Photos released by the US embassy show one of the Balangiga bells being removed from a memorial in Wyoming last month
Balangiga bells on the way home
Michael Punongbayan (The Philippine Star) - December 9, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — After 117 years, the three Balangiga bells taken by the United States Army in 1901 are en route to the Philippines for their historic return on Tuesday.

The United States embassy in Manila yesterday released images of the two bells in Wyoming being packed and crated for shipment last month.

President Duterte will witness the turn over of the Balangiga bells at Villamor Air Base of the Philippine Air Force in Pasay City.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he will also be at the event to receive the historical pieces from US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim and the US Department of Defense.

“The aircraft that will be bringing the three bells will arrive before lunch at Villamor Air Base. They are going to unload and then they are going to remove it from the crate, put it on display,” Lorenzana told reporters. 

“I will go around with Ambassador Kim, look at the bells then I will sign a document that says that I am accepting the bells from them,” he said.

Lorenzana said the President is not expected to deliver a speech during the event that will put closure to the bitter story that surrounded the bells.

The three bells were taken as war loot by the US Army from the church of Balangiga town, Eastern Samar during the Philippine-American war in 1901.

One of the bells, believed to be the one in South Korea, was rung seconds after Filipino guerillas attacked American troops as a signal for the reinforcements hidden around town to join the fighting. At least 48 members of the 9th US Infantry Regiment were killed in the surprise attack.

In response, US General Jacob Smith ordered the American troops to turn the whole island into a “howling wilderness,” setting the town on fire and killing as many as 2,500 Filipinos.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez earlier said the two bells at the F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming would be shipped to Philadelphia for restoration before heading to South Korea, where the third bell is located.

During a send-off ceremony for the bells in Wyoming last month, US Defense Secretary James Mattis committed to returning the bells safely and in the best possible condition.

“In returning the Bells of Balangiga to our ally and our friend – the Philippines – we pick up our generation’s responsibility to deepen the respect between our peoples,” he said.

“Ambassador, bear these bells home, back to their Catholic Church, confident that America’s ironclad alliance with the Philippines is stronger than ever,” the US official told Romualdez.

The US government agreed to return the bells following the expiration of a law that prohibits the return of war memorial objects last September.

With strong lobbying from various groups, the new National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 allowed the return of the bells provided there was recommendation of the US Defense Department.

Mattis previously made the commitment to the Duterte administration, which has been adamant in demanding for the return of the bells. – Janvic Mateo

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