MANILA – The US’s return of the Balangiga bells to the Philippines on Tuesday, Dec. 11, closes one of the worst chapters in the Philippine-American War of the last century.
A US Air Force C-130 plane delivered the bells to the country from a military base in Okinawa, Japan.
Although President Rodrigo Duterte snubbed the ceremony marking the return of the historic bells, historians recognized the significance of the US action. After all, the Philippine government as well as the Catholic Church had been asking for the return of the three bells ever since the post-World War II years. It took all of 117 years before the bells found their way back home.
Mr. Duterte had said in several occasions that he would never visit the US unless and untll the Balangiga bells were returned to the country.
The bells were placed on display at the Philippine Air Force museum at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City this week, but will be returned to their original homes in Balangiga town in Eastern Samar this weekend.
The bells has been taken by the US Army as war booty of the conflict that erupted after Spain ceded the Philippines to the US in 1898 by virtue of the Treaty of Paris, shortly after then President Emilio Aguinaldo had declared the first Philippine Republic. The Philippine-American War raged from 1899 to 1902, officially ending when Aguinaldo was captured.
Anywhere from 200,000 up to one million Filipino fighters and civilians were killed by the American forces during the war, and Samar bore the brunt of the US Army’s atrocities.
American General Jacob Smith famously gave the order to turn the province into “a howling wilderness” and to “kill everyone over ten.” This, after Filipino guerillas had massacred 48 men of the US 9th Infantry stationed in the province.
As a result, the biggest towns of the province were torched to the ground and Samar never fully recovered. To this day, Samar remains one of the poorest and most underdeveloped provinces in the Philippines.
Smith was eventually court martialed and found guilty, but his only punishment was forced retirement.
The return of the bells opens the door for Mr. Duterte’s possible visit to the US. He is perceived to be on better terms with incumbent US President Donald Trump, unlike previous President Barack Obama with whom Mr. Duterte had a frosty relationship.