During his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Rodrigo Duterte particularly asked the United States government to return the Balangiga bells to the Philippines.
“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. Isauli naman n’yo. Masakit ‘yon sa amin [Return them to us. This is painful for us],” Duterte said.
A day later and as a response to President Duterte’s statement, the U.S. Embassy in Manila said in a statement that they would take action.
“We will continue to work with our Filipino partners to find a resolution,” the statement said.
With the revived public interest, here are some good-to-know facts about these three Spanish colonial church bells.
1. Balangiga bells are church bells originally from the Parish of Balangiga in Borongan, Samar.
Although originally from Balangiga, two of the bells are presently located at the Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the third is at a U.S. military facility in South Korea.
2. The bells were taken as war booty.
The bells were taken by American soldiers back in 1901 as war booty after American soldiers killed the town’s people, an event historically known as the Balangiga Massacre.
Prior to the bloody massacre, Filipino insurgents were said to have used the church bells to signal an attack against American soldiers at the dawn of September 28, 1901. Forty eight American soldiers who were part of Company C of the ninth U.S. Infantry were killed by the insurgents armed with bolo.
In retaliation, Brig. Gen. Jacob Smith ordered for Samar to be turned into a “howling wilderness,” in which American soldiers burned the town, and to kill everyone over the age of 10. The bloody incident is now known as the Balangiga Massacre.
3. This isn’t the first time that Philippine government demanded for the return of Balangiga bells.
Former President Fidel V. Ramos also asked the U.S. government under Bill Clinton’s administration to return the artifacts. However, it was reported that “the U.S. at that time insisted that the bells were part of American government property and that the Philippines’ request needs an act of Congress.”
4. Resolutions were filed in the Senate to initiate the return of the bells.
In 2002, the Senate approved then Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr.’s Resolution No. 393, which urges the Arroyo administration to undertake formal negotiations with the U.S. for the return of the bells.
In 2007, Senator Manny Villar also filed a resolution for the return of the bells. It indicated that Filipinos, specifically the Diocese of Borongan has the “rightful claim” of the bells.
5. The Diocese of Borongan also appealed for the return of Balangiga bells.
In his appeal, Borongan, Samar Bishop Leonardo Medroso wrote, “They are religious artifacts with considerable significance in the Catholic tradition. Among many other uses, they call people to prayer and worship. As such they are inappropriate trophies of war. Hence, they should be returned to the place where they belong and to the purpose for which they were cast and blessed. And since these bells belong to the Roman Catholic Church of the Parish of Balangiga, they should be returned to the Catholic community of Balangiga.”
“The bells of Balangiga, if they remain there, will always be a reminder of that fateful encounter and therefore fuels grudges and hatred. Let us do away with grudges and hatred. Return the bells to Balangiga. We will use them to call people to prayer,” he added.
6. In 1998, Balangiga built a belfry with the hope that the bells will be returned.
According to reports, the town built a belfry with the hope to house the return of the bells. It was also one of the surviving structures after typhoon Haiyan devastated Samar.
7. A monument of the Balangiga encounter was enshrined at the town’s plaza.
The monument was made by National Artist Napoleon Abueva, and serves as a reminder of how Filipinos stood up for independence. It was built in 2003.
8. September 28 is Balangiga Encounter Day.
In accordance with Republic Act No. 6692, the 28th of September was declared as a special non-working holiday in the Province of Eastern Samar to commemorate the Balangiga encounter. It was enacted on February 10, 1989.
On this day, the town’s people also re-enact the encounter between the American soldiers and Filipinos so as not to forget history.