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Nat’l artist joins call for Balanginga bells’ return

MANILA, 31 July 2007— A respected national artist has added his voice to a rising chorus of concerned faithful calling for the return of the historical Church bells of Balangiga, Eastern Samar.

Napoleon Abueva, national artist for sculpture, said he is saddened that not even one of the bells has been returned to the belfry of St. Lawrence church due to celebrate its annual feast on August 10.

The two bells were hauled off to the United States as ‘war booty” by returning American Cavalry troops 106 years ago. They are now displayed on a granite monument near the flagpole at the Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.

The bells were rung to signal an attack by native bolo fighters that almost wiped out company of US Marines during the infamous “Balangiga Massacre” on September 28, 1901.

The massacre of American soldiers at Balangiga was the said to be the worst single defeat of the US Army during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the century.

Abueva, the sculptor and builder of the Balangiga Monument, also called on US Ambassador Kristie Kenney to lend her “helping hand” in the return of the bells.

He added he had to fabricate a cast bronze bell at the monument’s belfry.

During former President Fidel Ramos’ term, the belfry of the church was refurbished to welcome the return of the bells.

“Sad and strange as it may seem, the animosity has fueled some of the elderly Filipinos to nurture the fact that the Filipino-American war of 1898-1901 has not realty been brought to a final conclusion due to the missing bells,” he said.

The encounter in 1901 claimed the lives of 50 American soldiers and 28 Filipino freedom fighters.

It was followed by the deaths of thousands of Samareños, mostly civilians 10 years old and above, when the American military retaliated with a "kill-and-burn" policy imposed by General Jacob Smith.

This policy of hatred and revenge was aimed to reduce Samar into a "howling wilderness." (Roy Lagarde)