After more than 100 Years, US agrees to return the Balanggiga Bells

After more than 100 Years, US agrees to return the Balanggiga Bells
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia: Two Balangiga bells exhibited at Fort D.A. Russel, now F. E. Warren Air Force Base

Finally, after more than 100 years, the historic Balangiga bells are going to be returned to the Philippines after they were seized by American soldiers form a church in Samar.

According to Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez, he will personally witness the formal turnover of the bells in the U.S. state of Wyoming, where two of three bells are located.

Ambassador Romualdez added that U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis will accompany him on November 14 Wyoming time (November 15 in Manila time) for the formal turnover of the bells at Warren Air Base and both will jointly issue a statement after the formal turnover.

The Wyoming bells, along with the third bell which is now at a U.S. military museum in South Korea, will “all together be brought” to the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City in a U.S. Air Force military aircraft.

Meanwhile, U.S. Embassy Spokesperson Molly Koscina said, “While no specific date has been identified for the return of the bells, the Department of Defense is committed to a timely resolution in accordance with U.S. laws and policy.”

In the accounts of most historians, they believe that one of the bells signaled the attack made by the Filipinos against American troops stationed in Balangiga town, province of Samar on September 28, 1901. The attack which resulted to the death of 48 American soldiers, was reportedly in retaliation for oppressive treatment the Filipinos received from the foreign soldiers.

In retaliation, the American soldiers destroyed the town and killed thousands of Filipino soldiers and locals in what came to be known as the Balangiga Massacre, based on historical accounts. Then the American soldiers decided to seize all three bells from the Balangiga Church, and a 1557 cannon as war booty.

While President Rodrigo Duterte raised the issue  for the return of the Balangiga bells during his second State of the Nation Address in 2017 wherein his speech he said, “Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage,” as he slammed then US President Barrack Obama for criticizing his bloody war on drugs.

For retired Consul General and Philippine Military Academy Prof. Sonny Busa told in a TV interview, that the return of the bells does not equate to “dishonoring the 44 Americans who died in the Battle of Balangiga.”
 
He explained further by saying, “When we cast the message that these bells belong to the people, to call the people to church, then we were able to sway some minds that this is not a military symbol but a symbol of peace. It worked now because the approach was not one of blame, but just one of shared interest, a commonality.”
“Thus the approach which was not hostile but cordial works”, he added.

But who should take credit for it?

The Philippines was able to get the approval of the US government to return the bells after Filipino negotiators earned the support of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) of the US. VFW is the “largest and oldest war veterans service organization” in the United States. “For years they have opposed the return of the bells. Only last year, they passed a resolution approving it,”Busa said.
 
“When we got the VFW on our side, it was clear sailing because no politician wants to go against the VFW,” he said. Thus, the return of the bells to Balangiga will prove that “we can move past those bad times and be where we are at today,” he said.
 
“Ultimately, it’s about the cooperation and recognition of the relations of US and Philippines. And it is supposed to be a symbol of peace and understanding. It will show that the Philippines is a staunch ally of the US,” Busa said
 
Interestingly, Busa clarified that President Rodrigo Duterte was not the only Philippine president who attempted to repatriate the bells. “I disagree with the observations that President Duterte is the only one that brought this up,” Busa said.
“Back in 1996, President Ramos had made a big attempt to bring it back. Since then, every Philippine president then has tried to get it but it just fell on deaf ears because of the barriers to understanding,” Busa said in closing.

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