After 117 years of waiting
TACLOBAN CITY- After more than a century of waiting and clamor, the historic bells of Balangiga are sure to return home before the year ends.
And their return to home soil is best described by the locals as their ‘biggest Christmas gift ever.’
On Wednesday (Thursday in the Philippines), US Defense Sec. James Mattis led the send-off ceremony, dubbed as ‘Veteran Remembrance Event,’ of the two bells at the FE Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. Also present was Wyoming Governor Matthew Head.
The Philippine delegation was led by Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez.
The return of the historic Balangiga Bells is considered by them as their ‘biggest Christmas gift,” said Joy Campanero, a resident of the town.
“This is an early and the biggest gift of the lifetime for us Balangigan-ons,” Campanero said.
During his State of the Nation Address in 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte asked the US for the return of the bells saying the artifacts were part of the national heritage.
On that year’s anniversary of the Balangiga Encounter, as the event is called, Mr. Duterte attended it becoming the second President to do so after former President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2008.
August of this year, US President Donald Trump directed his Defense Sec. Jim Mattis to sign a documents for the eventual return of the bells, considered by the American soldiers as their war trophies.
Rolando Borrinaga, a local historian who is also a member of the Committee on Historical Research of National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), said that the historic Balangiga Bells would be returned to the country by ‘mid-December’ of this year.
“The target date is still mid-December but there might be some delay because of the holidays in the US and some other contingent factors,” Borrinaga said in a separate interview via Facebook’ private messaging.
The bells were used to signal for the local resistance fighters to attack the Americans which resulted in the death of 54 of their forces on September 28,1901.
Borrinaga, who has been working for 24 years on the campaign for the return of the two Balangiga Bells, earlier said that a ‘send-off ritual’ was slated on November 14(Nov.15 here in the Philippines) at the FE Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where the bells were put in display for a century now.
Borrinaga disclosed that the third Balangiga Bells deposited at the Camp Red Cloud, a US camp located in Uijeongbu City, South Korea would also be repatriated back to the country.
“It was always understood throughout this campaign that the Balangiga bells will be returned to the church of their origin, in the Parish of San Lorenzo Martir,” he added when asked where the bells would be placed once they are returned back home.
Borrinaga said that the repatriation of the three Balangiga Bells was a result of negotiation and influence of the veterans’ community, particularly on the American side.
“The recent campaign was really a US veterans to US veterans issue, a wide educational process of information those not in the know that the return of the bells was the right thing to do. It was largely the participation and influence of the veterans community that provided the political push for the return of the bells,”he said.
“This will certainly led to some closure. But the next round of education will be on the Philippine side,” Borrinaga added.
Campanero said that both the municipal government and the local Church of Balangiga are doing some plans regarding the return of the bells.
According to her, based on their agreed initial plans, the bells upon their return, would be put in display inside a small park located at the grounds of the church for public viewing.
Then the three bells would be returned to the belfry of the Parish of San Lorenzo Martir where they were once mightily pealed more than a century ago.
By Joey A. Gabieta