By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter
THE SMALL town of Balangiga is expected to attract tourists with the return of its three church bells after 117 years in the hands of the United States following the Philippine-American War.
Stakeholders are one in making the historic bells accessible to the public as an attraction, and they all agree that a tourism plan is needed to ensure that it becomes a contributor to economic growth.
In an interview last Saturday on the sidelines of the Balangiga bells turnover ceremony, Mayor Randy D. Graza told BusinessWorld that he supports the idea of making the bells as one of the town’s main tourist attractions. “Yes, I support it,” he said.
“Maganda naman po kung pwedeng merong magandang usapan kung papaano natin pwedeng i-handle ito (It would be good if there would be a good discussion on how we will handle this),” Mr. Graza said.
However, he added, the decision is up to the San Lorenzo De Martyr Parish Church, the home of the bells .
San Lorenzo’s parish priest, Fr. Serafin Tybaco, Jr., said in a separate interview that the church is very much open to the idea and is just awaiting coordination with the Department of Tourism (DoT) and the local government.
“Hinihintay namin ‘yun (We are waiting for that). For us it’s a great honor na maging (to make the bells a) tourist destination,” he said.
“Pinag-usapan na namin ‘yan (We have talked about that before that one day, somehow, someday magagawang tourist destination ang Balangiga with the help of the government also and the local government,” the priest added.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat announced last week that she will visit Balangiga town in January next year to assess the tourism opportunity for the bells.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto C. Abella, asked for comment, told BusinessWorld that “it should be a significant part” of the tourism industry.
“Alam mo nagkakaroon ng depth ang ating identity (There will be depth in our identity), Mr. Abella said, adding that a “historical narrative” will enrich the usual tourist attractions of beaches and food.
He also pointed out that “the infrastructure must be in place so that we can accommodate the influx of tourists” in the town of Balangiga.
In a phone message, Tourism Spokesperson Benito C. Bengzon, Jr. said: “We would need to thoroughly evaluate the tourism prospects for Balangiga to determine the most ideal approach with respect to destination development, products development, and market.”
He also noted that “one of the key programs under the National Tourism Development Plan is to promote tourism investments, particularly in the countryside.”