MANILA, Philippines – A day after President Rodrigo Duterte called on the United States government to return to the Philippines the church bells that were taken as war trophies by U.S. soldiers during the Philippine-American War, the U.S. Embassy in Manila promised that it would do something to address the issue.
”We will continue to work with our Filipino partners to find a resolution,” the embassy said in a statement issued Tuesday, July 25.
During his second State of the Nation Address on Monday, Duterte asked the U.S. to return to the Filipino people the church bells that American soldiers took from Balangiga, Samar, in 1901.
“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours…Isauli naman n’yo. Masakit ‘yon sa amin [Return them to us. This is painful for us],” the President said.
Two of the bells are at the Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the third is at a U.S. military facility in South Korea.
This wasn’t the first time that a Philippine leader asked the U.S. to return the bells.
In the 1990s, the administration of then President Fidel Ramos also asked the American government under the Clinton administration to return the war booties.
But the U.S. at that time insisted that the bells were part of American government property and that the Philippines’ request needs an act of Congress.
In 2002, the Philippine Senate approved then Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr.’s Resolution No. 393 urging the Arroyo administration to undertake formal negotiations with the U.S. for the return of the bells.
In 2004, Borongan, Samar Bishop Leonardo Medroso also appealed to the U.S. government to return the bells.
“They are religious artifacts with considerable significance in the Catholic tradition. Among many other uses, they call people to prayer and worship. As such they are inappropriate trophies of war,” said Medroso.
“Hence, they should be returned to the place where they belong and to the purpose for which they were cast and blessed. And since these bells belong to the Roman Catholic Church of the Parish of Balangiga, they should be returned to the Catholic community of Balangiga,” the bishop added.
On September 26, 2006, American lawmakers Bob Filner, Dana Rohrabacher and Ed Case co-sponsored House Concurrent Resolution No. 481 urging the U.S. president to authorize the return of the church bells.
But no action was taken following the resolution until the 110th United States Congress adjourned sine die on January 3, 2009.