TOWNINFRENZY OVER RE­TURN OF BALANGIGA BELLS

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - By Joey A. Ga­bi­eta @joey­ga­bi­etaINQ

BALANGIGA, EASTERNSAMAR

— Ev­ery­body seems to be in a frenzy in this quaint, sleepy town.

Prepa­ra­tions are in high gear for the re­turn of the town’s three iconic church bells, which were taken away as war booty by vengeful Amer­i­can sol­diers dur­ing the Filipino-Amer­i­can War more than a cen­tury ago.

Work­ers are spruc­ing up the town’s plaza where a pro­gram for the repa­tri­a­tion of the Balangiga bells is sched­uled on Dec. 15.

The con­crete stands where the weighty bells will be tem­po­rar­ily placed in the grounds of St. Lawrence the Mar­tyr Par­ish are also be­ing read­ied.

To say that the towns­folk are ex­cited with the re­turn of the bells—117 years af­ter these were forcibly re­moved by Amer­i­can sol­diers—is an un­der­state­ment.

Sixty-two-year-old Con­stan­cia Caleste­rio said the re­turn of the bells would be a re­al­iza­tion of the sto­ries about how these were taken away from the town, as told to her by his late fa­ther when she was a child.

Reen­act­ment script

“He would nar­rate the story why the bells were taken from our church bel­fry be­fore we went to sleep at night. Now that these bells will be re­turned to us, we are re­ally, re­ally ex­cited. No words ac­tu­ally could de­scribe how we feel right now,” said Caleste­rio, who helped write the script of the an­nual reen­act­ment ev­ery Sept. 28 of the Balangiga En­counter.

Caleste­rio’s fa­ther Felipe, who died in 2013, was the son of To­masa Abanador Cam­panero, niece of Capt. Va­le­ri­ano Abanador, who led the sur­prise at­tack on an Amer­i­can de­tach­ment in the town on Sept. 28, 1901.

The tolling of the bells sig­naled the Filipino mil­i­tants’ as­sault on sol­diers of Com­pany C of the 9th US In­fantry Reg­i­ment who were hav­ing break­fast, killing 54 Amer­i­can sol­diers and wound­ing 18 oth­ers.

Caleste­rio said that based on the ac­counts of her fa­ther, the ring­ing of the bells was so loud it was heard all over Balangiga and neigh­bor­ing towns.

An out­raged Amer­i­can Gen. Ja­cob Smith de­ployed 180 sol­diers to the town on Sept. 29, 1901, and or­dered them to turn Balangiga into a “howl­ing wilder­ness.”

Filipino males above 10 years of age were mas­sa­cred while whole com­mu­ni­ties were torched to the ground.

From the town’s burned-out church, the Amer­i­cans re­moved the bells, which they took back to the United States as war booty.

Re­cov­ery ef­fort since 1950s

Two were later dis­played at a for­mer base of the US Army’s 11th In­fantry Reg­i­ment, now the FE War­ren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the third at Camp Red Cloud, head­quar­ters of the US Army’s 9th In­fantry Reg­i­ment, in Ui­jeongbu, South Korea.

The bell from Camp Red Cloud was rung to sig­nal the at­tack, ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal records.

The Philip­pine gov­ern­ment, Catholic Church and res­i­dents of Balangiga had, since the 1950s, been seek­ing the re­cov­ery of the bells to no avail. It was only in Au­gust that US De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis fi­nally signed the doc­u­ment al­low­ing the bells to be re­turned to the Philip­pines.

All three bells, which are now in the US ter­ri­tory of Guam, are sched­uled to be flown on Dec. 11 to Vil­lamor Air Base in Pasay City and on Dec. 15 to Balangiga, in time for the start of the tra­di­tional, nine-day “Misa de Gallo” that ush­ers in Christ­mas Day.

The re­turn of the bells has been dubbed by res­i­dents here as their “great­est Christ­mas gift ever.”

Fe “Joy” Cam­panero, the town’s in­for­ma­tion and tourism of­fi­cer, said ev­ery­thing was in readi­ness for the oc­ca­sion, in­clud­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for the bells’ ar­rival on the morn­ing of Dec. 15, a street pa­rade and a pro­gram to show­case lo­cal tal­ents.

These ac­tiv­i­ties are meant to “set a fes­tive mood” on the oc­ca­sion of the bells’ re­turn, Cam­panero said.

Duterte com­ing for turnover

Pres­i­dent Duterte, De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana and For­eign Sec­re­tary Teodoro Loc­sin Jr. are ex­pected to ar­rive on the af­ter­noon to for­mally turn over the bells to St. Lawrence the Mar­tyr Par­ish through its par­ish priest, Fr. Ser­afin Ty­baco Jr.

Flow­ers will be then dropped from he­li­copters as the bells peal si­mul­ta­ne­ously—for the first time in more than a cen­tury—along with the newer bells at the church’s bel­fry.

A choir from the Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fense will sing the Na­tional An­them, Cam­panero said.

Ty­baco said the bells’ turnover would be fol­lowed by a Mass to be led by Bishop Crispin Var­quez of the Boron­gan Dio­cese.

Var­quez will be joined by his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, Bishop Leonardo Me­droso, who had also helped cam­paign vig­or­ously for the re­turn of the bells, and Bishop Rex Ramirez, a na­tive of Balangiga but is now the prelate of the Naval Dio­cese.

Cam­panero said it was not yet cer­tain where the bells— each weigh­ing about 300 kilo­grams—would be un­loaded in East­ern Sa­mar.

She said a gov­ern­ment plane car­ry­ing the three bells might ei­ther land at Daniel Z. Ro­mualdez Air­port in Ta­cloban City or at the sel­dom-used air­port in Guiuan, East­ern Sa­mar, whose run­way was built by the Amer­i­cans dur­ing World War II.

Pub­lic dis­play

Ta­cloban City is about two hours by land to Balangiga while Guiuan is only an hour away.

All three bells are to be tem­po­rar­ily placed on con­crete stands on the Church’s grounds so peo­ple could ad­mire and touch these, ac­cord­ing to the par­ish.

These will even­tu­ally be placed at the church’s bel­fry.

Loren­zana has said the re­turn of the bells sig­nals will fur­ther strengthen ties be­tween the Philip­pines and the United States.

For Caleste­rio, Cam­panero and the rest of the peo­ple of Balangiga, the re­turn of the bells closes a chap­ter in the his­tory of the town whose an­ces­tors stood up to fight for free­dom.

—WITH A RE­PORT FROM CONSUELOMARQUEZ INQ

—PHOTO COUR­TESY OF US EM­BASSY

‘GREAT­EST CHRIST­MAS GIFT’ Work­ers pre­pare the two Balangiga bells from FE War­ren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for trans­port to Guam and then to Manila, where a mil­i­tary plane will fly them, along with a third bell from South Korea, to East­ern Sa­mar. Pres­i­dent Duterte and other gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials will turn over the bells to St. Lawrence the Mar­tyr Church in Balangiga (above right), whose town plaza is be­ing spruced up for the much-awaited re­turn of the iconic bells.

PHO­TOS BY JOEY A. GA­BI­ETA

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