By Roy Mabasa
The United States government vowed to work with its Filipino partners to find a resolution to the attempts made by the Philippine government to recover the famous Bells of Balangiga that the US Army took from the town church of Balangiga in Eastern Samar as war booty after reprisals following the Balangiga incident in 1901 during the Philippine-American War.
“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,” the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
The US embassy made this declaration after President Duterte said in his second State of the Nation Address that the bells belong to the Philippines and are part of the Filipinos’ national heritage.
“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours… Isauli naman ninyo. Masakit yun sa amin,” said the President.
On Sept. 28, 1901, Filipino freedom fighters from the village of Balangiga ambushed Company C of the 9th US Infantry Regiment who were having breakfast, killing an estimated 48 and wounding 22 of the 78 men of the unit, with only four escaping unhurt.
In reprisal, General Jacob H. Smith ordered an indiscriminate retaliatory attack — to “kill everyone over the age of ten” and make Samar island “a howling wilderness.”
From the burned-out Catholic town church, the Americans looted three bells which they took back to the US as war trophy.
Two of the three bells, which have been on display at F.E. Warren Air Force Base — formerly an Army post — in Wyoming for more than a century, were taken supposedly because one or both had been used by the Filipino insurgents to signal for the massacre of a whole company.
The third, which the 9th US Infantry Regiment claimed was presented to them by villagers when their unit left Balingaga in April 1902, is currently being kept at the 2nd Infantry Division Museum in Camp Red Cloud, Uijeongbu in South Korea.
There were numerous recorded attempts that were initiated by the Philippine government to recover all or a portion of the bells.
Related story: Local historian ambivalent on return of Balangiga bells