BACK HOME. The Balangiga Bells displayed at the ground of a Roman Catholic Church in Balangiga, Eastern Samar. The US government returned the bells in 2018 after keeping them for 117 years. (File photo)

BALANGIGA, Eastern Samar – The local government here is pushing for more effective promotion of Balangiga Bells, which were returned to the town in 2018 after it was taken as war booty more than a century ago.

Mayor Dana Flynch De Lira is hopeful that since travel restriction has been eased, tourist arrival will increase in their town with more guests spending longer time in their historic town.

“We are already known for our bells. It’s just a matter of marketing. What’s happening is that the bells is not that much appreciated. We have to make a little improvement to help recover economically and financially,” De Lira said in an interview during the 121st Balangiga Encounter Commemoration on Wednesday.

The mayor said she would ask experts from the Department of Tourism (DOT) in the region to help them prepare tourism plans and programs to market not only the bells of Balangiga but also other local tourist destinations.

Since the return of bells, the town has been welcoming 200 to 300 visitors daily, but most of them just stay for a few minutes to take photos of the bells displayed at the ground of the town parish church.

Meanwhile, Tourism Secretary Maria Esperanza Christina Frasco, urged the locals of Balangiga to make the heroism and sacrifices of those who fought in the Balangiga encounter as inspiration to do their share in helping the rebuilding of the country from the effects of pandemic.

"Our goal in the industry is still in the early stage of planning and implementation, yet we are confident that we can achieve this with the support of people like you here in Balangiga who are more than willing to work hand-in-hand to improve the country's economy,” said Frasco in her message read by DOT Eastern Visayas senior tourism officer Rina Apostol during the commemoration.

The Balangiga Encounter happened on Sept. 28, 1901, when the town residents led by Valeriano Abanador initiated an attack against US soldiers who are part of the Company C of the 9th US Infantry Regiment.

Dubbed the biggest defeat of foreign troops during the Philippine-American war, villagers armed with bolos defeated the American soldiers equipped with guns.

The retaliation, however, resulted in the death of around 2,500 Filipino men, women, and children when the Americans’ launched an attack.

The Americans then took the three Balangiga Bells as war booty that resulted in a more than a century call for the US government to return them to the country.

The bells were returned to Balangiga in 2018 after 117 years by the US government with then-President Rodrigo Duterte witnessing the repatriation ceremony held on Dec. 15, 2018 in Balangiga town. (PNA)