By Roy Mabasa
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Friday said the return of the bells of Balangiga to the Philippines on December 11 will finally put a closure to one of the dark pages in the country’s history when these were taken by American soldiers as war booty during the bloody Philippine-American war almost 117 years ago.
Lorenzana said the historic bells will be flown in by an American military aircraft at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City before noon on Tuesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to witness the return of the Balangiga bells, which for more than a century, were kept at Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.
Upon arrival, the bells will be briefly viewed by the President and other invited guests to be followed by speeches from Lorenzana, United States Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. Philip Davidson who will represent US Defense Secretary James Mattis, and US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim.
Lorenzana, who was posted as Philippine military attaché in Washington, D.C. for some time, recalled that the first request to bring back the bells to the country was made in 1935 by Eugenio Daza, one the leaders of those who attacked the Americans in the town of Balangiga during the war.
“In 1935 when he (Daza) was still alive, he wrote a letter asking for the return of the bells,” Lorenzana recalled at the sidelines of the Pilipinas Conference 2018 forum in Makati City.
It was only during the time of former President Fidel V. Ramos when the Philippines reiterated its desire to bring the bells back.
“I was in DC, we had been working for the return but nothing happened because there was no involvement of the US government at that time,” he said.
The return of the bells was further stalled in 2012 when some US legislators placed a five-year moratorium on the return of various relics to other countries, including the Balangiga bells.
But when the moratorium lapsed last year, the US State Department intervened, giving the US defense secretary the leeway to work for the return of the bells.
On November 15, Mattis officially announced the return of the historic bells to the Philippines “in consideration of the enduring friendship between the two countries” and its respect of the past as “co-equal brothers in arms.”
“In returning the bells of Balangiga to our ally and our friend, the Philippines, we pick up our generation’s responsibility to deepen the respect between our peoples,’ Mattis said.
Meanwhile, Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez, D.D. welcomed the return of the bells to their community, coinciding with the start of “Simbang Gabi,” a Filipino Christmas tradition of nine consecutive days of early dawn masses that will start on December 16.
“During a time of war, the bells were taken from the Parish of St. Lawrence, Deacon & Martyr, Balangiga, Eastern Samar. They are being brought back during the season of hope and peace. This is only right because the bells are instruments of prayer and worship, sources of true hope and peace,” Bishop Vasquez said in a statement.