MANILA — After 117 years, the three Balangiga Bells, taken as war booties by US troops during the Philippine-American War, have returned home Tuesday morning.
Incidentally, the American C-130 “Hercules” cargo aircraft transporting the religious artifact landed at Villamor Air Base, Pasay City around 10:30 a.m. after departing from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.
The bells were formally received by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana from US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Yong Kim.
Among those who witnessed the turnover were US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Southeast Asia Joseph Felter and Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez.
Prior to the turnover, the bells were inspected by the said officials along with Filipino and American military officers.
The Balangiga Bells will begin the journey home to the local parish of Balangiga in Eastern Samar where it is expected to arrive by Dec. 15, Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement.
The return of the items was a result of the successful high-level bilateral talks between US Department of Defense Secretary James Mattis and Lorenzana, following the pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte in his 2017 State of the Nation Address, marking another milestone in the relationship of the two allied countries.
“After 117 years, the bells of Balangiga are coming home and will once again take its place in the Balangiga Church,” Lorenzana said.
“There was once a time when the bells of Balangiga pealed to a different beat, encompassing a dark and painful episode in history which nonetheless teaches a lesson that nobody wins in war,” he added.
Two of the three bells used to be enshrined at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming while the third bell was at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.
The Balangiga bells were at the crux of the struggle of the people of Samar, amid a dark period in the Philippine-American relationship during the war at the turn of the 20th century.
Lorenzana asserted that, after more than a century, the return of the bells to the Philippines from the United States now symbolizes the two countries’ “shared histories and ideals, new beginnings, renewed friendships and a stronger brotherhood.”
“These bells will be of joy, revelry and remembrance of shared history and ideals of the new beginnings, of renewed friendship and stronger bonds of two nations who have surmounted past challenges together and together are ready to face the future. Let the bells toll strong and loud for our countries,” he added.
Over a century ago, American soldiers took the bells from Balangiga town’s church as war trophy. The bells’ ringing signaled the attack by the villagers against the invaders.
The Balangiga Encounter happened on Sept. 28, 1901, when town residents led by Valeriano Abanador initiated an attack against US soldiers.
The villagers killed 54 American soldiers using bolos. It was the biggest defeat of the foreign troop during the Philippine-American war.
Around 2,500 Filipinos were killed by the US retaliatory attack. The Americans took the Balangiga bells after they turned the town into a “howling wilderness”. (PNA)