MANILA- The United States government is in talks with the Philippines for the return of the Balangiga bells, war booty taken by American soldiers from Eastern Samar more than a hundred years ago, its envoy to the Philippines bared Tuesday.
US Ambassador Sung Kim said he is hopeful that Washington could soon return the 3 church bells, the subject of repeated demands from Samar folk and Philippine officials.
He made the announcement just over a month since President Rodrigo Duterte sought the bells' return to the Philippines at his State of the Nation Address in July, where the envoy was present.
“There is an ongoing effort, an ongoing discussion within the US government and the Philippine government to try and facilitate the return of these bells as quickly as possible," he said in a press briefing.
"I believe it's the right thing to do and I really do hope that we will be able to return the bells soon,” he added.
Kim, however, did not give a timeline as to when the bells could be returned or whether all 3 bells would be returned at once.
"Yes, that is our goal [to return the bells]. But whether all three return at once or they are phased, I think it's very difficult to predict at the moment," he said.
The 3 church bells were taken by the US Army from the town of Balangiga, Eastern Samar in 1901 as "war booty" during the Philippine-American war.
Despite several attempts by previous administrations to reclaim the bells and unfulfilled promises by several US presidents to return them, they remain at an American Air Force base in Wyoming.
In calling on the long-standing ally to give the bells back, Duterte said they were part of the country's national heritage.
"Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage," Duterte said in national address.