The historic Balangiga bells, which were seized by American soldiers from a church in Samar at the height of the Filipino-American war, are finally returning to the Philippines.
US 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.”
According to historians, one of the bells is believed to have signaled the attack the Filipinos launched against American troops stationed in Balangiga town in Samar province on Sept. 28, 1901. The attack killed 48 American soldiers and was reportedly in retaliation for oppressive treatment the Filipinos received from the American troops.
The American soldiers retaliated, destroying the town and killing thousands of Filipino soldiers and locals in what is now known as the Balangiga Massacre.
The American soldiers seized all three bells from the Balangiga Church and a 1557 cannon as war booty.
In his second State of the Nation Address called on the US to return the Balangiga bells.
“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage,” Duterte said in his speech.
Although some US officials opposed plans to return the bells, Koscina said the US Department of Defense notified Congress in August that it intends to repatriate the bells.
“The decision follows a year-long consultative process with associated veterans’ organizations and government officials to ensure appropriate steps are taken to preserve the history of the veterans associated with the bells,” she said.
Meanwhile, a Filipino military professor involved in the impending return of the bells said a change in “approach” about the significance of the Balangiga bells was the key to the entire process.
Retired Consul General and Philippine Military Academy professor Sonny Busa told ANC’s Dateline Philippines that his group in the US had to clarify “misconceptions” that the return of the bells does not equate to “dishonoring the 44 Americans who died in the Battle of Balangiga.”
“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,” Busa said.
“It worked now because the approach was not one of blame, but just one of shared interest, a commonality,” he added.
Busa said it had also become easier to get the US government’s nod on the proposal to return the bells after Filipino negotiators earned the support of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US.
And while Duterte pressed for the return of the bells in his second year of office, Busa said that 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.
“President Ramos in 1996 made a big attempt to bring it back, every Philippine president since then has tried to get it but it just fell on deaf ears because of the barriers to understanding,” he said. (MS)