Clergy: Balangiga bells belong to the Church

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The historic bells of the Balangiga Church are put on public display at the Villamor Airbase museum after its arrival from the United States. (Photo by Mark Darius M. Sulit/The Varsitarian)

CATHOLIC officials and lay experts stressed that the Balangiga bells symbolize Filipino faith, and that its proper place is in the Church.

After 117 years, the three historic church bells of Balangiga were returned to the Philippines on Dec. 11.

On September 2017, a 1998 United States law prohibiting the return of war spoils expired, which hastened the return of the bells.

US soldiers took the bells from the parish of St. Lawrence in Eastern Samar as war booty during the Philippine-American war in 1901.

Last Dec. 6, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri filed a resolution to place the bells in the National Museum of the Philippines to “promote nationalism and awareness about its history.”

However, Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez strongly opposed the proposal to display the Balanggiga bells in public, emphasizing its sanctity as an artifact for prayer and worship.

“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. [T]hey belong in the Church, not in a museum.

Senate Resolution 965 does violence to history and the sacred character and purpose of the Balangiga Bells. It must be rejected,” Varquez wrote in a statement.

Echoing Varquez, Church history expert Fr. Hilario Sicat, O.P. said Church bells were crucial for the daily lives of the Filipinos as it was used to notify them of the time for prayer and other religious activities.

The Balanginga bells serve as a reminder of the only battle won by Filipinos during the Philippine-American War, Sicat said.

Sicat added that the bells were used to signal the Filipinos’ attack against the Company C of the US 9th Infantry in the morning of Sept. 28, 1901.

Filipino revolutionaries entered the town of Balangiga dressed as women, with bolos hidden under their skirts. They also carried with them a coffin, pretending it was a funeral procession.

In 1957, Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J. wrote the commander of the 13th Air Force in San Francisco, California, “to return the Balangiga bells because these belonged to the Franciscan community who ran the parish.”

His efforts were continued by Dr. Rolando Borrinaga of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and Subic-based British filmmaker Bob Couttie as they led the effort to get back the bells during the Ramos administration.

UST archivist Regalado Jose said the bells are part of Filipino identity, and war treasures should be returned to their rightful owners.

Jose said the Balangiga bells were made in the Philippines, as shown by the year and name of the parish priest inscribed on the bells. The cross and saint on the bell were also designs indigenous to the country.

Jose pointed out to several bells missing in Samar alone. A list of other missing bells from the Philippines compiled by the Philippine bishops after the Philippine-American War was written in Jose’s book “ Of War and Peace.”

“Hindi maibabalik ang bells kung walang matinding pag-aaral [nito],” he said.

UST historian Augusto de Viana said Filipinos would continue to be resilient whether or not the Balangiga bells had found their way back home.

“[‘P]ag kinuha mo yung old bells namin [and] I replace it with a better bell, it’s [s]ymbolic. We Filipinos have the capability to regenerate and rise up from our misfortunes. So you [do] not need to harp around about events that happened 100 years ago,” de Viana told the Varsitarian.

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