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Balangiga bells back in Philippines

MANILA (Updated) -- The bells that were taken by American soldiers from a church in Balangiga, Eastern Samar are finally back in the Philippines after 117 years.

The three bells landed at the Philippine Air Force headquarters in Villamor Air Base, Pasay City around 10:30 a.m. onboard a US Air Force C-130, which departed from a United States military base in Okinawa, Japan.

Watch this video of the historic turnover Tuesday, December 11.

HAPPENING NOW:The historical turn-over of the Balangiga bells by the United States to the Philippines

Posted by SunStar Philippines on Monday, December 10, 2018


In behalf of the Philippine government, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, together with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, received the three bells turned over by the American executives led by United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim.

In his speech, Lorenzana said the return of the bells signifies respect and strengthens the relationship of the US and Philippines.

"It's time for healing. It's time for closure. We should look ahead as two nations and allies...Let the bells toll strong and loud for our countries," he said.

Reynaldo Mapagu, undersecretary of the Civil, Veterans and Retiree Affairs, said the return of the bells more than a century after they were taken as war trophies by the American soldiers was a result of high-level bilateral talks between Lorenzana and US Defense Secretary James Mattis.

The bilateral talks started after President Rodrigo Duterte called for the bells' return during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) in 2017.

"Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours... Isauli naman ninyo. Masakit yun sa amin (Return them to us. This is painful for us)," said Duterte during his Sona.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos also made the same request to the US in 1994.

The bells were taken on September 29, 1901 after Filipinos in Balangiga launched an attack against the 9th Infantry Regiment of the US, killing 48 soldiers and wounding 12 others.

The incident was described by the US Army as its "worst defeat" since the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

In retaliation, following the orders of their commanders, American soldiers killed all male persons from age 10 and above in Balangiga town. They also burned the entire town and turned it into a "howling wilderness." The incident became known as the Balangiga massacre.

American soldiers then took the three Balangiga bells from the church of the San Lorenzo de Martir as "war trophies."

Before their return to the Philippines, one of the bells was housed at the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Cloud in South Korea, and the two others were placed in a former base of the 11th Infantry Regiment at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenee, Wyoming.

Mapagu said the bells' return was made possible through the efforts of both the Filipinos and Americans, who worked together "to defend our common interests."

He said the bells will be transported back to Balangiga in Eastern Samar before the Misa de Gallo or Christmas dawn masses begin.

"The sound of the bells will once again ring not just for the Balangiga people, but for all Filipinos across the world," Mapagu said.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim is hoping that the return of the bells will close that "painful chapter in our history" and reflect the "strong balance and mutual respects between our two nations and people."

"The return of the bells demonstrates our determination to honor the past and sacrifices made together by Americans and Filipinos and it heralds a bright future as friends, partners and allies," he said.

"The bells of Balangiga are now home, in the Philippines where they belong," Sung added.

Residents of the Balangiga town who attended the ceremonial turnover Tuesday, December 11, were elated by the bells' return.

Nemesion Duran, descendant of the Vicente Candilosis who rang the Balangiga bell that signals the launch of the attack in 1901 and the founder and president of the Balangiga Historical and Cultural Foundation Inc., said they have an “indescribable feeling” now that the bells have been returned.

“Sobrang saya naman, hindi ko ma-describe. Imagine ang tagal-tagal naming pinakikiusapan ang Amerika, ngayon lang naibalik,” he said.

(Very happy, I can't describe it. Imagine, we appealed for so many years, and the bells are just returned today.)

“Sagisag ‘yan ng aming pagkatao at pakikipaglaban ng aming mga ninuno (The bells symbolize our identify and the bravery and sacrifices of our forefathers),” he added.

Duran also commended Duterte whom he said was the main reason for the bells' return.

“Kung hindi siguro dahil kay Duterte, hindi ito maibabalik. Sumulat kami sa mga dating president para maibalik ang bell, pero walang nangyayari,” he said.

(The bells would not have been returned if not for Duterte. We wrote to former presidents for the bells' return but nothing happened.)

The return materialized after US President Donald Trump signed the US National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, allowing Mattis to decide on the matter of returning the bells to the country.

The bells will be made available for public viewing at the Philippine Air Force Museum in Villamor Air Base on December 12 and 13 before they will be flown back to Balangiga. (With LMY/SunStar Philippines)

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