After more than a century, the US Embassy in Manila has announced that the Balingiga Bells will be returned to the Philippines.
The American military took the bells from the church of Balangiga on Samar Island in 1901 after a surprise attack by insurgents prompted merciless reprisals.
President Duterte and previous administrations have long urged Washington to return the bells. The issue has been been particularly highlighted by the current government, with the president frequently raising the issue in his anti-American tirades.
The US had initially given a non-committal response to the president’s demands but today (Sunday, August 12) confirmed that it would return the bells.
“The Secretary of Defense has notified Congress that the Department of Defense intends to return the Balangiga Bells to the Philippines,” said Molly Koscina, spokeswoman for the US embassy in Manila.
“We’ve received assurances that the Bells will be returned to the Catholic Church and treated with the respect and honour they deserve.” The timetable for the move has not yet been confirmed.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque welcomed the news. He said: “We welcome this development as we look forward to continue working with the United States Government in paving the way for the return of the bells to the Philippines.”
Two of the bells are installed at a memorial for US war dead in the state of Wyoming, while the third is with US forces in South Korea.
Some US politicians have opposed the dismantling of the memorial, and the ideal of returning the Balingiga Bells has angered some descendants of American soldiers who served in the Philippine campaign.
History of the Balingiga Bells
The Philippines, a Spanish colony for hundreds of years, was ceded to the United States in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. The country gained independence from the US in 1946.
The brutal Samar campaign was launched after Filipino rebels killed 34 US troops in Balangiga on September 28, 1901. In reprisal, General Jacob Smith ordered that Samar be turned into a “howling wilderness”. He also ordered that any Filipino aged above ten and capable of bearing arms be shot.
Former president Fidel Ramos first sought but failed to recover the bells during a 1998 Washington trip.
President Duterte publicly demanded the return of the bells during his State of the Nation Address last year. He said: “Give us back those Balangiga Bells. They are not yours. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage.”
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