Reuters is reporting that Marciano Deladia, a chief aide to the mayor of Balangiga, and other residents are thankful for the US packets of rice and other food. “But we want our bells back,” he said. “We don’t have any animosity against the American people,” said Deladia, standing in front of a monument recreating the ambush of US troops. But the bells
, he said, are “part of our historical heritage.”
The bells in question were taken by American soldiers in 1901 as part of a campaign of retribution against Balangiga and the rest of Samar in retaliation for the Balangiga Uprising in which townsfolk in Balangiga rose up agaist occupying American forces during the Philippine-American War. (Yes, there was a Philippine-American War and it was a nasty affair indeed.)
For those unfamiliar, the U.S. State Department’s official historian
characterizes it as follows:
After its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898
, Spain ceded its longstanding colony of the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. On February 4, 1899, just two days before the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, fighting broke out between American forces and Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo who sought independence rather than a change in colonial rulers. The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.
The decision by U.S. policymakers to annex the Philippines was not without domestic controversy. Americans who advocated annexation evinced a variety of motivations: desire for commercial opportunities in Asia, concern that the Filipinos were incapable of self-rule, and fear that if the United States did not take control of the islands, another power (such as Germany or Japan) might do so. Meanwhile, American opposition to U.S. colonial rule of the Philippines came in many forms, ranging from those who thought it morally wrong for the United States to be engaged in colonialism, to those who feared that annexation might eventually permit the non-white Filipinos to have a role in American national government. Others were wholly unconcerned about the moral or racial implications of imperialism and sought only to oppose the policies of President William McKinley’s administration.
According to Reuters, it was here, in Balangiga, “112 years ago that one of the darkest chapters of American colonialism began: the island-wide massacre by US soldiers of thousands of Filipinos, including women and children, in response to the killing of 48 US soldiers by rebels.”
The Americans seized the town’s bells and the US, for complicated reasons, has refused to return them in spite of periodic efforts by groups that include Filipinos, Americans, and international participants all of whom would like to see the war booty returned.
One of the Balangiga bells. The Filipino Reporter
Two of the bells
are at the Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. The third is part of a traveling museum now at a base in South Korea.
Every Sept. 28 the town re-enacts the 1901 Balangiga Uprising.
According to Reuters, Gregoria Pabillo, 76, said replacement bells, which are rung every day at noon and 6 p.m., lack the “rich sound” of the originals, which according to legend could be heard two towns over, some 20 km (12 miles) away.
“Some people say, ‘What’s the big deal with the bells?’ To that I say: Why is it such a big deal that you have to keep the bells?'” said Fe Campanero, a secretary at the church.
Wouldn’t this be an opprtune moment for America to return the bells?
We can dream.