Return Balangiga bells, Trump told ahead of PH trip

Paterno Esmaquel II
Return Balangiga bells, Trump told ahead of PH trip
'At the end of the day, that is not owned by the United States or the Philippines. It's owned by the Catholic Church,' ex-DFA chief Roberto Romulo tells Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – US President Donald Trump should order the return of the historic Balangiga bells to the Philippines as he visits Manila from November 12 to 14, a former Philippine top diplomat said.

“I personally believe that President Trump should, once and for all, return the Balangiga bells,” former Philippine foreign secretary Roberto Romulo told Rappler on Wednesday,

“At the end of the day, that is not owned by the United States or the Philippines. It’s owned by the Catholic Church,” Romulo added.

Trump will visit the Philippines to join the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Meetings, and to meet with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte earlier called on the US to return the Balangiga bells. In response, the US vowed to resolve the Balangiga bells issue, but without a specific timeframe in mind.

The Balangiga bells, once found in Balangiga Church in Eastern Samar, had been taken by the Americans as spoils of war. The tolling of these bells in 1901 had led to the massacre of American troops, in the US military’s worst single defeat in the Philippines.

Trump can make orders, Romulo says

Staunch opposition in the US has prevented the return of the Balangiga bells.

Romulo, however, said that “as commander in chief of the US armed forces,” Trump “can tell them, ‘Return it,’ despite the opposition.”

Romulo served as secretary of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) from 1992 to 1995 under then president Fidel V. Ramos, who sought the return of the Balangiga bells, to no avail.

In his column for the Philippine Star on Wednesday, Romulo quoted a letter by his American friend Henry Howard to Trump on October 12, 2017, about the Balangiga bells.

Howard told Trump: “There is no political downside for you in Wyoming by returning the bells since you won so overwhelmingly there and there is tremendous upside for you as president of the United States in the Philippines by returning the bells before or during your trip to the Philippines in November.”

“As the president of the United States and commander in chief of the US Army and US Air Force, you have the command and legal authority to permit the prompt return of the 3 bells,” Howard said.

Romulo wrote: “If President Trump does indeed send the bells back, it would be an important step in Philippine-US relations and it would remove this long and deep wound between our two countries.” – Rappler.com

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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 pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.