Balangiga folks on bells’ arrival: ‘It’s like unboxing a gift’

TACLOBAN CITY — For the people of Balangiga, Eastern Samar, watching the live coverage of bells’ arrival at the Villamor Air Base on Tuesday is like unboxing an early Christmas gift.

The nearly 200 local government workers led by Mayor Randy Garza stopped their work Tuesday morning to watch on television the blow-by-blow account of the bells’ arrival, said Balangiga town tourism, culture and arts officer Fe Campanero.

“It was very emotional. We’re like little kids who were excited to see what’s inside the wooden box unloaded from the C-130 plane. Nobody who is alive in Balangiga saw the actual bells after the American soldiers took them as war booties. We only saw it in photographs,” Campanero said.

The streets of Balangiga town were quiet Tuesday morning as all residents watched the historic arrival of the three bells taken by American soldiers as war trophies.

A group of Balangiga natives based in Manila also gathered at the Villamor Air Base to personally witness the handover ceremony, Campanero said.

“The bells’ return symbolizes genuine friendship between the US and Philippines. If the bells signaled the attack in 1901, in this modern time it continues to ring in our hearts encouraging us to move forward as a community,” 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.”

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 the foreign troop during the Philippine-American war.

Nacionales’ brother, Eugenio, who was jailed in 1901 was one of the commanders of the local warriors. Eugenio was reportedly among the 2,500 Filipinos killed by the US retaliatory attack.

The Americans took the Balangiga bells after they turned the town into a “howling wilderness”.

Two of the three bells used to be enshrined at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming while the third bell was at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.

The people of Balangiga expect the bells’ arrival in their town on Dec. 15, with President Rodrigo Duterte gracing the ceremony.

“We are ready since everything has been planned for weeks but we expect last minute changes since the President is coming,” Campanero said.

Officials from the Presidential Management Staff, Presidential Security Group, Roman Catholic Church parish, and local government unit will meet on Wednesday to discuss more details.  Sarwell Meniano/PNA)