Balangiga bells now back in PH

 

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 11) — After 117 years, the Balangiga bells have arrived in Manila Tuesday morning, marking a historic moment for Philippine-U.S. relations.

The three bells arrived at the Villamor Air Base at around 10:30 a.m., coming from an American military base in Okinawa, Japan.

Two of these came from Wyoming, where the U.S. government formally turned them over in a ceremony led by Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis last November 15. The third bell was located in a U.S. military museum in South Korea.

Prior to their shipment to Okinawa, the bells were first brought to Philadelphia where they underwent refurbishing and restoration.

Joseph Felter, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia, was with the bells in flight.

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, in a speech during the handover ceremony, said returning the historic bells was the "right thing to do."

"The return of the bells of Balangiga lets us reflect on the U.S.-Philippine relationship -- where we have been, where we are, where we are going. Having now served over two years as U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, I am convinced that our relationship remains ironclad, consecrated by the service and sacrifice of the Americans and Filipinos who fought side by side for freedom," Kim said.

The U.S. Embassy said replica of the bells will be put up in the F.E. Warren airbase in Wyoming, as a response to American veterans who opposed the handover.

The handover was made possible after U.S. President Donald Trump signed the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, enabling the U.S. Defense Department to facilitate the bells' return.

Historians believe one of the bells signaled the attack the Filipinos launched against American troops stationed in Balangiga town in Eastern Samar on September 28, 1901. The attack, which killed 48 American soldiers, was reportedly in retaliation for the oppressive treatment Filipinos experienced in the hands of foreign soldiers. 

The U.S. soldiers retaliated, destroying the town and killing thousands of Filipino soldiers and locals in what came to be known as the Balangiga Massacre, according to historical accounts. The American soldiers seized all three bells from the Balangiga Church, and a 1557 cannon as "war booty."

Former President Fidel Ramos rallied but failed to get the bells back in the 1990s, even after personally raising his concern with then U.S. President Bill Clinton who was in Manila en route to Indonesia in 1994. 

Former President Fidel Ramos rallied but failed to get the bells back in the 1990s, even after personally raising his concern with then U.S. President Bill Clinton who was in Manila en route to Indonesia in 1994. 

 

President Rodrigo Duterte renewed the call for the bells' return during his 2017 State of the Nation Address.

However, the U.S. embassy said the return was a byproduct of efforts put in by U.S. and Philippine officials.

"It was decades worth of work and protest from the veterans, and the legal issues that came with it," U.S. Embassy Spokesperson Molly Koscina said Monday. "It was not due to any particular event or statement."

President Duterte did not attend the handover, but he is expected to be at the turnover of the bells to Balangiga officials in Samar on December 15.