The Bells of Balangiga
What are the Bells of Balangiga? What do they represent? Why are they important to the Filipinos? And Why did President Rodrigo Roa Duterte mentioned it in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) nation on Monday, 24 July?
We would like to go back in time in Philippine history when these bells became part of the Filipino heritage. Majority of Filipinos are not aware of their history, thus, answers to the previous questions are in place.
According to Filipino historians this was their story:
“On September 28, 1901, Filipino freedom fighters from the village of Balangiga ambushed Company C of the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment, while they were at breakfast, killing an estimated 48 and wounding 22 of the 78 men of the unit, with only four escaping unhurt. The villagers captured about 100 rifles and 25,000 rounds of ammunition. An estimated 20 to 25 of the villagers had died in the fighting, with a similar number of wounded.
In reprisal, General Jacob H. Smith ordered that Samar be turned into a “howling wilderness” and that any Filipino male above ten years of age capable of bearing arms be shot. From the burned-out Catholic town church, the Americans looted three bells which they took back to the United States as war booty”.
Balangiga is a small town in the southern part of Samar. Those bells hung in the Church in Balangiga, and they were used by the Filipino freedom fighters to signal the attack against the invaders – the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment. And as what had been told by historians, as a reprisal to the villagers of Balangiga.
Historians write that the exact number of Filipinos killed by US troops will never be known. The 1887 Spanish census showed a population shortfall of about 15,000. American census of 1903 showed a shortfall that could have been due to a disease epidemic and known natural disasters and the rest could be due to combat, so the exact number is difficult to determine. In Samar population growth in 19th century Samar was amplified because of an influx of workers for the booming hemp industry, an influx which certainly ceased during the Samar campaign.
In the 90s and exhaustive research was made by British writer Bob Couttie as part of a ten-year study of the Balangiga Massacre. Couttie put the figure at about 2,500; David Fritz used population ageing techniques and suggested a figure of a little more than 2,000 losses in males of combat age but nothing to support widespread killing of women and children. Some Filipino historians believe it to be around 50,000.
The Balangiga massacre was not the only event that occurred during the Philippine –American war. Many had been written in history. Though that is not important. What is important is the historical value of the bells for the people of the Philippines, especially for Balangiga. The people of that town are the rightful owners of the bells. The bells are part of the historical heritage of the Philippines as a whole. There is no denying that their being brought to the US was meant to serve as the “trophy” the American General “compensation” for having ordered the burning of the town while the Filipinos fought merely for the purpose of saving their freedom and dignity as people.
At present, two of the bells are in Wyoming and the third has been located in an American base in South Korea. Strange places for such bells to be taken and installed while their ownership is clearly the Filipinos.
Many moves had been taken to recover them and returned to the Philippines. Negotiations had been initiated by the various government administrations of the Philippines petitioning the return of the bells. In the US no less than two than two congressmen sponsored a House Resolution in September 2006, that finally “died” in January 2009, with the sine die adjournment of the US Congress. In October 2007, another move was attempted but, just the same as the others, it fell into deaf ears.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, has anew called upon the United States to return the bells to the Philippines, because the Filipinos OWN them. Let us just wait and see what happens next.