MANILA - The United States returning the bells of Balangiga symbolizes the respect it has for the Philippines, recognizing its longtime ally as a sovereign state, Manila's envoy to Washington said.
The bells, taken by American soldiers as war booty after ransacking the Samar town, arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday after 117 years. Two of the bells had been in Wyoming, Michigan and another one was stationed in a US camp in South Korea.
"That’s a hell of a long time," said Jose Manuel Romualdez, the Philippine ambassador to the United States.
"It was a very sad story that happened there and I think both our countries realized that there’s significance for both of us," he told ANC's Headstart.
"The return of the bells signals the respect that United States has for our country, that we are a sovereign nation."
This is in line with what Philippine diplomats "have been singing all this time," said Romualdez: "that President Duterte has clearly stated that we are a sovereign nation and we expect respect from all other countries for us to do the same."
President Rodrigo Duterte, during his State of the Nation Address last year, called for the return of the church bells.
Romualdez credits US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who "made a commitment" to Duterte, for seeing this to fruition.
Asked if the return of the bells signal a new chapter in the relations between Manila and Washington, Romualdez said: "I would think so."
"It’s a symbol of what we call mutual respect. It was a request made by many people in the Philippines," he said.