If there is any prominent tangible reminder of the time when the Philippines and the United States, longtime allies for most of the 20th Century and beyond, had once been deadly hostile to one another, it would be the church bells of Balangiga, Samar. In 1901 they were rung in their parish church to signal a devastating guerilla ambush on American forces in the town, an attack they retaliated with by massacring the resistance and the townspeople, then seizing the bells as trophies. Kept in US military bases for over a century, new hope was ignited this year that they might be returned. Now, there is an actual handover timetable.
CNN Philippines reports that a date has finally been put in the planned return by the US of the seized Balangiga bells to the Catholic Church in the Philippines. This Tuesday, November 13, Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez remarked that he is scheduled to be present as witness for the formal turnover of the bells on Thursday, November 15 Philippine time (Wednesday, November 14 local time) at Warren Air Base in Wyoming. The base has long been home for two of the three bells taken from Balangiga.
According to Ambassador Romualdez, these two bells accompanied by the third, to be brought from its own display at a US Army museum in South Korea, will then be flown to the Philippines by US military aircraft which will arrive at Villamor Air Base, Pasay City. While the handover ceremony is set for this week, the date when the actual flight home for the bells has not yet been finalized. Still, Molly Koscina, speaking for the US Embassy in the Philippines, says that their Department of Defense “is committed to a timely resolution in accordance with U.S. laws and policy.”
Past presidential administrations in the country have attempted several times to talk the US government into repatriating the Balangiga bells. Overtures between President Fidel V. Ramos and the Bill Clinton Administration in the mid-1990s were stymied by the prevailing US opinion that the bells were militarily captured and are therefore their property henceforth, a position opposed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines who maintain that church bells, being religious items, were not proper war trophies. The latest repatriation effort sprang for the fiery second State of the Nation Address by current President Rodrigo Duterte, with a notice for handover given back in August.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia