The Balangiga Bells have arrived in the country after 117 years at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on Tuesday, December 11, 2018.
KJ Rosales
Political will made Balangiga bells’ return possible — Palace
(The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — It was President Duterte’s political will and his commitment to fulfill his promises to the people that made possible the return of the Balangiga bells, Malacañang said yesterday.

“Many have tried, but it is our President’s strong political will and unquestionable dedication in asserting the rights of our country and its people which significantly contributed to this event coming into fruition,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

“Today marks a watershed in our nation’s history. The Balangiga bells are now on Philippine soil,” Panelo said.

Former special presidential assistant Christopher “Bong” Go said the return of the bells was a fulfillment of a promise by Duterte although he would rather not take credit for it.

“This is one of his calls in his State of the Nation Address last July – the return of the bells. They will be returned to Samar and President Duterte himself will take them to Samar,” Go said in Filipino in an ambush interview in Tondo.

“This was President Duterte’s effort, but he’s not taking credit for it. What’s important to him is the bells have been returned,” he added.

Panelo said the Palace was grateful to all Philippine and US stakeholders “who worked tirelessly and selflessly” for the return of the bells, carted off by US troops in September 1901.

The return of the bells was an “unprecedented gesture” from the US and is well appreciated as it “will surely forge a stronger and more enduring relationship between the two long-time allies and friends as we finally close a tragic chapter in the two countries’ shared history. “

“As we move forward in our history, we hope that the bells of Balangiga will become constant reminders of our people’s gallantry, heroism, and strong sense of national pride,” he said.

The development, he added, will “let the world know that our race will not allow itself to be subjugated by any foreign power and we Filipinos will always assert our sovereignty against those who will attempt to subvert it.”

Sen. Gregorio Honasan said the return of the bells will not only heal “colonial wounds” but also lead to better ties with the US and even other countries.

“The return of our Balangiga bells mark the healing of some of our colonial wounds; and paves the way for serious and sincere bilateral and multilateral global economic and security cooperation,” Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said.

Sen. Richard Gordon welcomed the official turnover of the bells, saying the return of the bells shows the deep respect and friendship between the Philippines and US.

“In achieving this monumental task, the importance of people to people relationship was highlighted, as well as the can do attitude of our people who worked for the return of the bells and the willingness of the Americans to do the right thing. It also shows the maturity of the respect and deep friendship between our countries,” Gordon said.

“The long-sought campaign for the return of the bells finally succeeded. Returning the bells, which are part of our natural heritage, would finally correct a wrong that has been done to the country,” he added.

New ‘howling wilderness’

For Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the return of the Balangiga bells is a significant step toward recognizing and correcting a historical wrong and in putting closure to a painful episode in the past.

“We owe the return of the bells to the collective and untiring effort of many people. This includes past presidents and foreign affairs officials, Catholic church leaders, historians, Filipino-Americans and different non-government organizations,” she added.

The Balangiga bells, she said, should also serve as a reminder of past US atrocities and the bravery and martyrdom of Philippine heroes.  

“With the return of the bells, it is my hope that they will toll once again, this time in support of democracy and against an aspiring tyrant who has turned the entire country into a ‘modern howling wilderness’ marked by unabated killings and human rights abuses,” she added.

Lawmakers from the House of Representatives also hailed the return of Balangiga bells.

“This will put closure to the remaining irritant of the Philippine-American war. The bells symbolize our quest for peace, justice and freedom,” said Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, who in September 2017 filed House Resolution 1337 calling for the recovery of the bells.

“The return of the bells will further enhance the mutual relationship and cooperation between the Philippines and the US for peace and development,” the chairman of the House committee on public information added.

Rep. Rodel Batocabe of party-list Ako Bicol, echoed the same sentiments. 

“The return of those bells is welcome news, though long overdue. After President Duterte’s SONA (in 2017), we immediately joined the filing of a resolution expressing the sense of the House that indeed those three bells should be returned to us,” he said.

“The bells are not merely religious relics. They are an eloquent symbol of the courage and patriotism of the Filipino,” said Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza.

“They also are a reminder to the present generation of Filipinos that, as in the past, they should and can resist foreign domination in any form,” Daza pointed out.

Daza said he is a “distant relative” of then colonel Eugenio Daza, commanding officer of the Filipino soldiers who was in charge of the successful operation against the US detachment in Balangiga, now known as the Balangiga massacre.

But left-wing Rep. Carlos Zarate of party-list Bayan Muna said the US should do more than return the bells. “The US should also issue an official and public apology for the atrocities they committed during the Philippine-American War and compensate the descendants of the victims,” he said.

“These bells are emblematic of the continuing injustice committed against our country and people in the name of the hegemonic and imperialist greed of America,” the militant legislator stressed.

Senatorial candidate Florin Hilbay expressed hopes the return of the Balangiga bells would reawaken Filipinos’ love of country and renew the fight against new forms of invasion and tyranny.

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said the return of the bells should serve as a reminder to Filipinos of an endless quest for justice and freedom.

“May the return of the Balangiga bells remind Filipinos of the heroism and sacrifice to attain the freedom that we currently enjoy,” election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said.

Reviving subservience?

Amid rejoicing over the return of the bells, militant workers said the development might lead to renewed subservience of the Philippines to the US.

“US President Donald Trump’s approval of the return of the Balangiga bells is not an act of friendship. It is a reminder for Philippines to fulfill the political and economic agreements with its imperialist master,” Jerome Adonis, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) secretary-general said in a statement.

“The US government was forced to return the Balangiga bells, not because of President Duterte’s appeal to US. The act is part of military propaganda related to the global war on terrorism. The two governments want to show that they continue to be allies,” he added.

Adonis said the episode is aimed at sending a strong message to China – that the Philippines is a stronghold of the US.

“With the return of the Balangiga bells, the US is asserting its sole domination in the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific region,” Adonis said.

He dared Duterte to cease all military planning and operations conducted with the US government, including those related to the continued implementation of martial law in Mindanao to prove that he is upholding the Filipino people’s interest.

He also criticized Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for saying that it was no longer important who was right and who was wrong in the Balangigia massacre.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said it welcomed the return of the Balangiga bells but stressed there should be “a formal recognition by the US of the atrocities of colonial rule.”

“The bells are a reminder of the heroism of Filipinos who resisted US occupation. It is also a grim reminder of the war crimes committed by the US occupation under Col. Jacob Smith,” Bayan said.

“It is important that the Filipino people never forget how relations with the US began and why this remains unequal or lopsided. The history of our relationship with the US includes unequal treaties and impositions that remain to this day,” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said.

“For there to be real justice, there must be a formal recognition by the US of the atrocities of colonial rule and reparations for the people who bore the burden of colonial occupation,” Reyes said.  – With Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe,  Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores, Mayen Jaymalin, Rhodina Villanueva

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