President Duterte witnesses return of historic bells in Balangiga; credits collective efforts of Filipinos, Americans for bells’ return

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) watches as Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (2nd R) receives a certificate of transfer for three Balangiga church bells from the US embassy in Manila’s deputy chief of mission, John Law (2nd L), during a ceremony in Balangiga in Eastern Samar province on December 15, 2018, as US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Joseph Felter (L) and Philippine Foreign Affairs Spokesman Ernesto Abella (R) look on. – The sleepy central Philippine town of Balangiga erupted in joy on December 15 as bells looted from its church more than a century ago by vengeful US troops were turned over to the community, and rang once again on their home soil. (Photo by TED ALJIBE / AFP)

(Eagle News) – President Rodrigo Duterte said both the Filipino people and the American people should be credited for the return of the historic Balangiga Bells, as he acknowledged the “long and tedious process” as well as “several efforts” made by his predecessors for the return of the bells 117 years since they were taken as war trophies by American soldiers.

During the turn-over ceremony of the bells on Saturday, December 15, at the Balangiga Auditorium in Eastern Samar, President Duterte said the return of the historic bells was a sentimental event.

“Today’s gathering is indeed a time to be truly sentimental as we welcome back our Balangiga Bells. It has been 117 years since these bells were taken away from us. Yet, we never lost hope that someday, these treasures will be returned to where they belong,” he said.

“We know fully well that several efforts to return the bells have been made by both America and the Philippines. It has been indeed a long and tedious process, to the point that the outcome was disappointing sometimes. But the long wait is over,” the President stressed.

Duterte, who in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year emphatically demanded that the US government return the Balangiga bells, said not one group or individual can claim credit for the bells’ return.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte raises a clenched fist as he rings one of the three Balangiga church bells during a ceremony in Balangiga in Eastern Samar province on December 15, 2018. – The sleepy central Philippine town of Balangiga erupted in joy on December 15 as bells looted from its church more than a century ago by vengeful US troops were turned over to the community, and rang once again on their home soil. (Photo by TED ALJIBE / AFP)

“You know, the bells are returned and it was really because of the fervent prayers of the entire Filipino nation. Nobody but nobody can claim a singular credit for the generous act of the Americans. The bells are returned. The credit goes to the American people and to the Filipino people, period,” he said during his speech at the turn-over ceremony on Saturday, December 15.

He said the whole Filipino nation celebrated the historic return of the bells which can be considered as a victory for the whole nation, and even for the country’s forefathers who had fought against foreign invaders.

“Indeed, this victory is the result of the optimism and solidarity and patriotism of those behind the bells’ return, just [like] when our forefathers fought for freedom against foreign domination more than a century ago,” the President said.

-Previous efforts to return Balangiga bells-

The Philippine government had previously sought the return of the Balangiga bells to no avail.

It was in the mid-1990s during the term of former President Fidel Ramos who first attempted to initiate recovery of the bells during the administration of former US President Bill Clinton.

But the US government then insisted the bells were US government property, saying it would take an act of Congress to return them.

In 2002, the Philippine Senate approved Senate Resolution no. 393 authored by Aquilino Pimentel Jr., urging the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to undertake formal negotiations with the US for the bells’ return.

On January 13, 2005, United States Congressman Bob Filner had introduced H.Res.313, urging the President to authorize the transfer of ownership of one of the bells to the Philippines. But the resolution died on January 3, 2007, with the sine die adjournment of the 109th US Congress

In September 2006, US Rep. Filner along with other US congressmen Dana Rohrabacher and Ed Case co-sponsored House Concurrent Resolution No. 481 urging the president of the United States to authorize the return of the church bells. But again the resolution was not acted upon with the adjournment of the 110th US Congress on January 3, 2009.

In October 2007, Senator Manny Villar, during the 14th Philippine Congress, filed Senate Resolution No. 177 which expresses “the sense of the Senate for the return to the Philippines of the Balangiga Bells which were taken by the US troops from the town of Balangiga, Province of Samar in 1901.”

On July 24, 2017, President Duterte in his two-hour long SONA, demanded for the bells’ return, citing the historical pain inflicted on the Filipino people, when the bells were taken by the US forces after killing what historians estimated as around 50,000 Filipinos aged 10 and above in Samar in 1901.

“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage,” he said.

“Isauli naman ninyo. Masakit yun sa amin,” he stressed in his SONA which was also attended by US Ambassador Sung Kim.

U.S. soldiers who survived a Filipino ambush in 1901 pose with a church bell used to signal the attack. (Photo courtesy History of the Ninth U.S. Infantry, 1799–1909 authored by Fred Brown, wikimedia commons)

After that, the US government again worked swiftly to have the bells returned.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said that the “turning point in this century-long saga” happened in October 2017 during the 2017 ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting in Clark.

There, US Defense Secretary Mattis met with his counterpart, Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana who raised the issue of the “Balangiga Bells.”

“Later that day, in a meeting with President Duterte, Secretary Mattis stated definitively that it would be his personal initiative to find a way to return these religious artifacts,” Ambassador Kim said.

“In the Secretary’s words, ‘all wars end,’ and it was time to heal a wound that had strained the US-Philippines relationship for too long,” Kim said.

On Aug. 9, Secretary Mattis announced his intent to return the bells, he said.

Finally, on Nov. 14, Mattis traveled to F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, and, in a solemn ceremony, officially informed Philippine Ambassador to the United States Babe Romualdez that the bells would at last be returned to the Philippines.

“In returning the Bells of Balangiga to our ally and our friend – the Philippines – we pick up our generation’s responsibility to deepen the respect between our peoples,” said Mattis.