Balangiga Bells: What are these and why is its return important for the Filipinos? - The Daily Sentry

Monday, August 13, 2018

Balangiga Bells: What are these and why is its return important for the Filipinos?

Pres. Duterte and a bell, photo from Veritas 846
The thought of having the century-old Balangiga bells back to us (its righteous owners) is both heartwarming and thrilling. But why do these bells seem to be a big deal for many Filipinos?

These 3 bells were coined as Balangiga bells as they were seized from a church located in Balangiga, a town residing in Eastern Samar.

How did the Balangiga town acquire these bells?

It was on September 27, 1859 when the Balangiga became a separate parish. According to the history, the town likely took four years to secure funding for the church's first ever bell.

Obtained around year 1863, the largest bell among the three is believed to be the first one. Bearing what is probably an Augustinian emblem, it's mouth has a diameter size of of ​31 1⁄4 inches and height of 30 inches.

The words R. San Francisco can be seen etched on the bell. Such was believed to be the name of the parish priest during that time.

Year 1889, through the initiative of Fr. Agustin Delgado, the second bell was probably acquired by the town. 

With his name is engraved on the bell, Fr. Delgado was the assistant parish priest of Basey town from 1882 to 1885, and of Guiuan town from 1885 to 1888. Fr. Delgado later became parish priest of Guiuan from 1898 to 1903.

Considered the medium-sized bell, it has a mouth diameter of ​27 3⁄4 inches and height of ​27 1⁄2 inches. 

The third  and the smallest  bell was probably acquired by the Balangiga church circa 1895 through the initiative of Fr. Bernardo Aparecio. Before Fr. Aparecio had been assigned at Balangiga, he was a parish priest of nearby Quinapundan town from 1888 to 1895.

Bearing the Franciscan emblem, accounts say its size is 23-24 inch height with a mouth diameter of about 20 inches.

The 1895 bell is considered to be the most historic among the three. Read on to find out why.

Role in history

Behind these bells is a chilling story that would make every Filipino cry for justice.

Way back 1901, the Balangiga bells played a very important role in our history as it defined our nation's spirit through our countrymen from the town of Balangiga.

During the Philippine-American war, these bells had been the witnesses of how our ancestors dedicated their lives to fight for our independence and take our country back from the hands of the cruel Americans.

Soon after their defeat, Spaniards signed a treaty ceding the Philippine archipelago to the United States.

Our freedom fighters called 'guerilla' considered the Americans as their allies, hoping they would help them fasten their fight for sovereignty from Spain. 

Having suffered unspeakable hardships from the Spanish colonization for more than 300 years, the Filipino revolutionaries had seen the victory of the American soldiers over the Spanish forces as a light at the end of the tunnel.

However, the turn of events did not favor our hopeful revolutionaries as the United States of America later revealed its true colors. 

The next thing they know, Washington, DC, already sent army troops in the country. Said troops proceeded to mount a campaign of “pacification” or attempt to maintain peace against the Filipinos whom they labelled as “insurrectionists” or the our armed freedom fighters.

In this light, the American forces belonging to Company C of the Ninth US Infantry was sent to Samar. Little did they know, the angered Filipino guerrillas were already gathered outside of town, all set for their surprise attack.

There came the dawn of September 28, and the bells of the church had been rung out as loud as it could to signal the beginning of what they thought would end the colonization.

Rumor has it that only the smallest bell was the lone bell that was rung to signal the attack on the Company C, 9th US Infantry Regiment, in Balangiga on Sept. 28, 1901.

Dressed as women, the lionhearted revolutionaries came out in the open from their hideouts and rushed to the soldiers’ camp. Armed with bolos or long knives, the guerrillas finished 48 soldiers and wounded more.

History says that as a result of the bloody warfare, Brig. Gen. Jacob Smith commanded his soldiers to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness”, ordering his troops to burn down the town and take the lives of everybody over the age of 10 (approximately 200,000 Filipinos have died from this encounter).
Balangiga Bells, photo from Inquirer
The Balangiga carnage concluded with the American forces taking the bells from the Balangiga church as their war trophy.

