American soldiers who survived the Balangiga Encounter pose with a Balangiga bell. Photo taken in Calbayog, Samar in April 1902. (Public domain photo from FB page of Rolando Borrinaga)
TACLOBAN CITY -- The town of Balangiga in Eastern Samar is preparing for the celebratory welcome for the much-awaited return of three bells seized by American soldiers 117 years ago.
After hearing the report on the bells’ repatriation, priests, local government officials, and some volunteers have met to talk about possible activities for the welcome ceremony, said Balangiga town tourism, culture and arts officer Fe Campanero.
Campanero, a great-granddaughter of one of the women who plotted the attack against American soldiers in 1901, said they have been mapping out plans to give “proper honor” to the historic bells.
“Those bells deserve a grand welcome after 117 years of waiting. This is going to be a bigger ceremony than the return of a bell in Bauang, La Union,” Campanero told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Tuesday.
The official was referring to the San Pedro bell returned to Bauang town in 2016. It was taken to the United States in 1901 by Gen. Thomas Barry who gave the bell in 1915 to the US Military Academy in West Point, New York, where he became its superintendent.
Church officials and the local government have been consulting with Bauang authorities on the conduct of welcome ceremony for the historic bell.
“I share the same feeling of joy and gratitude with the people of Balangiga town and Eastern Samar province that after decades of promises, the bells will finally return home. This is going to be a big celebration. I thank President Rodrigo Duterte for his courage to ask the US government and the many volunteers who worked for the bells’ repatriation,” Campanero added.
The bells’ return is seen as a big boost to the Balangiga’s tourism industry as this will attract more visitors who are eager to see the historic bells, the official said. “Aside from drawing tourists, it will boost our advocacy to the younger generation love our identity and history.”
Rolando Borrinaga of the Committee on Historical Research of National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) said a ceremony will be held on Nov. 15 at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming for the repatriation of the Balangiga bells.
The third Balangiga bell at a US Army museum in South Korea, Borrinaga said, had also been crated weeks ago and is ready for shipment.
“The targeted date for arrival in the Philippines is mid-December. There will be ceremonies in Manila before the bells will be delivered to Balangiga. There is still some hope that the bells will reach Balangiga by Christmas. At least as far as the bells, campaigners are concerned,” Borrinaga said in a message sent to PNA.
“The latest successful campaign for the return of the Bells of Balangiga was largely a veterans-to-veterans effort. So many in the US Veterans community have let their voices be known and lent their support -- including national resolutions of support from both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion,” he added.
The Balangiga Encounter happened on Sept. 28, 1901, when town residents led by Valeriano Abanador initiated an attack against US soldiers while having breakfast. The villagers killed several American soldiers using bolos.
Around 2,500 Filipinos were killed by the US retaliatory attack. The Americans took the Balangiga bells as war trophies.
For over a century, the three bells have been in the custody of the US government. Two of the bells are at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, while one is in the 9th US Infantry Regiment in Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.
President Rodrigo Duterte, during his 2017 State of the Nation Address (SONA), called for the return of the church bells taken during the Philippine-American war.
"Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage," he said.
During his visit to Balangiga town on Sept. 28, 2017, Duterte admitted that he turned emotional when he demanded for the return of the bells during his SONA.
In August, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signed documents favoring the return of the war booties to the Philippines.
US President Donald Trump earlier signed the US National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, which gives Mattis the authority to decide on the return of the Balangiga bells.
US starts process to return Balangiga Bells to PH
The United States on Thursday will officially start the transfer process of the Balangiga Bells to the Philippines during a ceremony in Wyoming to mark its return to the Philippines.
According to the US Department of Defense, Secretary James Mattis will be traveling on Thursday to Texas and Wyoming, with a last stop at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base.
"The secretary will attend a ceremony marking the beginning of the process to return of the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines," it said in a statement Wednesday.
The bells were taken as war booty by US troops following the Balanginga Massacre in 1901.
One of the Balangiga bells are displayed at the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Cloud in South Korea while the other two are in the former base of the 11th Infantry Regiment at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base.
Mattis notified the US Congress on Aug. 9 that the Department of Defense intends to return the war artifacts to Manila.
"The decision follows a year-long consultative process with associated veterans' organizations and government officials to ensure appropriate steps are taken to preserve the history of the veterans associated with the bells," Molly Koscina, press attaché to the US Embassy in Manila told the Philippine News Agency on Tuesday night.
"The Bells of Balangiga have deep significance for many people in the United States and the Philippines," she added.
Borongan diocese ready to receive Balangiga bells
An official of the Diocese of Borongan said they are ready for the impending return of the Balangiga Bells.
“It’s a welcome development. The parishioners of Balangiga have been patiently waiting for its eventual return,” Msgr. Pedro Quitorio III, chairman of the Mass Media and Communications section of Borongan diocese, said in an interview Wednesday.
The bells will be returned to the St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish in Eastern Samar.
“The physical church of Balangiga is ready for the return of its bells. It was reconstructed after it was devastated by super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013. It has two belfries. The other one is empty, but awaiting for the return of its bells,” the Catholic priest said.
Quitorio, however, noted that they have not received any official communication regarding the supposed return of the bells.
“Except from what is read in the news, the parish of Balangiga, or the Diocese of Borongan where Balangiga parish belongs, do not have any information regarding the veracity of the November 14 event or any arrangements regarding the bells' return,” he said.
The United States is expected to start the process of returning the bells to the Philippines on Thursday (Manila time).
US troops have taken the bells as war booty after the Balanginga Massacre in 1901.
Two of these are displayed at the former base of the 11th Infantry Regiment at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base while another one is displayed at the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Cloud in South Korea. (PNA)