After over a hundred years, the three Balangiga church bells that American troops took home as war trophies have finally been returned to the Philippines.
United States Ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, led the handover ceremony for the “Bells of Balangiga” to the Philippine defense chief Delfin Lorenzana at an air force base in Manila on Tuesday, reports Agence France-Presse.
“It is my great honor to be here at this closing of a painful chapter in our history,” Ambassador Kim was quoted as saying. “Our relationship has withstood the tests of history and flourishes today.”
The Philippine government has been pushing for the bells’ repatriation since the 1990s, with backing from several generations of Philippine presidents, the local Catholic Church, historians, and some supporters from the U.S.
Incumbent Philippine president Duterte called upon the U.S. in a speech last year to return the bells.
“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are not yours,” Duterte said.
The bells are set to be returned later this week to the church in the town of Balangiga where U.S. soldiers looted them from 117 years ago.
On September 29, 1901, villagers from the town of Balangiga on Samar Island launched an attack on the members of the US 9th Infantry stationed there in retaliation to the aggressive policy of food deprivation and property destruction on the island.
The attack, which resulted in the deaths of 48 American soldiers, has been described as the United States Army’s worst defeat since the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.
The next day, then U.S. commander Jacob Smith retaliated by ordering his men to turn the island into a “howling wilderness.”
“I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me… The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness,” Smith said.
He further ordered to kill all persons considered hostile and anyone capable of bearing arms against the United State forces. When asked if there is an age limit for the order, Smith infamously replied that the limit was ten years of age.
Balangiga was burned to the ground and thousands of Filipinos died from the ensuing attack from the soldiers. To this day, some U.S. veterans and lawmakers see the bells as a tribute to the American troops who died from the hands of local guerillas. For the Filipinos, the bells remain a symbol of its struggle for independence.
Prior to its return to the Philippines, two of the bells had been on display in the state of Wyoming, USA, and one was placed in South Korea. They were all flown to Manila on Tuesday aboard an American military cargo plane.
“It is time for healing. It is time for closure. It is a time to look ahead as two nations should with a shared history and as allies,” said Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“After 117 years the sound of the bells will once again ring,” he added.