Planned return of Balangiga church bells is a remarkable development

August 13, 2018 - 3:36 PM
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Photo of the Balangiga bells on display in Fort Russel in the United States.

The Balangiga Church bells taken as war booty by American troops during its war with the Philippines will finally be returned to the country it was taken from. Some hope that the gesture will ease memories of the dark chapter in the two eventual allies’ history.

Gesture of goodwill?

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently announced his department’s plan to return the church bells, which were stolen by United States forces in 1901 after the attack on the town of Balangiga, Samar.

Two of the bells are on display in a military base in Wyoming while one is in a South Korean museum.

The Palace has announced that it will work with the US in facilitating the bells’ return to Philippine shores.

Filipinos, who have long sought the return of the bells, have applauded the plan.

The Philippines has long worked for its return. In the 90s, former president Fidel V. Ramos ordered the return of the bells, to no avail.

Calls for the return have been echoed by independent groups, the Senate and the Catholic clergy over the years.

Opposition

The move, however, has been opposed by some American senators. Republican Sen. John Barrasso for one said that the bells constitute an important memorial for their veterans of the bloody U.S-Philippine war.

Under American law, the bells are government property and an act of legislation is required to facilitate their delivery to the Philippines.

In 1901, Gen. Jacob Smith of the US forces ordered everyone in the town above the age of 10 to be executed in retaliation for the killing of 48 US soldiers by residents of Balangiga.

Historians remain in disagreement over the number of victims but most agree that the number reached the ten-thousands.

Smith’s order to turn the town into a “howling wilderness” has gained notoriety over the years. He was not convicted of any war crime despite the criticism over the order.

Editorial cartoon on the Balangiga Massacre that was published by the New York Journal.

President Rodrigo Duterte has previously lashed out at the US government for its non-committal attitude on the matter.

In his 2017 State of the Nation Address, Duterte motioned to US Ambassador Sung Kim for the Philippines’ defense ally to return the bells.

As the memory of the bloody Balangiga Massacre lingers a century after, Duterte has brought up the topic in discussing his his preference for China as a trade and defense partner over the US.