Balangiga bells finally coming home

November 18, 2018

117 years after they were taken as war booty by American troops, the Balangiga bells are finally coming home.

Over the years, the return of  the Balangiga bells  have been the object of an emotional tug-of-war between the Philippines and the US.

To the Filipinos, the bells symbolized a huge victory in the fight to defend independence. The bells, thus, rightfully form part of Filipino cultural heritage.

The pealing of the bells and the blowing of conch shells signaled the surprise attack by Filipinos against the Americans  stationed in the Balangiga, Eastern Samar on the morning of September 28, 1901.

The surprise attack resulted in 48 American dead, and scores wounded. Only 4 managed to escape unscathed. The Filipino attackers also captured 100 rifles and thousands of ammunition.

To the Americans, the bells were trophies obtained after avenging  what contemporary US newspapers described as “Terrible Defeat at Hands of Filipinos”, “the most overwhelming defeat encountered in the Orient”, and “a debacle next only to the annihilation of General George Armstrong Custer at Little Big Horn”.

The war booty consisted of 3 bells  from Balangiga church as well as a 400-year-old British Falcon cannon.

One bell, the smallest, is now kept at the 9th Infantry Regiment headquarters in Camp Red Cloud, South Korea.

The two other bells and the cannon are now at the 11th Infantry Regiment headquarters at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos initiated talks with his counterpart President Bill Clinton.  Other Philippine functionaries and even church officials similarly asked for the return of the bells.

In the US Congress,  Congressman Bob Filner (in 2005), Dana Rohrabacher and Ed Case (in 2006) sponsored separate resolutions  urging the President of the United States to return  the bells of Balangiga. Unfortunately, these initial attempts failed to gain momentum because of the low level of awareness among the American public.

A welcome move was initiated in 2015 by a group of  US-based Fil-Ams to rekindle interest in the recovery of the  bells. The group -- The Committee for the Return of the Bells --  sponsored the production of a very touching video, narrated by Actor Danny Glover -- explaining the significance of the bells to Filipinos.

In his initial  SONA, President Duterte provided the recovery effort an unexpected and welcome boost.

His demand, in no uncertain terms, for the return of the bells definitely caught the attention of the US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim who was in the gallery.

Last week, the U.S. began the  process of returning the  Balangiga bells to the Philippines over the waning objections of some Wyoming war veterans.

The rest, hopefully, will  put a closure to one of the most contentious chapters in Philippine-American relations.  

Bell trivia

Big Ben is the hour bell of the Great Clock in the Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster, the home of the British Houses of Parliament.

A popular tourist attraction  in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is The Liberty Bell.

The  Tsar Bell, inside the Kremlin,  is the largest bell still in existence. It weighs 180 tons, but it was never rung because it broke.

The UP Carillon bells consist of 36 new Holland-made bells housed in the Carillon Tower. The Carillon bells peal the time of day every hour and plays well-known Filipino and UP songs at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily.

The Church of Gesu inside the Ateneo campus in Loyola Heights has its own 18-bell carillon and an Angelus bell.  The bells were a gift of  Ateneo High School Class ‘60 and College Class ‘64 (to which this writer and fellow MB columnist Toto Zaide belonged.) The bells regularly toll the Angelus and favorite Ateneo hymns such as the Song of Mary and Blue Eagle the King.

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