By Roy Lagarde

The three bells returned to Balangiga town in Eastern Samar in December by the United States. American GIs took the bells as war booty 117 years ago. (Photo by Roy Lagarde)

The historic bells of Balangiga have propelled the small coastal town of Eastern Samar into becoming a tourist hub.

This emerged from the data of the Balangiga Parish Pastoral Council, reported Este News, the news service of the Diocese of Borongan.

Data showed that more than a hundred thousand domestic and foreign tourists have visited the parish to get a glimpse of the three bells.

The parish keeps at least six record books containing the names of visitors to the church where the bells have been displayed since December.

The US government returned late last year the church bells taken by American forces 117 years ago as war booty from the Balangiga church.

For more than a century, two of the bells were displayed at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming State, while another one was placed at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.

The church bells arrived in Manila last Dec. 11, and were brought to Balangiga four days later.

Speaking at the turnover ceremony last Dec. 15, Bishop Crispin Varquez of Borongan thanked all those who lobbied and prayed for the bells’ return.

He assured the public that the church would “care and cherish them as a precious legacy of the profound faith, heroism and courage of our forebears.”

Varquez also wished that the bells’ return would encourage and strengthen the faith of the people and their unity.

“We owe it to our forebears that we must continue to work together more strongly and more committedly that these bells will help bolster our faith, our history, our dignity and our socioconomic development,” he said.