According to a report, the Diocese of Borongan which has the jurisdiction over the said church bells, stated that the bells are “inappropriate trophies of war.”

Meanwhile, in his appeal, the Samar Bishop Leonardo Medroso wrote that “the bells of Balangiga, if they remain there, will always be a reminder of that fateful encounter and therefore fuel grudges and hatred. Let us do away with grudges and hatred. Return the bells to Balangiga. We will use them to call people to prayer.”

Where are they now?

To date, all three remain under the custody of the US military. This, after one hundred seventeen years from the time they were seized from the parish church of Balangiga, Samar,

The two of the Balangiga bells are still together while the other one has been placed in one of their military camps in Asia. Two of them are currently displayed in Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, USA. The third, on the other hand, is  in a their military  facility in South Korea.

Government's attempts to seize

In mid 90's, the Philippine government attempted to recover or more bells from Bill Clinton's administration. It was during Fidel Ramos stint as the president of the country.

Unfortunately, the government of the United States stood firm that the bells are their government's property and that an Act of Congress would be necessary for them to return the bells. In addition, they noted that the Catholic Church has no say in the matter even if the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines maintains their position: the bells are inappropriate as trophies of war.

In 2002, a Senate Resolution No. 393 authored by Aquilino Pimentel Jr. had been approved by the Senate of the Philippines. In the resolution, the Senate urges the Arroyo administration to conduct formal negotiations with the US for the bells' return.

In 2005, Leonardo Medroso, Borongan, Samar's own bishop, and Saturnino Obzunar, Balangiga parish priest, sent an open letter to President George W. Bush, the United States Congress and the Helsinki Commission.

In the letter, the two were requesting them to facilitate the return of the bells. On rhe same year, the Wyoming Veterans’ Commission decided in favor of returning the Filipino-American War relics. The Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal, however, disagreed with the Commission and opposed the decision to return them.

Dated January 13, 2005, US Congressman Bob Filner introduced House Resolution No.313. Said  resolution urges the President to authorize the transfer of ownership of one of the bells to the Filipino people.

The resolution was not able to fulfill what it was meant to due to the sine die adjournment of the 109th United States Congress on January 3, 2007.

Come September 26, 2006, the same Congressman of the United States, Bob Filner, together with two other Congressmen, Dana Rohrabacher and Ed Case, co-sponsored the House Concurrent Resolution No. 481. The resolution urges the US president to authorize the return of the church bells.

Just like their first attempt, it failed due to  the sine die adjournment of the 110th United States Congress on January 3, 2009.

Year 2007, the Philippines' National Artist for sculpture NapoleĆ³n Abueva wrote to the American Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney. In the letter, he was asking for her help to recover the bells.

October 25 of 2007, during the 14th Congress of the Philippines, Senator Manny Villar filed Senate Resolution No. 177.

The resolution was "expressing the sense of the Senate for the return to the Philippines of the Balangiga Bells which were taken by the US troops from the town of Balangiga, Province of Samar in 1901".

The people of Balangiga asked the government of the United States to return their church bells after receiving relief from the U.S. military after Typhoon Haiyan hit the town back in 2013.

The latest effort of the Philippine government was through the incumbent president, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte.

In his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) back in July 24, 2017, President Duterte demanded the US to return the bells, stating the we own them.

The United States's ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim attended the SONA and heard the plea from Duterte firsthand.

Just this February, Randy Hultgren and Jim McGovern, US lawmakers, expressed their objection in returning the Philippines church bells due to the present human rights condition that reflected from the Philippine war on illegal drugs.

As of writing, or six months later after the lawmakers objected, the return of the Balangiga's church bells looms.

Today, after more than a century, will the townspeople of Samar's Balangiga finally be given justice as they put to rest this darkest part of their haunted town? The answer lies on Pres. Rodrigo Duterte's hands.
United States's Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim during Pres. Duterte's SONA, photo screenshot from ANC report
Sources: Inquirer  Wikipedia

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