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The bells are home



robert roque

IT was a moment of tri­umph for Filipinos when the three bells taken from the church in Balangiga, Eastern Samar by venge­ful US troops as combat trophies during the Filipino-American War finally found their way back home after 117 years.

The bronze bells were taken by American soldiers after razing the town and killing thousands of Filipinos in retaliation for a surprise attack in 1901 that left 48 of their comrades dead. Last week, the bells arrived at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

Two of the bells used to be installed at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming while the third was placed at a US Army museum in South Korea. For the people of Balangiga, the bells are a symbol of the Philippines’ long struggle for indepen­dence.

Their return, which no previous Philippine leader managed to accomplish, is a true achievement for President Duterte. In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2017, the Presi­dent called on Washington to return them.

Duterte arrived at the turnover ceremony in Ba­langiga, kissed one of the bells and rang it seven times while raising a clenched fist in the air as the crowd cheered and applauded.

Balangiga erupted in joy and a massive street party was held as children waved bell-shaped placards and vendors sold wooden sou­venir bells and T-shirts.

Going back in history, hundreds of native fighters, mostly armed with bolos, some disguised as female church worshippers, staged a successful surprise attack on US troops in Balangiga in the morning of September 28, 1901. It was described as the worst single defeat of the US military during the Filipino-American War that became known in history as the “Balangiga Massacre”.

Could anyone blame the natives for resisting the US troops who starved them by either destroying or confiscating their rice and food stacks, rounded up 80 men for forced labor and detained them for days in crowded conditions with little food and water? They also fought for their honor after having been publicly shamed.

The US military authori­ties, however, retaliated with a “kill and burn” policy that was blamed for the deaths of at least 2,500 people in Samar. Cruelty was at its peak when they ordered the heartless slaughter of all males over ten years of age.

Our country’s past has truly been tainted with blood a number of times in the fight for independence.


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