JOEY A. GABIETA
w/ report ROEL T. AMAZONA
BALANGIGA, Eastern Samar- President Rodrigo Duterte may have demanded for the United States to return the historic bells of this town but he himself admitted that it might take years for it to be realized.
He, nonetheless, issued an appeal to the US Congress to grant President Donald Trump the authority for the eventual return of the bells taken 116 years ago by the Americans during a bloody war.
Pres. Duterte was the guest of honor as the town commemorated on Thursday the seizure of their bells by the American soldiers on Sept. 28, 1901 that resulted for the death of thousands of men, women, and children and made Balangiga and the entire province into a ‘howling wilderness.’
Due to lack of time, the President was not able to witness the reenactment of the historic event held at the Balangiga Central Elementary School considered the worst single defeat suffered by the Americans during their occupation of the Philippines.
The President arrived at the town at 4:11 pm and proceeded to the Balangiga Encounter Monument and Memorial Library where he offered a wreath and bowed his head before local hero Captain Valeriano Abandor.
He then proceeded to the town gymnasium where he delivered his hour-long speech attended by local officials, government workers, students and descendants of those who were killed during the bloody encounter.
“I hope the Congress of America will give Pres. Trump the authority to return the bell…we will be happy,” Mr.Duterte said.
He, however, said that with the opposition from the American veterans and the long process it would take, the eventual return of the bells “may take in 2050.”
The residents of Balangiga, in particular, have been seeking for the return of their bells and be placed once again at their church belfry.
Mr.Duterte during this state of the nation address last July, demanded that the Balangiga bells be returned to the country, an effort made previously by the Philippine government but with no success.
The President during his speech at the anniversary program, said that he was “advised” by the Department of Foreign Affairs not to issue any incendiary statement against the US government as it tries to recover the bells now placed at F. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, in Wyoming.
“I was under advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs that I should temper my language and I should avoid magmura (curse),” he said.
Mr.Duterte is known to use profanities during his speeches and interviews to stress his point. And during his speech, he still managed to lace it with profanities in several instances.
He said that his visit to Balangiga is his way to show his deep respect for the bravery of the locals who fought with the Americans 116 years ago.
He added that their acts were driven of their desire not to be conquered by any foreign nations.
“Ayaw nila ng dayuhan. Ayaw natin ng dayuhan,” he said.
During his speech, he said that he plans to confer the descendants of the patriots of the Order of Lapu-Lapu, an honor he recently created named after local hero from Cebu.
Mr.Duterte, who left the town at around 5.45 pm, was not able to attend the reenactment.
Contesa Amano, a local teacher and part of the participants, said that while they understand the reason why President could not attend, they were still disappointed.
“By watching the play, he could appreciate more what happened here 116 years ago and of course, the children will just be happy to perform before the President,” she said.
For Angel Duran, 22, while the return of the bells may not happen in the near future, the mere effort of Mr.Duterte for their return is already a reassuring gesture from the government.
“But we hope it will happen in our lifetime,” she said.
Duran’s ancestors were among killed on that encounter.
Mr.Duterte is the first President to attend the annual activity since Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2008.
Pres.Duterte was welcomed by local officials led by Eastern Samar Rep.Ben Evardone, acting Governor Ferdinand Marcelo Picardal and town mayor Randy Graza.
Joining the President were Sec.Christopher ‘Bong’ Go, Ilocos Norte Gov.Imee Marcos and her cousin, former Leyte congressman Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.
There was no explanation given why Marcos and Romualdez were with the President. The two are considered as political allies of the President. (w/ report EMILY MONTALLANA, LNU Student Intern)