By Roy Lagarde
Catholic bishops welcomed the return of the three Balangiga church bells taken by the US soldiers as war booty more than a century ago.
Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the return of the bells is an opportunity to understand history better with a “mature perspective”.
“It also demonstrates that the path to healing and reconciliation may be arduous but is never impossible,” Valles said.
The bells were flown home to Manila Tuesday, four months after the US decided to return the church artifacts.
The bells were officially turned over by US ambassador Sung Kim to the Philippine government led by Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana in a ceremony held at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.
The church bells were taken by the US forces as war trophies in the aftermath of the Balangiga massacre during the Philippine-American War in 1901.
The bells were rung to signal an attack by native bolo fighters that almost wiped out US soldiers. It was said to be the worst single defeat of the US army during the war at the turn of the century.
It was followed by the deaths of thousands of Balangiga residents, mostly civilians 10 years old and above, when the American soldiers retaliated with a “kill-and-burn” policy.
One of the bells was kept in the US military base in South Korea while the two others were brought to an air base in Wyoming.
“After 117 years, the bells shall now be returned to their rightful place in the Parish of St. Lawrence the Martyr in Balangiga,” said Valles.
It’s a “priceless religious treasure”, he said, considering the bells’ value to the history of the Church in the country.
Balangiga is a coastal town in the province of Eastern Samar.
The Diocese of Borongan and the parishioners of St. Lawrence thanked all those individuals and groups who have worked, lobbied and prayed for the return of the bells.
“Please be assured that we will return the bells to their original religious purpose— and care and cherish them as a precious legacy of the profound faith, heroism and courage of our forebears,” they said.
The bishops also thanked the US government in finally bringing back the bells, “giving ourselves the experience of a deeper sense of justice and respect” and “letting our friendship grow stronger”.
At one part of the handover ceremony at the Villamor Airbase, Msgr. Pedro Quitorio of the Borongan diocese’s committee for the bells’ return, led the symbolic tolling of bell and a moment of silence for those who perished during the war.