Heritage Bells to Be Back in the Philippines

Philippines, Samar Island, USA, culture

By Rabosajr - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21711405

Bells confiscated as war trophies  by the United States in 1901 will now be turned back to the Philippines and become a new attraction for tourists in Eastern Samar Island.

The United States is committed to returning three church bells seized by American forces as war spoils from the Philippines more than a century ago, indicated the U.S. ambassador two weeks ago. The return will mark the end of a dispute between the USA and the Philippines.

In his speech to the Nation last July, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte evoked once again the fate of the Balangiga bells, considered as a symbol of Philippines struggling for its independence. Duterte indicated that “[the bells] are part of our national heritage… return it to us, this is painful for us.”

US Ambassador Sung Kim explained recently to reporters that the two governments have discussed the return of the Balangiga bells, named for the Philippine village in Eastern Samar Island from which they were taken in the early 1900s.

General Jacob H. Smith order “Kill Everyone Over Ten” was the caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902

Filipinos revere the Balangiga bells as symbols of their long struggle for independence. The bells gave the signal for insurgents to attack American soldiers who were occupying Balangiga after the U.S. took possession of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. Retaliation followed with US soldiers under General Jacob H. Smith ordered to kill all persons above 10 who were capable of bearing arms. The city was also set in fire. The USA established in the Philippines a ‘Commonwealth’, de facto ruling the archipelago between 1898 and 1946.

With Rodrigo Duterte coming into power, the bells became again a subject of friction between both governments, Duterte using US massacres on Samar Island in 1901 as an example of US twisted vision when talking about human rights. Duterte mulled out the idea of redefining relations between the USA and his country to assert Philippines independence versus a US power, still perceived as to involved into the internal affairs of the Southeast Asian nation.

The ambassador added that the U.S. is “deeply committed that the bells are returned to the Filipino people,” but that he could not specify when that would happen. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis is expected to sign an order authorizing the bells’ return, according to the United States embassy. It is likely that the Bells will be returned before year-end and directly hand-over to the Catholic Church.

Two of the three bells are displayed at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. They are part of a memorial to 46 U.S. troops killed by Filipino insurgents in 1901. A third bell is with a U.S. Army regiment in South Korea.

The Balangiga Bells will however be all good for the small city of 15,000 inhabitants located near to Tacloban. It will likely draw a large number of domestic tourists to the area, opening a new attraction for East Samar Island.