“To honor the people of Samar who fought valiantly for freedom” during the Philippine-American War, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it would aggressively pursue diplomatic efforts for the return of the Balangiga bells that were carted away by American troops during their occupation of the Eastern Visayas province more than 110 years ago.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told the Inquirer over the weekend that the department “feels strongly about the return of the bells to their rightful place in Samar and to the Filipino people.”
“As religious artifacts, they should not have been taken from the Balangiga church in the first place,” Del Rosario said.
Since the late 1980s, the Philippines has been lobbying the United States through “political, diplomatic and religious channels” to get the bells back.
Meanwhile, Renato Reyes, secretary general of the militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), accused the US government of “hiding behind all sorts of excuses, such as the need for legislation, to stall the return of the historic bells.
“What’s untenable in their position is that they know that the capture of those bells were at the cost of thousands of Filipino lives in Samar,” Reyes pointed out.
He said, “their continued possession of those bells is a continuing reminder of the kind of relationship we have with the US: one-sided and not based on mutual respect…You don’t need WikiLeaks to tell you how bad the US treats us.”
For Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino, “stealing the bells was an act of brute colonial power.”
Added ACT party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio: “The US has never apologized for the atrocities committed by its troops. The return of the bells would be an important gesture toward acknowledging and coming to terms with the past for both sides.
Last week, Vice President Jejomar Binay urged the United States to “heed the voice of the Filipino people.” In a statement, Binay expressed optimism the US Congress would pass a pending resolution calling for the return of the Balangiga church bells.
When contacted, Tina Malone, the new spokesperson of the US Embassy in Manila, said “Washington was still gathering information” on the status of US congressional action on the Balangiga bells.
Two of the bells are on display at the Warren Air Force base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The third bell, which is much smaller than the first two, is on display at the headquarters of the 9th Infantry Regiment of the US Army in Camp Red Cloud, South Korea.
The bells were taken by American occupation soldiers to cap a battle victory against Filipino insurrection troops in Balangiga. They all bear the emblem of the Franciscan order: bell one has an 1853 marking while bell two 1889 and bell three 1896.
The issue of the bells gained new relevance after the Sisters of Mercy, an order of nuns in Nebraska, recently handed over to Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim, head of the Philippine consulate in Chicago, two small bells that had been taken by US troops from a church in Meycauayan, Bulacan, on March 29, 1899.