The Balangiga bells have once again tolled for the first time in over a century, after President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday rang one of them —and even kissed it — at 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 — rang it seven times with a clenched fist in the air, as the crowd exploded into applause and cheers.
"Nobody but nobody can claim a singular credit for the generous act of the Americans. The bells are returned. The credit goes to the American people and the Filipino people, period," Duterte said.
"The bells are returned and it was really because of the fervent prayers of the entire Filipino nation," he added.
Duterte thanked the stakeholders who helped make the turnover possible.
"The homecoming of these artifacts is truly a milestone in the shared and meaningful history of the United States and the Philippines, and heralds a new and more vibrant chapter in our bilateral relations," he said.
"More than just a part of the Balangiga Church, these bells are a significant element in our country’s religious and historical narrative. They are an enduring symbol of our history and treasure," he added.
The President enjoined Filipinos to ensure the protection of "these gems" and help continue to preserve and promote Philippine culture and history.
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 Tuesday, 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. — MDM, GMA News