MANILA - The Saint Lawrence church, which originally housed the Balangiga bells before they were taken by American soldiers in 1901 as war booty, is ready to receive the relics.
"The physical church of Balangiga is ready for the return of its bells. It has two belfries. The other one is empty, but awaiting for the return of its bells," said Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, head of the Diocesan Committee on Balangiga Bells.
The Saint Lawrence church is under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Borongan.
The church was repaired after it was damaged by supertyphoon Yolanda in 2013, but Quitorio said the structure is ready for the return of the bells.
Quitorio added, however, that they have not received any official word on arrangements for the return of the bells.
"Except from what is read in the news, the parish of Balangiga, or the Diocese of Borongan, where the parish belongs, does not have any information regarding the veracity of the event or any arrangements regarding the bells’ return," Quitorio said.
Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez echoed Quitorio's statement. Despite this, he said he is delighted to hear the news and thanked everyone who worked hard for the return of the bells.
"I hope nga tunay ito. Sana ibalik nila and then we will be very happy sa desisyon ng America kasi it belongs to the Church so it must be returned to the Church," the prelate said in an interview with Radio Veritas.
(I hope it's true. I hope they'll return the bells and then we will be very happy with America's decision because it belongs to the Church and so it must be returned to the Church.)
Dr. Rolando Borrinaga of the Committee on Historical Research of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) said a ceremony will be held on Nov. 15 (Manila time) at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming for the repatriation of the Balangiga bells.
The third Balangiga bell at a US Army museum in South Korea has also been crated and is ready for repatriation, he said.
The bells will be refurbished first before they are repatriated. Details of their arrival in the Philippines have yet to be announced.
In August, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signed documents favoring the return of the war booties to the Philippines.
US President Donald Trump earlier signed the US National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, which gives Mattis the authority to decide on the return of the Balangiga bells.
President Rodrigo Duterte, during his 2017 State of the Nation Address, called for the return of the church bells taken during the Philippine-American war.
"Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage," he said. - with reports from Don Tagala, ABS-CBN News