MANILA — After initially canceling his attendance at the turnover of the Balangiga bells to Eastern Samar local officials on Saturday (Dec. 15), President Rodrigo R. Duterte has decided to show up due to the peoples’ “persistent requests.”
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made this remark early Thursday morning after announcing on Wednesday night that the President would no longer be able to attend the church bells’ turnover to attend to more “pressing concerns.”
“Due to the persistent requests from the people of Eastern Samar who look forward to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s personally bringing the Balangiga bells to the town of Balangiga, the President has decided to attend the turnover ceremony of the Balangiga bells to the local officials on Saturday, December 15,” Panelo said in a statement released just after midnight.
Panelo said the President has made changes in his schedule of activities to join the Filipino community in welcoming the return of the bells.
Prior to his decision to attend the church bells’ turnover, Panelo said that Duterte opted to skip the event since there were pressing matters of governance that require his “immediate attention.”
Panelo pointed out that although the President considered his presence as an “added attraction” to the event, the actual repatriation of the church bells should be given more importance.
“While the President considers his physical presence at the ceremonial turnover an added attraction to the event, he gives more importance to the fact that after 117 years, the Balangiga bells, which symbolize the bravery and patriotism of the Filipinos who refused to be subjugated by a foreign power and shed blood to assert the sovereignty of our country, have been returned to their origins where they properly belong. The bells are now indeed home,” Panelo said.
Meanwhile, he emphasized how all Filipinos, especially descendants of those who fought against Americans at that time, would revere the church bells’ return.
“The descendants of those who perished in one of the bloodiest and tragic consequences of the Filipino- American war rightfully cherish the coming home of a part of our national heritage and the Filipino nation join them in rejoicing the historic event,” Panelo said.
Panelo also reminded Filipinos that the ringing of the church bells would “resonate” to the world that Filipinos will always assert their sovereignty.
“As the Balangiga bells resume their ringing after a silence of more than a century, the booming sounds that will come out of them will resonate around the world with the sterling message that foreign domination nor outside intrusion on its sovereignty has no place in this part of the world,” Panelo said.
Duterte has yet to decide whether he will consider visiting the US after the bells have returned.
Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the President would only visit the US once the Balangiga Bells are back in the country.
US President Donald Trump has invited Duterte to the White House when they spoke over the phone after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila.
The Balangiga bells were seized and declared as war trophies by American troops in the aftermath of the infamous Balangiga Massacre, which took place on Sept. 28, 1901.
Duterte has repeatedly sought for the return of the three church bells, including in his second State of the Nation Address in 2017.
The return of the bells is the result of the successful high-level bilateral talks between Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Department of Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Prior to their return, two of the three bells used to be kept at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming while the third bell was at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea. PNA-northboundasia.com