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Balangiga Massacre and the Return of the Bells

Kelvene Requiroso

Posted on December 23, 2018 09:29

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The bells’ homecoming signifies closure of the past wound, a thorn in the history between the Philippines and the US. It has evoked strong emotions among Filipinos who still remember their past.

It was over a hundred years ago when the Americans had seized on the opportunity to colonize the Philippines as the Spaniards exited the archipelago. Armed with their aspiration to be an independent nation and self-determination, the Filipinos resisted another foreign rule that resulted into one of the darkest, bloodiest chapters in the country’s history, the Philippine-American War (1899-1902).

Of the many atrocities the Filipinos suffered in that war, the Balangiga Massacre in 1901 on the island of Samar was notorious for its unimaginable barbarity reflected and immortalized in the words of Gen. Jacob Smith nicknamed “Howling Jake” of Company C, the 9th US infantry regiment, “Kill everyone over ten.”

It was reminiscent of the biblical command to wipe out and spare no one in a group of people including women and children. “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn the better it will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States,” Smith said.

Although some soldiers ignored the directive, most of those deployed did as commanded, killing more than 10,000 of the town’s inhabitants, and took the church’s iconic bells as war trophies. They brought home two of the bells and installed them in a Wyoming military memorial; one bell was stationed in a US military facility in South Korea.

The massacre of civilians by US soldiers was a disproportionate response to a coordinated attack on September 28, 1901, by the Filipino guerrillas fighting for their country’s freedom. For the 50 Americans killed in the attack, they multiplied the casualties on the locals by over a hundred in the next couple of days. Only that most of them were non-fighters, just like the many wars America waged in countries in recent history, which raised ethical questions on the business and conduct of war.

But I will not talk about wars here. I want to celebrate the return of the Balangiga bells to their original home after 117 years.

Last Tuesday, December 11, a US C-130 cargo plane had flown in the historic bells to the Philippines. They were transported to their original home of Balangiga the following Saturday.

The bells’ homecoming signifies closure of the past wound, a thorn in the history between the Philippines and the US. In a country suffering from forgetfulness, it has somehow evoked strong emotions among Filipinos who still remember their past despite the fact that the massacre had already been buried in the pages of time.

As soon as the bells arrived in the country, it was not without a drama between the president and the Catholic Church. During the ceremony in Balangiga, the president who denied taking the credit of the bells’ return, which the pictures show he took nevertheless, wanted the bishops out of his sight. A posture that instead of uniting his people, alienated and divided them further.

Kelvene Requiroso

Posted on December 23, 2018 09:29

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Source: The Hill
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The U.S. on Tuesday returned three bells taken as war trophies to the Philippines, 117 years after they were seized.Secretary...

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