May 5, 2016

U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY Returns San Pedro Bell to the Philippines

Consul General Mario De Leon Jr. conveyed how the return of the San Pedro Bell back to the Philippines was a fitting moment to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the United States


Consul General De Leon (2nd from right) together with Colonel Wayne A. Green, West Point Chief of Staff (far right) and Mr. Sonny Busa, President of the Philippine American Foundation Charities, Inc. (3rd from right) watch as Chaplain Pawlikowski officially conducts the valediction ceremony for the San Pedro Bell. 
West Point, New York – In ceremonies that coincided with 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Philippines, a historical handover ceremony of the San Pedro Bell from US military officials to Philippine representatives took place at the West Point Military Academy in New York.  

Representing Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia, Consul General Mario L. De Leon, Jr joined senior-ranking West Point officials and Filipino-American community members from the Tri-Stare region, and several Filipino-American cadets at West Point for the turnover ceremonies.  

For many years the San Pedro Bell was a permanent fixture outside of the Academy’s Most Holy Trinity Catholic Chapel.  It was originally housed at the Church of Saint Peter and Paul in the Philippines at Bauang, La Union.  Historians suspect that the San Pedro Bell was taken from the St. Peter and Paul Church during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) by U.S. soldiers as war booty. Lt. Col. Thomas Barry of the U.S. Army, who had been deployed to the Philippines in 1900-1901 and a graduate of West Point, handed over the San Pedro Bell to the Military Academy in 1915, where it was stored in a church belfry for 44 years until it was “rediscovered” during an expansion in 1959.  

In November 2015, Reverend Father Ronald O. Chan of the St. Peter and Paul Church sent a letter to the current Superintendent of West Point, Lt. General Robert Caslen, Jr. requesting that the San Pedro Bell be returned to its rightful home.  Lt. Gen. Caslen likewise relayed his agreement to return the Bell to its original owners.  

During the handover ceremony, Chaplain (Col.) Matthew Pawlikowski, pastor at the Chapel, and Colonel Wayne A. Green, Chief of Staff at the Military Academy, said that the event signified an important moment in the strengthening of the alliance and friendship between the United States and the Philippines, and that the handover of the Bell was yet another important step in burying the grievances and misunderstandings which existed between the two countries at the onset of the Philippine-American War.  
  
Consul General De Leon conveyed how the return of the San Pedro Bell back to the Philippines was a fitting moment to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the United States.  The San Pedro bell was not only a cultural and architectural legacy of the Spanish influence on the Philippines, but served as a symbol of spiritual and moral hope to many Filipinos striving to overcome life’s daily challenges, he added.   

Retired US Consul General Sonny Busa, a West Point alumnus, delivered his remarks on behalf of the U.S.-Philippine Society and the West Point Society of the Philippines.  He acknowledged the role of various individuals to make the handover possible and reminisced how the San Pedro Bell bore witness to many memorable events of his time as a cadet, including his own wedding which was held at the same chapel years ago.  

Chaplain Pawlikowski then conducted a Blessing of the Bell after some community members sang the Filipino song Bayan Ko.  Consul General De Leon, along with the community members, cadets and even some West Point officials were given an opportunity to ring the Bell for a final time before it was immediately dismantled from its perch to be shipped to its final home at the St. Peter and Paul Parish in Bauang, La Union.

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