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Historic bells to be returned to the Philippines in an effort to build U.S. ties

Historic bells to returned to the Philippines in an effort to build U.S. ties

The arrival of three historic bronze church bells in the Philippines on Tuesday marked the final chapter in an obscure but, largely forgotten war in American history as well as sincere effort by the Trump administration to improve U.S.-Philippine relations.

A U.S. C-130 aircraft arrived in the Philippines carrying 1three bells taken from the Philippines 117 years ago by the United States during the Philippine-American War. The initiative came at the instigation of U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis who sought the return of the bells as an essential step to improve relations with the Philippines at a time of growing Chinese influence in Southeast Asia.

“The Bells of Balangiga have deep significance for many people in the United States and the Philippines,” said Lt. Colonel David Eastburn a Defense Department spokesperson in a statement to AMI newswire,“ The return of the Balangiga Bells to their home in the Philippines is of tremendous importance and is a product of sustained hard work by so many Americans and Filipinos of good will and good hearts.”

The bells had become an unlikely political issue. While the Catholic Church has long supported the return of the bells which were taken from a village in the East Samar province of the Philippines in 1901 previous U.S. presidential administrations have declined to act on the issue.

Then Filipino President Fidel Ramos first raised the issue with President Clinton in 1994 even suggesting the casting of replicas which could be jointly shared by the two countries. The Clinton administration quashed the idea for reasons that remain unclear.

The fate of the bells has continued to be an issue in Filipino politics.

During his 2017 State of the Union address, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte called for the return of the bells to the Philippines.

The bells have an unusual history.

In 1901 a group of the U.S. 9th infantry regiment was enjoying breakfast when they were attacked by Filipino nationalist forces eager to secure their independence from the United States. The attack killed 48 of the 74 Americans soldiers stationed in the village and injuring all but, four American soldiers. American forces launched reprisals in punishment for the attack and a successful effort to recapture the village from Filipino forces. Subsequently, a group of 11th infantry soldiers seized the bells in fear that they could be forged into weapons. The bells were rung throughout the battle from a nearby Catholic church as a rallying cry for Filipino forces.

The battle was just one episode in the Philippine-American war which began almost immediately following the Spanish-American war of 1898. The conflict cost the lives of somewhere between 250,000 and one million civilians. Americans lost by some estimates roughly 6,000 casualties with Filipino forces (mostly irregulars) suffering 16,000 combat losses though most of the fighting ended by 1902 sporadic resistance continued into the next decade.

The Philippines was a U.S. colony from 1898 until July 4, 1946. American and Filipino forces subsequently fought together during World War II, the Korean War and during the Vietnam War. More recently U.S. special operations forces deployed to the Philippines after the September 11, 2001 attacks to fight Islamist militants — a century after the end of the Philippine-American war.

Two of the bells had been held on a U.S. military base in South Korea where the 9th infantry is stationed while the other two remaining bells had until recently been displayed at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Several US lawmakers including congressional representative Randy Hultgren (R-Illinois) and Jim McGovern (D-Massachusets) had opposed the return of the bells due to the authoritarian policies of President Duterte whose brutal crackdown on alleged drug dealers has led to numerous human rights abuses.

Earlier this year Filipino Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the return of the bells would be “strong indicator of the sincerity of the Americans in forging a lasting relationship with the Filipino people and truly symbolic of what their government has referred to in the past as an ironclad alliance between our two countries,” he said in a statement this summer adding, “ we call on the American people not to allow the bells to serve as trophies for atrocities that were committed by both sides on Philippine soil a very long time ago.”

Lorenzana was part of a senior delegation of Filipino officials who met the U.S. Airforce C-130 carrying the bells when it landed in the Philippines.

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Source: American Media Institute

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