said in a statement. —WITH REPORTS FROM JAYMEE T. GAMIL, TINA G. SANTOS AND CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO