Booktripper Detours: Balangiga

The navigation device reported less than 2 kilometers remaining in road distance to the nearest town and instinctively, I searched for the church tower. As we descended to 30 kph just before entering the short bridge from the boundary of Lawaan, I spotted it. It was adjacent to the Balangiga River. The church looked just like any Christian church judging by the yellowish paint probably applied not more than a year ago. It is so common and any traveler who passed this church will never think of anything that happened in this site almost 111 years passed.

Balangiga Church

My companions followed my suggestion to stop for a while and look around the church and the nearby plaza. It was almost noon at Sunday of July 17, 2011 and the church was closed but the people never bothered about a group of local travelers taking some photo of the place. The local folks were probably got used to it. I can sense the wonder of my companions why must we bother about stopping by the place since the town never looked so special. The main trade here is apparently fishing (as an old woman offered us her trade of dried fish and native delicacies), and you can economically categorize the town from 3rd to 2nd class. I told my companions that we just came to a very historical site but I explained no further and just gestured that it's up to them to find it all out. What's so special about the place? Anyone who came in that church can spot the clues by walking around.

church marker

Balangiga Church is the spot where Filipino men garrisoned before attacking the American troops at the height of Philippine-American war in the morning of September 28, 1901. In return, the American troops killed all people capable of holding a gun that resulted to at least 2000 Filipinos dead in what is  known today as the Balangiga Massacre. If you think already that you see the picture here, you better think again. Why would the townsfolk attack the visiting American troops for the first place? Nobody attacks in group without a reason. And this reason is unfortunately, a subject of debate between the local and the western historians.  Some say the cause was a miscommunication between the two parties (just like any stupid war of history) while others say that it was a legitimate action by the local folk being sanctioned economically by the Americans after the blockage of three key trading ports in the south of Samar namely Guiuan, Basey, and Balangiga ports. The Balangiga Massacre consequentially, was an act of retaliation by the American forces from a very humiliating defeat in the hands of the natives. It was a direct obedience from an order by General Jacob Smith to "kill everyone over ten." Today, they are still keeping the Bells of Balangiga Church as war trophies and the Philippine government is pursuing the peaceful means to reclaim the bells.

Balangiga Shrine (Plaza)
September 28, 1901 Death Toll

We came in the town 5 minutes past eleven in the morning and we were almost  stepping on our shadows that day, obviously it was  a better time to take shelter from the scorching sun and humidity. For local folks, it was an ideal time for lunch but we just came from a 'merienda' and we were accustomed to a late lunch, given the target area for our lunch was the next town of Giporlos. It was our fist time to come in that town but strangely I already felt the nostalgia. It felt like I've been in that place before. In my head I recalled the memories of actual stories, photographs, and newspaper reportage from that sad and eventful day of September 28, 1901.

After seeing the shrine markers and taking photographs, the faces of my companions transformed from confusion to enlightenment and reverence. They understood why we have to stop over. Our forefathers bravely fought for freedom in that town.

New York Journal - May 5,1902

road tracks - July 17, 2011

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