Church hits bid to put one Balangiga bell in National Museum

MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Church denounced a proposal to transfer one of the 3 Balangiga Bells to the National Museum in Manila, because their "historical and rightful location" is St Lawrence Parish in Balangiga, Eastern Samar.

"We, the bishop and clergy of the Diocese of Borongan, collectively object to and strongly stand against the transfer of one or all of the Bells of Balangiga from their historical and rightful habitat, which is the Parish Church of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, Diocese of Borongan," said the Catholic Church in Borongan.

In a statement on Thursday, December 13, Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez and his priests said they recognize the national significance of the bells.

"But just as we do not transfer Jose Rizal’s family mementoes from the Rizal residence in Calamba to Manila, nor do we move from Kawit, Cavite, the artifacts of the First Philippine Republic, neither should we transfer any or all of the Balangiga Bells from their historical and rightful location: namely, the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr," the bishop and priests said.

"Any effort aimed at such a transfer is a disrespectful mangling of history and the right of the Catholic faithful of Balangiga to their private property. The Balangiga Encounter at which the bells played a role happened in Balangiga. It is only right that they be returned to Balangiga and stay in Balangiga," they added. 

The Catholic Church was referring to Senate Resolution No. 965 introduced by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri on December 6, "urging the Philippine government to share with the Filipino people one of the Balangiga Bells by placing it in the National Museum."

This comes after the United States on December 11 returned the Balangiga Bells to the Philippines after 117 years. The US had taken the bells as war trophies more than a century ago. 

The bells had been used to signal a historic siege by Filipinos against American troops, resulting in the US' worst single defeat in the Philippines. The siege prompted the US to retaliate and turn Balangiga into a "howling wilderness" by killing thousands of locals. (READ: FAST FACTS: Balangiga Massacre)

The Borongan bishop and his priests added in their statement that while historic artifacts, "the Balangiga Bells are sacramentals, that is, they are also sacred artifacts that call the faithful to prayer and worship."

They added: "But they especially call them to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the highest form of prayer and worship for Catholics. Therefore, they belong in the church, not in a museum." – Rappler.com