MANILA - The United States government has yet to set a "specific date" for the repatriation of 2 Balangiga Bells that were taken as war booties from Eastern Samar during the Philippine-American war, the US embassy here said Tuesday.
"While no specific date has been identified for the return of the bells, the Department of Defense is committed to a timely resolution in accordance with US laws and policy," Molly Koscina, the US Embassy's Press Attaché, told ABS-CBN News in a text message.
A ceremony will be held on Nov. 15 (Manila time) at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming for the repatriation of the Balangiga bells, Dr. Rolando Borrinaga of the Committee on Historical Research of National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) earlier said.
The return of the bells to the Philippines was finalized in August when US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis notified US lawmakers that the Department of Defense intends to return the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines, Koscina said.
"The decision follows a year-long consultative process with associated veterans' organizations and government officials to ensure appropriate steps are taken to preserve the history of the veterans associated with the bells," she said.
The US agreed to return the bells after Philippine representatives clarified "misconceptions" that the return of the bells does not equate to "dishonoring the 44 Americans who died in the Battle of Balangiga," retired Consul General and Philippine Military Academy Prof. Sonny Busa told ANC's Dateline Philippines.
"When we cast the message that these bells belong to the people, to call the people to church, then we were able to sway some minds that this is not a military symbol but a symbol of peace," said Busa, who was involved in the bells' return.
"It worked now because the approach was not one of blame, but just one of shared interest, a commonality," he said.
Busa said his group hopes to have the bells returned to Eastern Samar "before Christmas."
The expected return of the Balangiga bells to the country comes more than a year after President Rodrigo Duterte called on the US to return the items that belonged to the Philippines.
"Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage," Duterte said in his second State of the Nation Address last July, where US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim was part of the audience.
In the midst of the Filipino-American War, the tolling of the bells on the morning of September 28, 1901 signaled the start of a sneak attack by dozens of Balangiga villagers against US soldiers, said Dr. Rolando Borrinaga of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
Some 50 Americans, many of them eating breakfast or just waking up, were killed in the incident that handed Filipinos one of their greatest victories in the war, he said.
The church bells, in turn, became a "source of pride" symbolizing the Filipinos' ability to resist foreign invaders, he said.
- with a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News