Duterte changes mind, decides to attend Balangiga bells turnover

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 13) — In a quick turnaround, President Rodrigo Duterte will now be able to attend the turnover ceremony of the Balangiga bells in Eastern Samar on Saturday after making changes to his schedule.

Hours earlier, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President would not attend amid "pressing matters of governance" which he did not spell out.

But in a statement Thursday morning, Panelo said President Duterte said he will fly to Balangiga town due to public clamor.

"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.

The president's spokesman claimed that Duterte made changes in his schedule of activities "to join the Filipino community in welcoming the return of the bells."

Duterte did not attend the handover ceremony of the bells, after they arrived at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on Tuesday.

READ: Balangiga bells now back in PH

The President called for the return of the bells during his 2017 State of the Nation Address. The handover was made possible after U.S. President Donald Trump signed the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, enabling the U.S. Defense Department to facilitate their return.

The bells were taken as "war trophies" by American soldiers in 1901, after 48 of them died in what is now known as the Balangiga massacre.