It’s About Time: FilAm Leaders Urge The Return of Bells of Balangiga

Excerpt from this blog entry came from the Casper Tribune article,  “Bells of Balangiga a Divisive Symbol of War, to leave Wyoming and Return to the Philippines” (August 16, 2018)

The Church Bells of Balangiga now in Ft. Russell, WY

On October 2, 2018, the Filipino American community in Chicago called for the return of the church bells of Balangiga, Samar, an important symbol of the Philippine-American War. The US Secretary of Defense James Mattis recently notified Congress that the US government is expecting to return the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines, where they would be treated with the “respect and honor they deserve” by the Catholic Church there, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Manila cited in published reports (Casper Tribune, August 16, 2018).

Since 1905, the US military has kept the bells of Balangiga as war booty and it’s often seen as a divisive symbol of the Philippine-American War. Filipino Americans should contact their Congressional Representatives and urge their elected officials to hasten the return of the bells back to Samar where it belongs.

(from left to right): Representative from Filipino American Veterans of IL; Deputy Consul General Romulo Israel; Consul General Gina Jamoralin; Rose San Diego; and more representatives from the Filipino American Veterans of IL

Rose San Diego, Liaison of the Filipino American Veterans of Illinois and representatives of the Chicago Nightingales, a group of Filipino American nurses advocating for health and wellness in the community, joined forces with other Filipino American leaders in Chicago to rally for the return of the Balangiga bells.

In 1901, the bells were taken from a burnt-down church in Balangiga, Samar as trophies of war dating back to the U.S. military’s occupation of the Philippines in the early 20th century. Two of the three bells  now reside at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming where they have been kept since the return of Wyoming’s 11th Infantry from the conflict.

Balangiga Church, Balangiga, Samar (June 2018 photo)

It’s about time the US return the bells to Samar. The US should not keep them as war booty. The bells serve as spoils of the Balangiga Massacre, a mission of retaliation by the U.S. military following a morning assault on American fighters by machete-wielding Filipino militants, killing 48 of the 78 Americans in the unit. The bells were taken by the Americans following a directive by General Jacob H. Smith to shoot all Filipino men over the age of 10 and able to bear arms: an illegal act of revenge against the civilians of the small town of Samar. Both Smith and Major Littleton Waller were court-martialed for the massacre, however, only Smith was found guilty. The conviction was later dropped.

Balangiga statue depicting the Balangiga Massacre (June 2018)

In May and September 2018, I visited the Balangiga Church and the statue in front of the church plaza depicting the massacre. I was surprised myself to learn about this forgotten part of history (Ignacio, The Forbidden Book, 2004). I always thought the US was helpful and benevolent towards its former colony, the Philippines.


Depiction of Balangiga Massacre, painting at Tanuan, Batangas (August 2017)

At the end of the US Philippine War, soldiers of the 11th Infantry brought two church bells from Balangiga back to the base where they were stationed at the time—Fort D.A. Russell outside Cheyenne, now F.E. Warren Air Force Base. A third bell from the Balangiga church, owned by the 9th Infantry, remains at the U.S. Army’s Camp Red Cloud, Uijeongbu, South Korea. These bells are finally coming home and it’s the right thing to do.

The return of the bells has long been a concern of officials in the Philippines: most recently, President Rodrigo Duterte asked the U.S. to return the bells during his second State of the Nation Address last year, noting their symbolism as a sign of resistance against American colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Those bells are reminders of the gallantry and heroism of our forebears who resisted the American colonizers and sacrificed their lives in the process,” a translation of Philippine Duterte speech reads.

“That is why I say today; give us back those Balangiga bells,” he said to applause. “They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage.”

“We are aware that the Bells of Balangiga have deep significance for a number of people, both in the United States and in the Philippines,” US Secretary of Defense Mattis said in a statement.

The return of the bells has been pushed for by some Americans, including retired Air Force pilot Spike Naysmith and former U.S. Ambassador to the Phillipines Frank Wisner, who wrote a letter to U.S. Rep Liz Cheney describing the taking of the bells as a “profound error,” and that the arguments in favor of taking and keeping the bells were based on historical inaccuracies. In a letter dated June 16, 2017, Wisner claims the bells kept in Cheyenne were neither brought to Wyoming by Wyoming’s own Company C, nor did they serve as signals of the surprise attack at Balangiga: they were instead “shipped to the U.S. from a scrap yard.”

“While I understand the issue has long been a cause for members of the Wyoming veteran community, and there are many who feel connected to the Bells, they do not belong on a U.S. Air Force base,” he wrote. “Their true home is in the belfry of the Church of San Lorenzo de Martir in Balangiga, Eastern Samar.”

No specific date has been identified for the return of the bells, one of which currently resides at an air force base in South Korea. The fight for the return of the bells is not over. I also spoke briefly during the program ceremonies and advocated for the Filipino American community to contact their US Congressional Representatives and urge them to advocate for the return of the Bells of Balangiga.

About daleasis

President of the Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide
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