BALANGIGA, Eastern Samar — Thousands of residents and visitors on Saturday trooped to the town’s plaza for the official handover of the Balangiga Bells to the local government unit and the local parish.
Unfazed by the intermittent hot weather and sudden rain showers, curious locals and tourists have gathered early morning outside the town’s covered court and plaza hoping to take a first glimpse of the bells placed at the stage still covered by red veils.
Sergio Abejero, 83, a descendant of six local warriors killed in a retaliatory attack by American soldiers 117 years ago, said his ancestors had been waiting for the bells’ return.
“My grandparents had been looking forward to this day. I am happy that I am still alive to see the bells’ return. This is a fruit of our sacrifices,” Abejero told reporters.
Cyril Lukban, 52, a descendant of a local hero, said the bells’ repatriation will put closure to the wounds of the Filipino-American war in 1901.
“Now that the bells are back, it’s time for everyone to unite to make Balangiga a better place,” Lukban said.
Fe Campanero, Balangiga town tourism, culture and arts officer, said they used all available resources to prepare for this event.
“This is to show our immense happiness for their return and also to welcome everyone who will be celebrating with us because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she added.
Campanero’s great-great-grandmother Casiana Nacionales, who died at the age of 125 in 1953, was one of those who plotted the attack against American soldiers.
“She went out of the church and waved rosary beads to signal the ringing of bells for the attack,” she said.
At 4 p.m. on Saturday, President Rodrigo Duterte will witness the bells’ turnover from the national government to the local government, then to the town’s parish.
The President is not scheduled to give a speech, according to a media briefing by staff of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).
In a press briefing in Tacloban City on Saturday morning, PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar called on the local government here to take the return of Balangiga Bells as a big opportunity to develop the town’s economy.
Andanar said both the municipal and provincial governments should map out strategies to create more business activities and attract visitors.
“It will really depend on the local government units to transform the bells into a tourist attraction. It took so much blood and tears for its return and these bells are very historic,” Andanar told reporters.
Andanar said the bells symbolized the “gallantry and bravery” of Balangiga locals in the Philippine-American war.
He recognized efforts and initiative made by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, previous administrations, government officials, and private individuals for the return of the bells.
The Balangiga Encounter happened on Sept. 28, 1901, when residents, led by Valeriano Abanador, initiated an attack against US soldiers. The villagers killed 54 American soldiers using bolos.
It was the biggest defeat of foreign troops during the Philippine-American war. About 2,500 Filipinos were killed by US soldiers in the retaliatory attack.
The Americans took the bells after they turned the town into a “howling wilderness”.
Two of the three bells used to be enshrined at the Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming while the third was at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.