2 bells taken from Bulacan chapel during Philippine-American war returned—DFA
MANILA, Philippines—Two Filipino church bells, said to be taken by American soldiers from a church in Meycauayan, Bulacan, more than 110 years ago at the height of the war between Filipino independence guerillas and the occupying American forces, will be home soon.
The good news was relayed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer over the weekend by Department of Foreign Affairs insiders, who made the assurance that the small artifacts would soon be “back in the hands of Filipinos.”
Last October 8, the Omaha, Nebraska-based Sisters of Mercy (SOM) formally turned over the bells to Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim, head of the Philippine Consulate in Chicago,
The consulate plans to send the bells to the National Museum in Manila.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Sunday expressed the government’s “sincerest appreciation for the return of the bells by the SOM in Omaha.”
Del Rosario, a former Philippine envoy to Washington, called the bells “priceless pieces of our heritage.”
“Their return at this point of our history is a demonstration of the commitment of both the US and the Philippines to further solidify our close relations for the mutual benefit of our people,” Del Rosario told the Inquirer.
Consul General Lim and his wife, Fidelis, received the bells from Sister Judith Frikker, president of the SOM’s West-Midwest Community.
Frikker reportedly told the Lims that the SOM was “very pleased to return (the box containing the bells) to its people.”
The Filipino diplomat was quoted by the newspaper Omaha World-Herald as having said, “The bells have taken an extraordinary journey.”
But “only the bells and God know the journey the artifacts have taken,” he also said.
Lim is considering having replicas of the bells made for the consulate and the SOM. He also expressed hope National Museum researchers would be able to get more information about the bells and where they came from.
The two bells are “connected by a hard block of black wood with a handle on top,” said the Omaha daily.
A placard on the block of wood says the bells were taken from a church in Meycauayan, Philippines “after bombardment by the Utah Battery (on) March 29, 1899 by P.O. Thomas Co., a battalion of engineers,” the publication noted
For the SOM, how it acquired the bells remains a mystery.
SOM archivist Monte Kniffen came across the artifacts sometime in July while exploring the contents of a box in their Omaha archives.
The box contained items from former SOM convents in Red Bluff and Grass Valley, located in Tehama and Nevada counties, both in California.
Kniffen had said perhaps a small museum or a family had turned the bells over to one of the convents. He later e-mailed the consulate, which promptly thanked the SOM for its generosity.
The Omaha World-Herald called the bells “reminders of the war between the United States and (the) Philippines, which took place from 1899 to 1902.”
“The Philippines, a Spanish colony for centuries, anticipated independence after the US won the Spanish-American War. But the US took over the Philippines, prompting a war between Filipinos and American soldiers…The Americans burned and bombed villages and about 200,000 Philippine civilians died of disease and brutality in the war,” it noted.
The paper pointed out “an American soldier evidently took the small bells after a bombing at a church in Meycauayan…The US also took huge Philippine bells during the war and now keeps them at military bases in Wyoming and South Korea. The Philippine government has asked that those bells be returned.”
It was apparently referring to the three Catholic church bells stolen by US forces from Balangiga, Samar, during the Philippine-American War.
Conflicting reports said the bells were taken by American soldiers during the Balangiga Massacre on Sept. 28, 1901, where more than 40 US troops were killed in a surprise guerrilla attack in that Eastern Visayas town.
The subsequent retaliation by the Americans resulted in the killing of thousands of Samar residents, mostly civilians.
Two Balangiga bells are being kept at the 11th US Infantry Regiment at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, while the third is stored at the headquarters of the 9th US Infantry Regiment in Camp Red Cloud, South Korea.
The Philippine government has repeatedly asked Washington to return the bells.
Sometime in late June, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on the US to return the Balangiga bells.
Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño, who introduced the measure, said, “The Filipino people regard the bells not as tools or spoils of war, but as historic and religious treasures made for the people of Samar that have become a significant part of Philippine heritage.”