Give us back Balangiga bells, Duterte tells U.S.

Paterno Esmaquel II
'They are ours. They belong to the Philippines,' President Duterte tells the US in his SONA 2017, with the American ambassador in the audience

BALANGIGA BELLS. President Rodrigo Duterte in his second State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2017, urges the US to return the iconic Balangiga bells. Screen shot from Rappler livestream

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte told the United States on Monday, July 24, to return the iconic bells that led to a 1901 massacre, the US military’s worst single defeat in the Philippines. 

The Balangiga bells, once found in Balangiga Church in Eastern Samar, had been taken by the Americans as spoils of war. 

“Give us back those Balangiga bells,” Duterte said in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.

“They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage,” he added.

Isauli naman ninyo. Masakit ‘yan sa amin,” he also said. (Please return it. That is painful for us.)

Duterte made these remarks in the presence of US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, who had a neutral reaction when his face was shown in the government’s livestream. This comes as Duterte slams the US for supposedly meddling in his anti-drug campaign. 

Rappler is still trying to reach the US embassy for comment as of posting time.

Signaling a historic siege, the bells led to the US military’s so-called worst single defeat in the Philippines. In what is known as the Balangiga Massacre, locals outsmarted and killed 48 out of 74 US troops in 1901.

More than 3,000 online petitioners also urged the US in 2014 to return the Balangiga bells. When then US President Barack Obama visited the Philippines that year, however, the US leader said nothing about these so-called spoils of war. –

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at