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After a century, U.S. to return Balangiga Bells

Pia Ranada
After a century, U.S. to return Balangiga Bells
Malacañang hails the United States' plan to return the Balangiga Bells to the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – After more than a century, the United States will return the historic Balangiga Bells to the Philippines, said America’s embassy in Manila. 

“Secretary of Defense Mattis has notified Congress that the Department intends to return the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines. No specific date has been identified for the return of the Bells,” the US embassy said in a statement Saturday, August 11.

“We’ve received assurances that the Bells will be returned to the Catholic Church and treated with the respect and honor they deserve,” the embassy added.

Malacañang on Sunday, August 12, hailed this plan to return the Balangiga Bells.

“We welcome this development as we look forward to continue working with the United States government in paving the way for the return of the bells to the Philippines,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked the US to return the 3 bells during his 2017 State of the Nation Address. The US embassy had then said it will continue working with the Philippine government toward a “resolution.”

Two of the Balangiga Bells are said to be in F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, while one was supposedly found in a US military base in South Korea. 

The Balangiga Bells, once found in Balangiga Church in Eastern Samar, had been taken by the Americans as spoils of war in 1901.

The bells were said to have played a crucial role in the US military’s so-called worst single defeat in the Philippines. They supposedly were used as a signal for Filipino revolutionaries when they attacked a US garrison in the town of Balangiga in Samar. The Filipinos killed 48 American soldiers out of the total 74.

The outraged Americans sought a bloody revenge. Soon after, they were ordered to kill everyone in the town aged 10 years and above, including work animals; burn houses; and seize crops.

Duterte himself has quoted the supposed order to Americans to reduce the village into a “howling wilderness.”

Duterte was not the first Philippine president to ask for the return of the bells. In 1994, then Philippine president Fidel V. Ramos already made the same request to his US counterpart Bill Clinton, to no avail.

In 2014, more than 3,000 online petitioners also urged the US to return the Balangiga Bells. When then US President Barack Obama visited the Philippines that year, however, the US leader said nothing about this so-called war booty. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at