Many toiled for Balangiga bells to toll

December 18, 2018

Those who think the Balangiga bells were returned only because of President Duterte must grasp what social reformer Jacob Riis said: “When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it – but all that had gone before.”

It’s funny how some people, including those in media who are ferociously supportive of the administration, got it so wrong when they tried to put up the impression that, amid all past failures, it was the President alone who made the bells’ return possible after 117 years, only to find out he didn’t really want the accolades coming his way.

“Now let me be very clear on this, here and now. The credit of the return of the Balangiga [bells] does not belong to any worker or officials of government. The return of the bells [was] upon the demand of the Filipino people,” Duterte said on Dec. 13. “Nobody but nobody should ever claim success for that.”

In another display of magnanimity at the turnover of the bells on Dec. 15 in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, the President reiterated: “You know, the bells are returned and it was really because of the fervent prayers of the entire Filipino nation. 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 to the Filipino people, period,” he stressed.

Duterte’s repeated assertion is in contrast to that of his supporters, from resigned PCOO assistant secretary Mocha Uson and former Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, to Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo who all made it look like the President singlehandedly made possible what seemed impossible for more than a century.

For his supporters, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to boast that Duterte succeeded where so many others have failed miserably, that Filipinos have to be grateful to the President for exercising political will, for fulfilling his promise, for adopting an “independent foreign policy,” and many other reasons to thank him for the return of the historic bells.

It certainly is tempting to say the President deserves all, or at least most of the credit, but to do so would be to foolishly ignore the reality that a main hurdle – the US law prohibiting the return of veteran memorial objects to their country of origin – had lapsed in 2017.

And to entertain a simpleton’s thought that Duterte’s efforts alone made the bells’ return possible would be to insult all others who also poured in time and effort for the same goal.

“Good-hearted individuals and groups labored for decades to bring the bells home. Former presidents, Cabinet secretaries, Philippine and US ambassadors, historians, philanthropists and many others worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the history of the bells and to advocate for their dignified return,” US ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said during arrival rites last Dec. 11 when the bells were finally brought back.

The significance of the bells – primarily a symbol of the courage and gallantry of Filipinos to fight for freedom and self-determination – is so enormous that Taclobanon Sevillano Baldesco Jr. suggests that three bells replace the three stars in the Philippine flag.

The bells are also deemed the “symbol of God’s voice,” calling on the faithful to congregate, according to Fr. Lope C. Robredillo, Vicar General of the Diocese of Borongan which has jurisdiction over the San Lorenzo de Martir Church in Balangiga.

At the Holy Mass after the turnover of the bells, Fr Robredillo asked: “Can they serve as real reminder for us all to allow God to speak to us?  Shall we truly respond to God’s call through the clear voice of the bells and listen attentively to His words? Can they become a motivation for people to gather for Sunday Mass in numbers larger than usual?   Will they make us more prayerful than before?”