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Binay, Bayan beat drum for bells of Balangiga

Vice President Jejomar Binay. INQUIRER file photo

Vice President Jejomar Binay and the militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) want to hear the peal of the bells of Balangiga soon, as they urged the United States government 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 three church bells that were taken as war trophies by American troops from the town of Balangiga, Samar, during the US-Philippine War at the turn of the 20th century.

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Earlier, in an October 5 letter to US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr., Binay said that “through the years, there have been dialogues between independent bodies and the governments of the two nations in hopes of arriving at an equitable solution to the issue.”

“Since both parties, it would seem, have reached a consensus to return the bells to our country but for the opposition of former Wyoming Governor David Freudenthal, I am optimistic the US Congress shall soon decide the matter in our favor,” Binay said.

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The issue of the bells has gained new relevance after an order of nuns in Nebraska on October 8 handed over to Filipino consular official Leo Herrera-Lim two small bells that had been taken by American troops from a church in Meycauayan, Bulacan, on March 29, 1899.

Sr. Judith Frikker of the Sisters of Mercy told Lim her order was “very pleased to return the bells to its people.”

How the bells came into the nuns’ possession was not explained but their return served to recall the much bigger Balangiga bells that are still in US hands.

Binay noted that “aside from Governor Freudenthal’s opposition, the return of the bells was also hindered by an amendment to the US National Defense Authorization Act that bars the return of veterans’ memorial objects to foreign nations without specific authorization in law.”

But, “since the Filipino populace, the Wyoming Veterans Council and the Catholic Church are considered the major stakeholders in this issue, it would be safe to assume that the people’s voice calls for the return of the bells to the Philippines,” Binay said.

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said the United States “should not only return the stolen bells but also apologize for the atrocities committed by (the late) General Jacob Smith who (on Sept. 28, 1901) ordered the killing of everyone over the age of 10” in Balangiga.

In an e-mail to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Reyes said Washington “treats the bells as war trophies despite the fact that American soldiers massacred civilians in Samar in the course of its occupation.”

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The church bells were taken by US forces after the massacre which was in retaliation for an earlier ambush they suffered at the hands of Filipino soldiers.

Efforts to get the bells back were started in the late 1950s when Jesuit historian Fr. Horacio de la Costa asked the 13th US Air Force based in San Francisco, California, to hand them over.

In 1989, the Balangiga Historical Society joined the National Historical Institute and the Department of Foreign Affairs in attempts to retrieve the bells, to no avail.

During the Arroyo administration, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts also tried but failed to get the bells back.

Two of the bells are at a US Army base in Wyoming while a third is on display at an American military camp in South Korea.

Originally posted: 4:07 pm | Monday, October 17th, 2011

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TAGS: Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, bells, Bells of Balangiga, Features, Foreign affairs, history, Jejomar Binay, US, war trophy
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