“THE bells are returned.”
Those were the words of President Rodrigo Duterte as he hailed the return of the Balangiga bells yesterday — ringing one of them and even kissing it — during a turnover ceremony in the Eastern Samar town.
Duterte arrived at the ceremony shortly before 5 p.m. and witnessed US Deputy Chief of Mission John C. Law hand over the bells’ transfer certificate to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who in turn handed the certificate to Balangiga Mayor Randy Graza.
After the official turnover, Duterte proceeded to the three bells behind him, kissed one of them and — for the first time in 117 years — rung it seven times with a clenched fist in the air, as the crowd exploded into applause and cheers.
“The bells are returned. The credit goes to the American people and the Filipino people period,” Duterte said.
Following the ceremony, Duterte even joked: “So what’s next? I carry the bells [to the church]?” eliciting laughter from the crowd.
In a speech before the turnover, Law said returning the bells to the Philippines “was simply the right thing to do.”
The three bells were taken by American soldiers in September 1901 from an Eastern Samar church after their retaliatory attack on Filipino guerrillas who earlier killed 48 American soldiers in storming the 9th US Infantry Regiment during the war.
Two of the three Balangiga bells used to be installed at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, while the third one is at a US Army museum in South Korea.
On Monday, the bells arrived at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City around 10:30 a.m. via a US Air Force C-130 that departed from a US military base in Okinawa, Japan.