Over 100 years have passed since they lost their church bells, but residents of a small town on the central Philippine island of Samar have never given up hope that one day they will get them back.
year, on September 28, the townsfolk of Balangiga mark the day in 1901
when American troops turned their town, and the whole of Samar into what
was later called a "howling wilderness" and carried off three church
bells as war booty.
Dr Rolando Borrinaga, a professor at the
School of Health Sciences at the University of the Philippines, said it
is time to forget the past and return the bells.
“[There is] no
apology needed for what happened. That was war,’’ he said. He expressed
dismay over the repeated failure by the Philippine government and the
Church to reclaim the bells.
“All of our big time institutions
and personalities have tried and failed,’’ Borrinaga said, adding that
the "issue is now beyond the government."
“This is something that
[should be] sorted out of political circles," Borrinaga said, adding
that the call for the return of the bells should be something that is
"educational and based on consensus, not open media war.”
taking of the bells and the American sacking of Samar came one month
after Filipino freedom fighters ambushed and killed at least 40 American
soldiers sitting down to breakfast. They were part of a 75-man American
garrison stationed in town. It is said the church bells were used to
signal the attack. Rebels disguised as women had smuggled weapons in
small coffins into the church to attack Americans.
At least 28
Filipinos were also killed in what historians say was the "single worst
defeat" of American forces during 1899-1902 Philippine-American War.
reprisal, Captain Thomas W Connell, commander of Company C of 9th US
Infantry Regiment, rounded up and killed some 5,000 Balangiga villagers,
upon the order of General Jacob H Smith.
All male residents over 10 years old were killed.
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 was quoted as saying.
The incident became known as the Balangiga Massacre.
church bells were taken to the United States and never returned despite
several petitions by the Catholic Church and the Philippine government.
attack and the subsequent reprisal remains one of the longest running
and most contentious issues between the Philippines and the United
Two of the bells are at F. E. Warren Air Force Base
outside Cheyenne, Wyoming, while the third is kept by the 9th US
Infantry Regiment in South Korea.
Filipino legislators earlier
called for the return of the bell "to correct a historical wrong"
committed during the Philippine-American War.
regard the bells as war trophies. They're deemed as Samar's local
historical and religious treasures and a significant part of Philippine
heritage," a resolution submitted before Congress in 2010 said.
The Catholic bishops’ conference also says the bells are inappropriate as war trophies.
bells were the property of the Roman Catholic Church in Balangiga when
they were taken by the US forces. The bells should be returned to the
place where they belong and for the purpose for which they were cast and
blessed," according to former congressman Teodoro Casino.
bells "rightly belong" to Balangiga, Congressman Ben Evardone says. "We
will not stop until the bells are returned to us," he added. Both
lawmakers unsuccessfully petitioned the US Congress for their return in
Returning the bells would be a gesture of respect and goodwill on the part of the US, Evardone says.