MANILA - Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez on Wednesday said he believes the Philippines will be able to retrieve the Balangiga bells, which President Rodrigo Duterte called for in his State of the Nation Address.
Romualdez said veterans in Wyoming were able to pass a local law which prohibits such retrieval, but the Philippines has "quite a number of supporters and friends in Washington DC" who are now working to try to overturn that law.
"There’s been a precedent—there’s a bell that has been returned to La Union. Quite honestly, I really believe that in the long run, we will be able to get back those bells," he told ANC's Headstart.
"It’s actually a symbol for both countries. I think in one way or the other, we will be able to convince, especially the veterans in Wyoming, that these bells belong to the original owner, which is the church," he said.
He added that there had been suggestions that a replica may instead be installed in the missile base in the town of Cheyenne, where two of the bells are currently housed, "as a symbol of whatever you want to see those bells symbolize."
Duterte, in his State of the Nation Address, asked Washington to return the bells to Balangiga town in Samar.
The 3 church bells were taken by the US Army from the town of Balangiga, Eastern Samar in 1901 as "war booty." Two of the bells remain at an American Air Force base in Wyoming, while the other is still in a US Army regiment in South Korea.
US Embassy press attache Molly Koscina last month said the US will find a resolution to address the issue of the Balangiga bells.
"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. We will continue to work with our Filipino partners to find a resolution," she said in a statement.
Romualdez said they will bring the issue up to US lawmakers "if the issue needs to be taken up with them," but they will try their best "not to make this a political issue, but more of a mutual interest type of issue."
"All of these things have to be in the context of how we can navigate this whole issue. It’s really a symbol, and what we’re trying to convince many of our friends in the United States is that this symbol could be turned around into a positive symbol: that we both have that kind of history—we were enemies once during the Philippine-American war, and now we’re friends," he said.