THE Roman Catholic church has denounced a Senate proposal to keep one of the historic Balangiga bells in the National Museum instead of returning it to Balangiga in Eastern Samar.
“We, the bishop and clergy of the Diocese of Borongan, collectively object and strongly stand against the transfer of one or all of the bells of Balangiga from their historical and rightful habitat, which is the Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, Diocese of Borongan,” said Reverend Crispin Varquez, bishop of the Diocese of Borongan.
Varquez’s statement came after Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri filed Senate Resolution 965, seeking for the transfer of one of the three Balangiga bells to the museum, saying the youth and the general public would be “informed of the historical significance of the said religious artifact.”
“Placing the bell in the National Museum will give every Filipino from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao an opportunity to get a glimpse of an important piece of our nation’s history,” Zubiri said in his proposal on December 6, a week before the historic bells arrived in the country.
The three bells were taken as war booty by the American forces 117 years ago during the Philippine-American war.
READ: Balangiga bells back in Philippines
According to Zubiri, the display of one bell in Manila Museum will be “for the appreciation and education of the general public, especially the youth.”
“[The] said gesture will make the bell accessible to the countless students who make school-sanctioned visits to the National Museum every year, providing them an opportunity to learn from the struggles of our forefathers through the study of this historically significant property,” said Zubiri.
The senator maintained that displaying the bell in the museum will “give chance to many Filipinos to see for themselves this religious artifact and be reminded of the role it played in one of the bloodiest chapters of the Philippine-American War.”
Yet, the Diocese of Borongan said that while they recognize the national significance of the bells, they also “likewise desire that they be correctly appreciated by all Filipinos, in particular by the young and also by the future generations.”
"But just as we do not transfer Jose Rizal’s family mementos from the Rizal residence in Calamba to Manila, nor do we move from Kawit, Cavite the artifacts of the First Philippine Republic, neither should we transfer any or all of the Balangiga bells from their historical and rightful location: namely, the Roman Catholic Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr," it said.
“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. The Balangiga encounter at which the bells played a role happened in Balangiga. It is only right that they be returned to Balangiga and stay in Balangiga,” the diocese added.
According to the church officials, the Balangiga bells “are sacramental.”
“That is, they are also sacred artifacts that call the faithful to prayer and worship. But they especially call them to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the highest form of prayer and worship for Catholics. Therefore, they belong in the Church, not in a museum,” Varquez said.
The bishop also said that Zubiri’s proposal “does violence to history and the sacred character and purpose of the Balangiga bells.”
“It must be rejected,” Varquez said.
Zubiri’s resolution has yet to be tackled by his colleagues in the Senate.
Descendants of Balangiga villagers who fought during the Philippine-American war in 1901 also criticized the senator over his plan.
“While our erstwhile colonizers, now strong allies, have magnanimously returned the Balangiga bells, our compatriots are thinking of keeping some booty for themselves. Let the bells be where they should be,” said Philip Jude Acidre, a former seminarian and the second nominee of Tingog Sinirangan party-list.
“More than a hundred years, rising from the ashes of war and conflict, American soldiers took as war loot three bells from the belfry of the Balangiga parish church. For the next hundred years, these bells remained as mute witnesses to the sad consequences of war, seemingly exiled in a foreign land. With their return back to the belfry where they once hang -- this sad episode in our nation’s history comes to a close,” said Acidre whose family roots come from Balangiga.
According to Acidre, he is happy to be personally witnessing the historic event on December 15.
“Our ancestors, Juan ‘Boyang’ Acidre and Callixto Acidre, were among the Filipino soldiers who were in the Balangiga encounter on September 28, 1901. Apoy Boyang died, while Callixto was wounded during the incident. Both are well-remembered as heroes,” Acidre said.
At 10:30 a.m. Friday, December 14, the three bells have arrived in Guiuan, Eastern Samar aboard the C-130 military plane.
The bells are expected to arrive after two hours in Balangiga.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to grace the ceremonial turnover of the bells on Saturday, December 15.
"Let me be very clear on this, here and now. The credit of the return of the Balangiga (bells) does not belong to any worker or official of government. The return of the bells were upon the demand of the Filipino people. Nobody, but nobody should ever claim success for that," said Duterte, as he cleared out the issues on who deserves the credits on the return of the bells. (SunStar Philippines)