My co-panelists during the forum (from left) US-Philippines Society executive director Hank Hendrickson, Philippine Honorary Consul to Florida Dr. Henry Howard, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Dr. Joseph Felter and retired US Navy Rear Admiral Daniel McKinnon Jr.
The Balangiga bells’ return: A historical perspective & significance
THIS WEEK ON PEOPLEASIA - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - February 3, 2019 - 12:00am

The return of the Balangiga bells to the Philippines with an arrival ceremony at the Villamor Air Base on Dec. 11, 2018 and the handover to the San Lorenzo de Martir Parish Church in Balangiga, Eastern Samar on Dec. 15, 2018 has sparked lively discussions on the historic event.

On Jan. 22, the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the US-Philippines Society co-hosted a forum on the “Return of the Balangiga Bells: A Historical Perspective and Significance” at the Philippine Chancery Annex.

It was a great honor to join the panelists of the forum, which brought together renowned speakers whose efforts significantly contributed in ensuring the successful return of the bells to the Philippines: US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Dr. Joseph Felter, Philippine Honorary Consul to Florida Dr. Henry Howard and retired US Navy Rear Admiral Daniel McKinnon Jr., who was Commanding Officer of Naval Supply Systems Command from 1988 to 1991.

Members of the audience ask questions during the forum.

McKinnon — who was also instrumental in the return of the San Pedro bell taken from the Church of Saint Peter and Paul in Bauang, La Union in 1901 — provided the historical background of the bells, while Howard and Felter recounted the dedicated efforts exerted by Filipinos and Americans alike who worked tirelessly for the bells’ homecoming.

 In his brief remarks, Representative Donald Bacon of Nebraska’s Second District, who was present during the forum, also underscored the significance of the bells’ return to the friendship and alliance between the US and the Philippines.

 During the forum, I reiterated the Philippine government’s gratitude to the US for “doing what is right,” further underscoring the strong people-to-people ties between the two nations.

“We never forget friends. Once you are a friend of ours, you are a friend forever. The latest survey indicates that 85 percent of Filipinos trust the US as an ally. We trust that this country will do what is right,” I told the audience, emphasizing that the return of the Balangiga bells will never be forgotten by Filipinos.

Engaging in a conversation with Nebraska Second District Representative Don Bacon.

 “The forum provided an unusually comprehensive and insightful happy-ending account of a successful effort by a committed team of players both inside and outside of government working for years against the odds, with many dramatic near-misses along the way. Presentations underscored the significance of the bells’ return in addressing a historical grievance, promoting reconciliation, strengthening people-to-people ties and fostering strategic cooperation. The US-Philippines Society and its members were privileged to have played a role in supporting this remarkable initiative,” remarked US-Philippines Society executive director Hank Hendrickson, who also served as moderator during the forum.

BALANGIGA BELLS
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