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An official of the National Museum (NM) yesterday strongly denied that the repository of Philippine artworks and artefacts has anything to do with a proposal to put one of the three Balangiga bells on display in the said institution.

Nonetheless, NM director Jeremy Barns said, “We are certainly always ready to do our job if called upon to host or otherwise care for such artefacts of the highest significance to the national patrimony.”

A senator made the proposal for the museum to put one of the bells in display for others in Luzon or in Metro Manila to see it without having to go to Samar.

Issuing a personal statement, Barns lamented the tone of the objection posed by the Diocese of Borongan, Samar which issued a scathing statement against both the senator and the museum.

The museum official described the senator’s proposal as “admirable and objectively reasonable.”

The three Balangiga bells were returned to the Philippines by the US government this week after they were taken by US soldiers in 1901 as war trophies.

In a Facebook post, Barns said the museum was “not involved in any way with the resolution that was filed, which we only learned about after the fact.”

Neither was the museum complicit with any initiative “past or present that might involve bringing any or all of the bells to the National Museum,” he said.

“Certainly, we are proud that he (senator) regards the NM as a public institution so highly as to propose that we host one Balangiga bell for the benefit of access by the people at large in the national capital and we thank him for his support and confidence.”

He described the diocese’s reaction as “much too strongly worded as to be provocative of unnecessary controversy and acrimony.”

“It was sad to read it, as it does not accurately reflect the good relationships that exist between the government cultural agencies and numerous dioceses and parishes which we have assisted, expending considerable government resources and public funds in the process,” Barns said.

“We believe that the way forward is to continue with painstaking efforts to educate and promote awareness of the value of church heritage and its intrinsic importance to the country, one parish at a time if need be, together with our numerous allies within the Philippine Church itself,” he said. “The Diocese of Borongan emphasized in its statement that the bells are private properties of Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr.”

The transfer of the bell is seen by the diocese as a “disrespectful mangling of history and the right of the Catholic faithful of Balangiga to their private property.”

“The Balangiga encounter at which the bells played a role happened in Balangiga. It is only right that they be returned to Balangiga and stay in Balangiga,” church officials said.

They maintained the senator’s resolution “does violence to history and the sacred character and purpose of the Balangiga bells.”

The bells arrived in Samar yesterday for their official turnover today.

With Gladys Mae Ablon

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