Courtesy: Philippine Embassy in Washington DC
SINGAPORE – After more than a century, the “Bells of Balangiga” are now coming home to the Philippines.
The decision to return the bells, according to U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, is expected “to smooth the bonds that were tested but never broken by war” in a ceremony on Thursday (November 15) with Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez in Wyoming.
As expected, some US war veterans raised strong opposition returning the bells as they were memorial to the 48 US soldiers who were killed in the Balangiga massacre.
Secretary Mattis emphasized, however, that the sacrifices of the U.S. soldiers will never be forgotten.
“To those who fear we lose something by returning these bells, please hear me when I say: Bells mark time, but courage is timeless. It does not fade in history’s dimly lit corridors.”
Two of the bells are at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming while the third bell is at the US Army museum in South Korea.
The bells are expected to arrive in December. In fact, the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts said, the third bell in South Korea has already been placed inside a crate.
With the bells finally coming home to the Philippines, the pressure is on President Rodrigo Duterte.
It can be recalled that in his 2017 state of the nation address (SONA), the President Duterte demanded from the US the return of the bells.
Speaking in a press conference at the 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. told reporters that the return of the bells might convinced President Duterte to finally visit the U.S.
The DFA Secretary recalled his conversation with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley when he was still Philippine Ambassador to the UN.
“I said, ‘He won’t come unless we get back the Balangiga bells’,” Locsin said when he was asked by Haley why President Duterte has not accepted President Donald Trump’s invitation for him to visit the U.S.
“And then she asked, ‘the Balangiga bells?’ I said, ‘Yes. The three bells that we rang when we were going to ambush the US cavalry. And we rang it and they killed us,” he narrated.
Locsin cited the efforts of some concerned Filipino and American friends led by Hank Hendrickson and others from the US-Philippines Society to bring the bells back.
When he told the President of the conversation with Haley, Locsin said he believes he received a positive response.
“He would have to go there. I would think. If that’s the condition he made. He laughed. He smiled…To me. I mean, ‘You know, Sir, now that we’re getting the bells,’ and in the context of my conversations with Haley… he smiled,” Locsin said. – Marje Pelayo