Church opposes call to keep one Balangiga bell in National Museum

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The Balangiga bells are on display at the Philippine Air Force Museum inside the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City until Thursday, December 13.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 13) — All three Balangiga bells should stay in their home church in Eastern Samar, the Diocese of Borongan said amid a senator's call to have one displayed at the National Museum.

In a statement on Thursday, Bishop Crispin Varquez and the clergy said they "object to and strongly stand against the transfer of one or all of the Bells of Balangiga from their historical and rightful habitat" – the St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish in Balangiga town, within the Diocese of Borongan.

They called for the rejection of Senate Resolution 965, which urges the government to "share with the Filipino people" one of the Balangiga bells by placing it in the National Museum "for the appreciation and education" of the general public, especially the youth. The proposed measure was filed by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri on December 6, days before the historic Balangiga bells finally returned to the country on December 11 after 117 years with U.S. authorities.

READ: Balangiga bells now back in PH

The diocese, however, said Zubiri's proposal "does violence to history and the sacred character and purpose of the Balangiga bells." It is still pending before the Senate Committee on Rules, which Zubiri chairs.

"The Balangiga Bells are sacramentals, that is, they are also sacred artifacts that call the faithful to prayer and worship. 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," the diocese said.

Historians believe one of the bells signaled the attack the Filipinos launched against American troops stationed in Balangiga town on September 28, 1901. The attack, which killed 48 American soldiers, was reportedly in retaliation for oppressive treatment that Filipinos received from the foreign soldiers. American troops retaliated, destroying the town and killing thousands of Filipino soldiers and locals in what came to be known as the Balangiga Massacre. The American soldiers seized all three bells from the Balangiga Church, and a 1557 cannon as "war booty."

The Diocese of Borongan said it recognizes the national significance of the Balangiga bells, but stressed that they belong to the Church any move to keep them elsewhere would be "a disrespectful mangling of history and the right of the Catholic faithful of Balangiga to their private property."

The bells are coming home to Balangiga on Saturday, with rites expected to be led by President Rodrigo Duterte.

READ: Duterte changes mind, decides to attend Balangiga bells turnover

The President called for the return of the bells during his 2017 State of the Nation Address, resurrecting a decades-old fight for their repatriation. The handover was made possible after U.S. President Donald Trump signed the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, enabling its Defense Department to return the bells.