Areas surrounding the Balangiga Incident Marker will be enhanced in preparation for tourists' influx. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism)
BALANGIGA, Eastern Samar – The Department of Tourism (DOT) has mapped out measures to prepare this historic town for the influx of tourists who want to see the three Balangiga Bells returned by the US government after more than a century.
DOT Regional Director Karina Rosa Tiopes said they will start the accreditation of potential houses whose owners are willing to be part of the homestay program to address the lack of accommodation for visitors in town.
“Prior to the handover, the local government talked with residents to accommodate guests who would stay there overnight. To make this all sustainable, we will assist them in organizing homestay facilities,” Tiopes told reporters Saturday night.
Homestay is a tourism program that allows visitors to rent a room from a local family who earns additional income. This will also enable tourists to immerse with the locals and learn the Filipino culture.
Other preparations set by the DOT include trainings for mangrove paddling guides, waiter servicing and food handling, community tour guides, mountain guides, effective customer service and entrepreneurial development.
DOT also provided funds for the procurement of livelihood gears such as kayak with paddles, personal flotation device, fisherman’s hat, rash guards, first aid kits, tents, solar lamps, beach umbrella, plastic tables, monoblock chairs, abseiling ropes, harness, carabineers and various office supplies for Bayakha Falls, Ladder-Bangon 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 added.
The DOT will also train tour guide for them to be able to tell one story -- the bravery and heroism of the people of Balangiga.
“Tourism development is a long journey, but we will take the initial step," Tiopes said.
For tourists to get a better view of the Balangiga Incident Marker, the tourism department is proposing to transfer the town’s existing gymnasium to another location.
The marker is the work of National Artist Napoleon Abueva, inaugurated on the 102nd commemoration of Balangiga Encounter on Sept. 28, 2003.
“We are asking funds from the Department of Public Works and Highways and Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority for the construction of new gymnasium and improve the landscape of the town’s plaza,” Tiopes added.
Part of the proposal is to build a visitors’ center and a souvenir shop near the marker.
Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan who witnessed the handover of bells on Saturday said they will include Balangiga as one of the destinations under the Spark Samar tourism campaign even if Balangiga town is in Eastern Samar.
“The return of these historic bells will greatly benefit our tourism in the province especially those Samar towns close to Balangiga. This is will really boost our tourism promotion drive since the bells are known internationally,” Tan said.
Tan will meet with provincial officials of Eastern Samar to collaborate tourism promotion efforts more so that the DOT came up with a master plan for the three Samar provinces as one Samar Island.
Balangiga Bells are church bells originally from the Parish of Balangiga in Borongan, Eastern Samar.
The bells were taken by American soldiers back in 1901 as war booty after American soldiers killed the town’s people, an event historically known as the Balangiga Massacre.
Prior to the bloody massacre, Filipino insurgents were said to have used the church bells to signal an attack against American soldiers at the dawn of Sept. 28, 1901. About 48 American soldiers who were part of Company C of the 9th US Infantry were killed by the insurgents armed with bolos.
In retaliation, Brig. Gen. Jacob Smith ordered for Samar to be turned into a “howling wilderness,” in which American soldiers burned the town, and to kill everyone over the age of 10. The bloody incident is now known as the Balangiga Encounter. (PNA)