Return of Balangiga bells a 'gesture of goodwill' by U.S. — historian

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 13) — The return of the historic Balangiga bells to the Philippines was done by the United States out of goodwill, a history professor told CNN Philippines.

David Lozada III, a history professor from Ateneo De Manila University, recounted the history of the three bells being "war trophies" during the tailend of the Philippine-American war in 1901.

"Historically, armies would take war trophies to commemorate two things: one, to commemorate a great victory," Lozada said in an interview with CNN Philippines' On The Record Thursday.

"War trophies are also acquired to mask something that might be considered humiliating — which is exactly what happened in Balangiga," he continued.

"In a way, it's telling their people that even though the Filipinos won (the war), at the end of the day, who's carrying the trophies? It's us (Americans). We're the ones who are winning," he added.

That's why residents of the Samar town could only rejoice as the Balangiga bells found their way back to the Philippines on Tuesday after 117 long years.

Lozada affirmed how the bells' return marked a historic moment for Philippine-United States relations.

"When the bells were returned, the context was different. We are now technically allies. The return of the bells was a gesture of goodwill for the part of the United States," the professor said.

Some lawmakers and government officials echoed the sentiment.

Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said the handover of the bells is a sign of "goodwill and solidarity" between the two countries.

"Our collective efforts have finally bore fruit as the bells have arrived in our country and will soon be back in Balangiga where it rightfully belongs. While the church bells were taken in an atmosphere of divisiveness, perhaps hatred and revenge, what is essential is that we, the Filipino people, now strive for peace and reconciliation," Legarda said in a statement.

Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano added that the bells should serve as an inspiration for current Filipinos, noting how our ancestors fought a more superior force in the American troops.

"It must remind the generations of today to stand up against any foreign oppression, especially now in the face of Chinese incursions," he said in a statement.

But Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Carlos Zarate said the bells' return should have come with an "official and public apology."

"The U.S. should also issue an official and public apology for the atrocities they committed in Samar during the Philippine-American War and compensate the descendants of the victims," Zarate said.

Several Filipino authorities, including former President Fidel Ramos, tried to facilitate the return of the bells as early as 1990s.

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.