MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte will grace the formal turnover of the historic bells in Balangiga on Dec. 15 but will not attend the Catholic mass.
“It’s going to be like this, the American government will give it back to me then I will give them to the local executives, and the local executives will turn it over to their rightful owners, the people of Balangiga,” Duterte said.
“I don’t want to hear the mass. I’ve heard all the masses in the world,” he said.
Duterte has been attacking the Catholic Church and some members of its clergy for criticizing his policies, chiefly the war on drugs and criminality.
Duterte said he and his fellow government workers should also not take credit for the return of Balangiga bells, religious artifact used by Filipino villagers to signal a sneak attack against its enemies. The bells were taken by American soldiers as war booty during the Philippine-American war.
It was the “demands” made by the Filipino people that forced the United states to return the bells which were taken by American soldiers from Balangiga town in Eastern Samar over a century ago. he added.
“Let me be very clear on this here and now, the credit [for] the return of Balangiga [bells] does not belong to any worker or official of government,” Duterte said in a speech during the marker of the Mella Hotel Las Piñas owned by the Villar family.
“The return of the bells were upon the demands of the Filipino people. Nobody, but nobody should ever claim success for that.”
The Philippine government has thanked the United States for the gesture, which it believes will formally put closure on the "tragic and contentious" episode in the history of the 2 countries.
“As the Balangiga Bells resume their ringing after a silence of more than a century, the booming sounds that will come out of them will resonate around the world with the sterling message that foreign domination nor outside intrusion on its sovereignty has no place in this part of the world,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement Thursday.
Panelo earlier said that Duterte's "strong political will" paved the way for the return of church bells.
But Dr. Rolando Borrinaga, secretary of the National Committee on Historical Research of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), earlier said that getting the support of 2 major war veteran organizations in the United States was the key for the repatriation of the Balangiga bells to the Philippines.
In 2017, Duterte demanded that the US return the bells, which he said were "reminders of the gallantry and heroism of our forebears who resisted the American colonizers."