Balangiga Bells back in the Philippines

Rambo Talabong

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Balangiga Bells back in the Philippines


(UPDATED) The Balangiga Bells are finally back home 117 years after American soldiers took them from a church in Eastern Samar as war booty

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – After over a century, the Balangiga Bells are finally back home in the Philippines.

The US military plane carrying the historic bells arrived at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City past 10:30 am on Tuesday, December 11.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea led Philippine officials at the arrival ceremony at the air base. With him were Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Philippine Ambassador to the US Babe Romualdez.

Over the decades, the Philippine government had repeatedly asked its ally to return the bells, which were taken by American soldiers from a church in Balangiga town, Eastern Samar, as war booty in 1901.

After President Rodrigo Duterte asked the US to return the 3 bells during his 2017 State of the Nation Address, the US said it would consider the request, and later agreed to give up the bells to forge a stronger friendship with the Philippines.

The bells would finally be home when it arrives in Balangiga town on Saturday, December 15.

They’re not just bells: Before they were carted off, the bells tolled in the church of Balangiga town. Filipinos rang them in 1901 to signal the start of a surprise attack against American troops during the Philippine-American War.

Armed with machetes, Filipinos killed 48 out of 78 American soldiers in Balangiga, handing the US Army one of its biggest defeats at the time.

The Americans retaliated with a campaign to kill Filipino males over the age of 10 in the town. US military officers ordered their troops to turn Balangiga  into a “howling wilderness.”

Philippine historians estimated that at least 10,000 Filipinos were killed during the retaliatory attack.

What the bells mean: For the Philippines, the bells symbolize Filipinos’ courage to stand up to foreign colonizers, while Americans see them as a memorial in honor of their soldiers who were killed at the time.

The US called its act of returning the bells “a demonstration of US commitment to the friendship and partnership, and the alliance” with the Philippines.

For the Philippine defense department, the bells’ long-awaited return is a cue to “heal the wounds” left by the 1901 incident. “In this ever-changing world, it is time to heal the wounds of the past, move on, and look to the future,” it said. –

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.