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Philippine Church rejects placing historic bell in museum

Manila (UCAN): The bishop and clergy of the Diocese of Borongan in Samar, the Philippines have voiced opposition to a government plan to keep one of three bells originally plundered as war trophies by United States (US) military forces from the church in the town of Balangiga in October 1901, during the Philippine-American War.
 
The bells were returned by the US on December 11.
 
“(The bells) especially call (the people) to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.... They belong in their church, not in a museum,” read a statement from the Church leaders of Borongan.
 
Bishop Crispin Varquez of Borongan said the proposal, put forward in the Senate by majority leader, Juan Miguel Zubiri, “does violence to history and the sacred character and purpose of the bells.”
 
Zubiri asked the government on December 11 to “share with the Filipino people” one of the bells by placing it in the National Museum.
 
He filed a resolution seeking its transfer “for the appreciation and education of the general public, especially the youth.”
 
He said the proposal aims to keep the youth “informed of the historical significance” of the bell.
 
Zubiri said keeping one of the bells in the National Museum would give many Filipinos the chance to see for themselves this religious artifact and remind them of the role it played in one of the bloodiest chapters in the Philippine-American War.
 
Borongan’s Church leaders, however, called the proposal “a disrespectful mangling of history and the right of the Catholic faithful of Balangiga to their private property.”
 
They said that while they recognise the national significance of the bells, they also “desire that they be correctly appreciated by all Filipinos.”
 
Local historian and a leading campaigner for the return of the bells, Rolando Borrinaga, said the “fundamental premise throughout the campaign” for the return of the bells was that they be returned to their church of origin.
 
The residents of Balangiga also opposed Zubiri’s proposal.
 
“While our erstwhile colonisers have returned the bells, our compatriots are thinking of keeping some of the booty for themselves,” Philip Jude Acidre, leader of the youth group Voice of the East, said.
 
He said that with the return of the bells, “this sad episode in our nation’s history comes to a close.”
 
The taking of the bells and the American sacking of Samar province came after Filipino freedom fighters ambushed and killed at least 40 American soldiers sitting down to breakfast in Balangiga on 28 September 1901.
 
At least 28 Filipinos were also killed in what historians say was the “single worst defeat” of American forces during the 1899 to 1902 Philippine-American War.
 
In reprisal, the Americans rounded up and killed some 5,000 Balangiga villagers. All were male residents over 10 years old. The incident became known as the Balangiga Massacre.

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