In 1902, American soldiers reduced the town of Balangiga, Eastern Samar into a “roaring wilderness” by killing every Filipino male old enough to carry a bolo or anyone aged 10 years and above.
The massacre that left 2,500 Filipinos dead was ordered by the Butcher of Samar, Gen. Jacob Smith, in retaliation for the ambush by Filipino guerrillas on Company C of the 9th US Infantry Regiment in September of 1901.
Three bells taken from the bombed out and burnt church of Balangiga were shipped to the US as war trophies, purportedly because at least one was used to signal the attack which left 48 American soldiers dead and 22 wounded.
Smith was court-martialed for exacting vengeance on the civilian population of Samar but he got nothing more from the US military than being forced into retirement. He was later declared a war hero in an ironic twist.
For decades, the Philippines has been badgering the US for the return of the bells as national historical treasures but said pleas had fallen on deaf ears. President Rodrigo Duterte has been vocal too in urging the return of the bells.
Many Americans argued that the bells symbolize the heroism of the 48 fallen servicemen, thus they must remain as US properties. Two of the bells are located at the FE Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in the former base of the 11th Infantry Regiment.
One bell is being kept by the 9th Infantry Regiment at their Camp Red Cloud in South Korea. The regiment said that particular bell was presented to them by the people of Balangiga when they left in April 1902.
At least insofar as that one bell was concerned, there seemed to be an effort to make it appear that it was a gift by the people of Balangiga to their tormentors.
Doesn’t really make sense. An army nearly wiped out the civilian population of an entire town and the people who survived even gave the killers of fathers, uncles, brothers and sons a gift?
Now, the latest news on the bells is that the United States Embassy in Manila reportedly confirmed an intention of the US Department of Defense to finally return the Balangiga bells to the Philippines.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to the embassy’s press attaché Trude Raizen, has notified the US Congress of his intent to return the bells.
“No specific date has been identified for the return of the bells. We’ve received assurances that the bells will be returned to the Catholic Church and treated with the respect and honor they deserve,” Raizen was quoted as saying.
“We are aware that the Bells of Balangiga have deep significance for a number of people, both in the United States and in the Philippines,” she added.
It’s about time too that the bells are returned. In fact, it’s an act that’s already a century too late since the bells – to call a spade a spade – were looted by the Americans.
The bells cannot be a symbol of the “heroism” of the 48 Americans because they came to the Philippines as an invading force after booting out the Spaniards. And what about the 2,500 Filipino civilians killed on Smith’s order?
If only to remind Filipinos that, like President Duterte, our ancestors refused to kowtow to the whims of the Americans, we must get the bells back for the celebratory tolling of our independence from the Yankees.