National Museum director twits diocese over reaction on Balangiga bell proposal

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 14 2018 11:31 AM

Church leaders led by Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, head of the Committee for the Return of the Balangiga Bells of the Diocese of Borongan, pose for photos with the Balangiga Bells at the Villamor Airbase in Manila, December 11, 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The National Museum director on Friday cautioned the Catholic Church that its "strongly worded" reaction against the display of one Balangiga Bell in the capital's primary art gallery may court "charges of hypocrisy or double standards."

The Diocese of Borongan on Thursday rejected the proposal of Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri to have one of the historic bells displayed in the National Museum, saying the lawmaker's resolution must be "rejected" as it "does violence to history and the sacred character and purpose of the Balangiga Bells."

"Such strong statements as were made make the Church in general open to charges of hypocrisy or double standards, which we would deeply regret," National Museum Director Jeremy Barns said in a statement.

"Stating that 'respect' for historical integrity, the sacred character of church objects, and the property rights of the Christian faithful cannot be compromised... raises eyebrows among those dedicated persons, including many within the government, who constantly work to mitigate the ongoing degradation and loss of our church heritage in many parts of the country," Barns said.

The worsening quality of churches and Catholic symbols in the country are "too often caused by the Church authorities themselves as items, including bells, are sold or allowed to decay beyond repair due to ignorance, indifference or worse," he said.

The Museum director clarified that it continues to "respect and look up" to both the Church and the State, but said that "some amends need to be made by one side in particular" as the Diocese's statement "was sad to read."

"The hot reaction of the Church authorities in Samar, whom we have been working with for years to rebuild the church in Guiuan since Typhoon Yolanda, is understandable - although much too strongly worded as to be provocative of unnecessary controversy and acrimony," Barns said.

"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," he said.

The Museum director distanced itself from Zubiri's resolution, saying the National Museum "was not involved" in the lawmaker's petition.

"We at the National Museum were not involved in any way with the resolution that was filed by Senator Zubiri, which we only learned about after the fact - nor in any other initiative, past or present, that might involve bringing any or all of the bells to the National Museum," Barns said.

"But we are certainly always ready to do our job if called upon to host or otherwise care for such artifacts of the highest significance to the national patrimony," he said.