By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte said he will not talk to the top United States officials, who had earlier expressed the desire to meet him, unless the Balangiga bells that were seized by American soldiers over a century ago are returned to the Philippines.
Duterte made the statement after he revealed that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis expressed wanting to meet him for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
In a speech in Panacan, Davao Thursday night, Duterte said that before anything else, the United States should first return the Balangiga bells its soldiers took more than a century ago. “Kung hindi nila isauli ‘yang Balangiga bells, wala tayong pag-usapan (If they won’t return the Balangiga bells, then there’s nothing to talk about). I will not [talk to them],” Duterte said.
“Kapatid natin ‘yan eh (They were our brothers and sisters). By a long stretch, they were our brothers and sisters,” he added, referring to the Filipino freedom fighters who fought on September 28, 1901.
Duterte said he understands why American soldiers would take the relics as war booty but said he cannot just let the injustice pass. “And they say that itong bells, iyong Balangiga (these Balangiga bells) was a trophy, I can understand it. Ganun talaga ‘yung sundalo (soldiers are like that),” he said.
“Pero kung ‘yan kinuha mo (But it’s another story if you get them) and you killed everybody in the town in Samar, nine years [old] and above, you massacred them, [and] said, ‘Give it to the howling winds and hang the dogs,'” he added.
Duterte said the passage of time cannot just erase the fact that a lot people were killed more than 100 years ago. “Can passage of time cure an injustice? Just because it was 100 years so it is erased?” he asked.
“Tapos ‘yung bells doon, nandiyan. Tapos (And the bells are with you, and) the memory still haunts everybody here because it was taken with blood and lives of our brothers and sisters,” he added.
Based on the letter read by Duterte, the US is reaffirming the Trump administration’s strongest support for the government’s efforts to modernize the AFP. The US also said that procuring military hardware from them would be mutually advantageous and strategically important for both countries to deepen the bonds between them.
Duterte said he is open to meeting Pompeo, Ross, and Mattis but said the officials should go to Manila because he will never set foot in the US. “But I do not want to communicate with them by just… Gusto ko mamili sila (I want them to choose). I want to meet three of them. Hindi ako pupunta ng (I will never go to) America, there will never be a time pupunta ako ng (that I will go to) America,” he said.
Last week, Mattis notified the US Congress that the US Department of Defense intends to return the relics to the Philippines. Despite no mention of a specific date, Malacañang welcomes the development that may finally pave the way for the return of the bells.
President Duterte first made an appeal to the US to return the Balangiga Bells during his two-hour State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year. He said the bells are “reminders of the gallantry and heroism of our forebears who resisted the American colonizers and sacrificed their lives in the process.”
“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage. Isauli naman ninyo. Masakit ‘yun sa amin (Please return it. It is painful for us),” Duterte had said.
Almost two months later, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim disclosed that there is an ongoing effort to facilitate the return of the artifacts.
On September 28, 1901, Filipino freedom fighters from Balangiga, Eastern Samar 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.
From the burned-out Catholic town church, the Americans looted three bells which they took back to the US as war trophy. The bells remain at an American Air Force base in Wyoming.