SAN JUAN City, Feb. 27, 2015—A netizen from San Juan City has sent a letter to United States President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner of the House of Representatives, petitioning them to facilitate the return of the bells taken by American soldiers to Wyoming as war booty from the town church of Balangiga, Eastern Samar in 1901 during the Philippine-American War.
In a letter posted online, Gary Ramirez hopes the gesture will do much in terms of raising the morale of a people who had already seen the worst in life, more recently “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”) in 2013.
“The aftermath of Yolanda has led to an amazing thing: the people of various nations working side by side to help rebuild a devastated nation. It is a phenomenon that tells us change has come, our wars are a thing of the past, and that it is a new day in the history of our two nations, and of the world,” says Ramirez, who posted the letter at Change.org, inviting other Filipinos to take up his cause.
He notes that as residents of Balangiga rebuild their lives, their homes, and their town, it becomes clearer and clearer that strength of spirit will always be the one element that will see them through the difficult time.
“It is time to rebuild that spirit,” Ramirez stresses.
According to him, the church has always been the center of faith and unity of the town and people of Balangiga, today a fourth-class municipality with a population of roughly 13,000, noted for its export-quality mats and baskets.
“It has always been at the heart of Balangiga’s history, and that of the Philippines as well,” he explains.
Ramirez, however, laments that as Warays strive to rebuild the heart of their town, the Balangiga Church, one thing that will help make this spirit whole remains missing: its three bells.
“These bells, lost in a dark and stormy time of our history before the United States and the Philippines embraced their brotherhood, had always been the voice of our unity and spirit. Their ringing had always rallied us as a people, calling us to work together as one,” he says.
Ramirez points out that at no other time in history have locals needed the bells of Balangiga more than now.
“We ask that you help bring back the song to the heart of Balangiga. We ask that you return these bells to their rightful home, the Balangiga Church in Samar,” he says.
“With the return of the bells of Balangiga, we will, together, not just rebuild a church and strengthen the spirit of a devastated town, we will be strengthening the ties that bind us,” he adds.
The appeal to return the “Balangiga Bells” is a century-old controversy that continues to strain Philippine-American relations.
In a 2008 article, Bishop Leonardo Y. Medroso, chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)’s Permanent Committee on the Cultural Heritage of the Church, reasserts that the Diocese of Borongan, which has jurisdiction over the Parish of Balangiga, is the rightful owner of the bells, and by extension, the whole Filipino people.
Writing to Bishop Joseph Hart of the diocese where two of the bells are currently located, Medroso stresses the “simple fact that my people in the town of Balangiga have more reasons to reclaim and recover the possession of the said bells.”
The prelate goes on to explain that records prove the bells were property of the local church in Balangiga when they were taken by the American forces.
“As such they kept my people in touch with lives of their parents and grandparents, their past, their origin, their religious sentiments, their culture. The market value of the bells may not be that high, but the collective sentiments that they have borne and symbolized are priceless. It is for this that through the years my people in Balangiga have been longing to retrieve their church bells,” he adds.
To see the petition letter, visit https://www.change.org/p/president-barack-obama-bring-the-bells-of-balangiga-home. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)