Customs ‘delaying’ historic bell release?

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MANILA, May 18, 2016 – A scholar from the University of the Philippines (UP) School of Health Sciences in Palo, Leyte has voiced out his dismay over what seems to be a “bureaucratic” delay in the Bureau of Customs’ release of clearance for the historic San Pedro bell days before its scheduled homecoming in Bauang, La Union.

“Alert! Help needed! The San Pedro Bell arrived at Clark, Pampanga from the U.S. last Monday, May 16. But it is now being held up by the Bureau of Customs over nonsensical issues, to include their advice that it might be Friday (May 20) before clearance could be granted,” complained Prof. Rolando O. Borrinaga in a recent post on his social media account.

According to him, the municipality of Bauang in La Union is set to hold on May 23 a welcome ceremony to mark the return of the bell, which is yet to be installed on a pedestal fronting the town’s 16th-century Church of Saints Peter and Paul.

Returned, but not quite

“By the way it looks, it was easier to get this bell released from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point than from the grasp of the Philippine Customs. Bad custom,” Borrinaga added.

The San Pedro bell had been on display for several decades outside  West Point’s Most Holy Trinity Catholic Chapel in New York, with a placard that partly reads: “Symbol of peace that even the ravages of war could not destroy.”

After the Philippine-American War, the bell fell into the hands of Lt. Col. Thomas Barry of West Point’s class of 1877, who reportedly served in the islands from 1900 to 1901.

In 1915, Barry gave the bell to his alma mater at whose Catholic chapel it was kept in 1937.

Balangiga bells soon?

Based on his research, Borrinaga was able to establish the Bauang, La Union origin of the bell which invites comparison to the better known “Bells of Balangiga.”

“I’m part of the small group that made possible the return of the West Point bell. We use this as a test case to pressure the Wyoming opponents to consider the return of the two Balangiga bells in their territory,” Borrinaga told CBCPNews in an interview.

He added, “They [Americans] have long lost the legal, ethical, and logical reasons for holding on to these bells. All they have now are emotional attachments, and power and influence to hold on to these items.

Americans who fought in the Philippines at the turn of the century took home with them bells from Filipino Catholic churches, both as “war mementos” and as a way to prevent “insurgents” from melting them to make weapons. (Raymond A. Sebastián / CBCP News)

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