Return of prized bells seen ringing in more tourists
The Department of Tourism (DOT) is ready for the influx of tourists not just in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, but also in the rest of Eastern Visayas following the return of the iconic Balangiga bells to the quaint seaside town.
“We at DOT are so happy for the people of Eastern Samar as the homecoming of Balangiga Church bells may yet turn not only Balangiga town but the whole of Eastern Visayas (Region 8) into an emerging tourist destination,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said in a statement on Saturday.
“In time for the Christmas season, this is one of the best gifts the region could ask for,” she said.
President Rodrigo Duterte attended Saturday’s turnover of the three bells to Balangiga officials, 117 years after these were taken as war trophies by the US Army from the Church of San Lorenzo de Martir at the height of the Philippine-American War in 1901.
Puyat expects the Balangiga bells to significantly boost tourism in the town, located in the southern part of Eastern Samar province and about 97 kilometers from Tacloban City in Leyte.
“Eastern Visayas is really rich in history and among those historical places that can help in improving our tourism is the town of Balangiga, which figured prominently in both Philippine and American histories,” she said.
The tourism department has been helping the local government of Balangiga in its development projects, including the improvement of the Balangiga Encounter Monument, which was created by National Artist Napoleon Abueva.
According to Karina Rosa Tiopes, tourism director in Region 8, the P9.7-million project includes the “landscaping and beautification” of the park and the small museum at the back of the marker.
The project is funded by the department’s Yolanda Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Project.
The DOT also organized training sessions for mangrove paddling guides, waiter servicing and food handling, community tour guides, mountain guides, effective customer service and entrepreneurial development in the town.
The agency also provided P692,000 to local governments for the procurement of livelihood gear, including kayak with paddles, personal flotation device, fisherman’s hats, rash guards, first aid kits, tents, solar lamps, beach umbrella, plastic tables, monoblock chairs, abseiling ropes, harness, carabineers and various office supplies in three of Eastern Samar’s tourist destinations — Bayakha Falls, Bangon Ladder Falls and Sitio Marag Mangroves.
“Enhancing other tourist destinations in Balangiga will make visitors stay longer, giving them the opportunity to get to know our people, experience our culture, taste our cuisine and discover the ‘Infinite Escapes’ in Eastern Visayas,” Tiopes said.
The regional tourism chief said they would accredit “homestay” units to address the lack of accommodation for visitors in Balangiga. For Saturday’s event, local officials urged residents to accommodate guests who would stay overnight in the town.
Homestay is a tourism practice that allows visitors to rent a room in the home of a family and gives them a chance to immerse themselves in the locality’s culture.
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