How Balangiga bells were given back to PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 6) — The Balangiga bells, taken by U.S. troops in 1901 from a church in Eastern Samar, are returning to the Philippines next week, but it took a lot of effort from top-level officials and the lobbying of American veterans to get it back.

Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Babe Romualdez told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday that President Rodrigo Duterte personally told U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis to return the bells to the country during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Plus meeting in Clark, Pampanga in October 2017.

"That was one of the first points that he told Secretary Mattis, at that time, that we would want to see those bells back in the Philippines. And Secretary Mattis very clearly said that we would do everything we can to return those bells," Romualdez said.

Romualdez said Mattis was at the forefront of the process of returning the bells to the Philippines, which became possible after a 1998 U.S. law barring the return of war articles expired in September 2017.

The Filipino diplomat said they had to wait for 90 days after the law expired to allow any appeal to be made against the return of the bells. "In November 9, which was the expiration of the 90-day period, we knew then. We started the ball rolling," he said.

Henry Howard, Dennis Wright and Brian Buzzell of the U.S.-Philippines Society were also instrumental in the return of the Balangiga bells as they lobbied U.S. lawmakers to remove the legal barriers against it, Romualdez said.

Respect for PH

He said the return of the bells by the U.S. is the "right thing to do."

The three Balangiga bells would return to the country on December 11 at the Villamor Airbase at around 10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. from Okinawa, Japan. Romualdez said a solemn ceremony would be held, where Duterte and U.S. Defense Assistant Secretary Joseph Felter are expected to attend.

He added that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana plans to put the bells on display for public viewing before these are returned to the Balangiga Church.

"I think this is very historical and very important for both countries to put closure to it. But more importantly, I think, this is a symbol of the kind of respect, the mutual respect, for our sovereignty as a nation that is being given to us by the United States," Romualdez said.

Historians say that one of the bells was used to signal an attack of Filipinos against American troops which killed 48 American soldiers. In retaliation, Americans destroyed the Eastern Samar town and killed thousands of Filipino soldiers and civilians in one of the bloodiest chapters of the Filipino-American War.

The bells were then seized by the Americans as war booty.

Romualdez said the bells were not even given attention-at one point they were stored in the basement of a building set for demolition in a U.S. air base-until historian Fr. Horacio dela Costa pointed out in 1957 its historical significance.

The Philippines has tried several times to get the U.S. to return the bells, but to no avail.

Duterte first brought up the seized bells in a 2016 speech, and later called for its return in his 2017 State of the Nation Address.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin said in a tweet that Duterte did not want to visit the U.S. until the bells are returned. With the bells' impending journey back to the Philippines, Romualdez said the President could very well pay a visit to the U.S.