Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat today assured that the Balangiga Bells would be a historical treasure that will be preserved for all the world and future generations to see.
Puyat made the statement in view of the expected influx of tourists desiring to see the three Balangiga Bells along with the old church in Eastern Samar, where they will be formally restored in ceremonies led by President Duterte.
“We, at DOT, are so happy for the people of Eastern Samar as the homecoming of Balangiga Church bells may yet turn not only Balangiga town but the whole of Eastern Visayas (Region 8) into an emerging tourist destination. In time for the Christmas season, this is one of the best gifts the region could ask for.” said Puyat in exaltation.
The Balangiga Bells is seen to boost tourism activities in the town, located in the southern part of Eastern Samar province, around 97 kilometers or one-and-a-half hours of travel from Tacloban City.
“Eastern Visayas is really rich in history and among those historical places that can help in improving our tourism is the town of Balangiga which has figured prominently in both the Philippine and American history,” Puyat added.
Balangiga is part of Eastern Samar province that is blessed with attractions ideal for nature, marine sports, adventure, historical, heritage, cultural and religious tourism.
The DOT had been assisting the local government unit of Balangiga in the area’s tourism development projects, said DOT Region 8 Director Karina Rosa Tiopes.
“Foremost of these is the improvement of the Balangiga Incident Marker, funded under DOT-Yolanda Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Project worth PhP9.7 million, which was downloaded to the LGU,” disclosed Tiopes.
The improvement includes landscaping and beautification of the park and the small museum located at the back of the marker to make it more presentable to tourists and pilgrims who will be visiting the town.
The Balangiga Incident Marker is the work of National Artist Napoleon Abueva, inaugurated on the 102nd commemoration on September 28, 2003.
Preparations set by the DOT include trainings for mangrove paddling guides, waiter servicing and food handling, community tour guides, mountain guides, effective customer service and entrepreneurial development.
DOT also provided a fund worth PhP 629,000.00 to the LGU for the procurement of livelihood gears that include kayak with paddles, personal flotation device, fisherman’s hat, rash guards, first aid kits, tents, solar lamps, beach umbrella, plastic tables, monoblock chairs, abseiling ropes, harness, carabineers and various office supplies for Bayakha Falls, Ladder-Bangon Falls and Sitio Marag Mangroves.
“Enhancing other tourist destinations in Balangiga will make visitors stay longer, giving them the oppportunity to get to know our people, experience our culture, taste our cuisine and discover the Infinite Escapes in Eastern Visayas” Tiopes added.
She said the DOT is looking at the possible accreditation of homestay units to address the lack of accommodation for visitors in town.
“For this Saturday’s event, the LGU talked with residents to accommodate guests who will stay there overnight. To make this all sustainable, we will assist them in organizing homestay facilities,” said Tiopes.
Homestay is a tourism program that allows visitors to rent a room from a local family who earns additional income and at the same time enabling tourists to immerse with the locals and learn Filipino culture.
The DOT chief echoed President Duterte’s words that the Balangiga Bells and their return as a “symbol of reconciliation and lasting friendship” between the Philippines and the United States.
The three church bells were seized by US troops in a bloody attack, known as the “Howling Wilderness,” avenging the death of several American soldiers by Filipino guerrillas during the Filipino-American war in 1901.
The longtime plea for the bells’ return to the Philippines gained impetus when President Duterte in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last August rallied the nation to demand the U.S. to bring back the war trophy.
Heeding the Filipinos’ clamor, Washington shipped the three Balangiga Bells back to the country last week.