The Balangiga bells have finally arrived at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City at 10:35 a.m. December 11, 2018.
MANILA, Philippines – After skipping the arrival and handover ceremony of the historic Balangiga bells in Villamor Air Base last Tuesday (December 11), President Rodrigo Duterte finally decided to attend the formal turnover of the bells to the people of Balangiga in Eastern Samar on Saturday (December 15).
In a statement released Thursday (December 13), Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President’s “change of mind” was due to the “persistent requests” from the locals of the town of Balangiga where the historical artifacts were originally installed.
Panelo said: “The President has made changes in his schedule of activities to join the Filipino community in welcoming the return of the bells.”
“While the President considers his physical presence at the ceremonial turnover an added attraction to the event, he gives more importance to the fact that after 117 years, the Balangiga bells, which symbolize the bravery and patriotism of the Filipinos who refused to be subjugated by a foreign power and shed blood to assert the sovereignty of our country, have been returned to their origins where they properly belong. The bells are now indeed home,” Panelo added.
Meanwhile, the program is all set for the return of the bells to their hometown in Balangiga.
Based on the local government’s historical accounts, the two bells which were confined in the US are now 155 years old while the third bell from South Korea is already 129 years old.
Residents couldn’t contain their excitement noting that the bells had been away from the town for more than a century.
“Nagpapasalamat kami sa tumulong kung sino man sila. Hindi pa nga kami mga tao noong mga kauna-unahan pa. Malaki talaga ang aming pagpapasalamat kung sino man ang tumulong para maibalik sa amin,” said Letecia Cabanilla, as resident of Balangiga.
According to Serafin “Lentoy” Tybaco, the parish priest assigned in Balangiga, the formal turnover will be held inside the Church of San Lorenzo de Martir, the bells original house before they were taken by U.S. soldiers in 1901.
In the evening of Saturday, the bells will be on display outside of the church for public viewing and photo opportunity.
“Pagdating ng bells dito muna para sa formal ceremony. Mayroon tayong platform na ginawa ngayon at after ilalagay na doon sa landscaping para sa display. After ng display mag-uusap pa ang local government at simbahan kung ano ang plano para sa pormal na paglalagyan doon sa bell tree sa kanyang bell tower kung saan kinuha ang mga Balangiga bell,” Tybaco explained.
A short program after the turnover ceremony will be held at the municipal gymnasium to give thanks to the people who have been instrumental for the return of the bells.
The local government, meanwhile, vows to provide support even financial assistance for the maintenance of the bells.
Meanwhile, security measures are now in place in and around Balangiga town as President Duterte is expected to grace the occasion.
“May pagkakakilanlan, may ID system na kailangan rin for security reasons kasi ang perimeter natin hindi basta-basta na kung sino-sino na lang ang pupunta, papasok at lalabas. May mga procedures tayo na pina-follow. Nakikiusap kami sa lahat ng ating mga bisita na pupunta na mag cooperate tayo sa ating mga procedures na ipapatupad,” appealed Balangiga Mayor Randy Graza.
The local government also reminds non-residents in Balangiga that the town has not much commercial facilities for visiting tourists. Mayor Graza advises arriving visitors and tourists, however, to ask local residents for short-term accommodation while they join the festivities.
Mayor Graza said that if they wish to, tourists may book for accommodation in the nearby town of Tacloban. – Marje Pelayo (with reports from Jenelyn Gaquit)