Why US agreed to return Balangiga Bells after a century

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 13 2018 03:41 PM | Updated as of Nov 13 2018 07:13 PM

MANILA - A change in "approach" about the significance of the Balangiga Bells was key in the return of war booty to the Philippines, a Filipino military professor involved in the repatriation of the items said Tuesday.

The United States earlier confirmed that it will give back the church bells taken by US soldiers from Balangiga, Eastern Samar in 1901.

The group had to clarify "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," Busa said.

"It worked now because the approach was not one of blame, but just one of shared interest, a commonality," he said.

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Veterans' support

It was easier to get the US government's nod on the proposal to return the bells after Filipino negotiators earned the support of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) of the US, Busa said.

The VFW is the "largest and oldest war veterans service organization" in the United States.

"For years they have opposed the return of the bells. Only last year, they passed a resolution approving it," he said.

"Once we got the VFW on our side, it was clear sailing because no politician wants to go against the VFW," he said.

Filipino goodwill

The return of the bells to Balangiga will prove that "we can move past those bad times and be where we are at today," Busa said.

"It's about the cooperation and recognition of the relations of US and Philippines," he said.

"It is supposed to be a symbol of peace and understanding. It will show that the Philippines is a staunch ally of the US," he said.

"For strong international relations that will benefit the US, it is good to have the goodwill of many Filipinos," he said.

Not just Duterte

In 2016, ties between the Manila and Washington soured after President Rodrigo Duterte slammed then US President Barrack Obama for criticizing his bloody war on drugs.

Duterte turned away from its traditional ally Washington as he forged closer ties with neighboring Beijing.

In his second State of the Nation Address in 2017, Duterte called on the US to return the bells 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 speech.

Busa clarified that Duterte was not the only Philippine president who attempted to repatriate the bells.

"I disagree with the observations that President Duterte is the only one that brought this up," Busa said.

"President Ramos in 1996 made a big attempt to bring it back, every Philippine president since then has tried to get it but it just fell on deaf ears because of the barriers to understanding," he said.