The Balangiga Bells belong to us
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - November 19, 2017 - 4:00pm

I hope that during the recently concluded ASEAN Summit leaders meeting in Metro Manila, President Duterte was able to take up an issue that he promised would be part of his discussions with the President of the United States of America – the issue of the Balangiga Bells. The church bells, which were taken in 1901 from town church of Balangiga, Eastern Samar were a war trophy the Americans took with them after a massacre of the local residents as retaliation for a bloody ambush led by Filipinos.

This all happened during the American occupation over a century ago but despite the long passage of time the bells still symbolize something important to our country and I don’t see any reason why they should not be returned. In fact, during President Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA), he specifically mentioned the United States should return our property if they truly want to be a good ally and he reiterated that it was a topic he was going to bring up if he ever got the chance.

Well, he had the perfect chance last week when he and President Trump were having a series of meetings and discussions at the ASEAN Summit. Is it possible that President Duterte was unable to include this in his list for discussion or did they simply not get around to it? Either way, it’s a pity if he didn’t mention them and would serve as just another example of bluster without follow through.

I understand, of course, that there are far more important topics that our two great nations needed to discuss. We have, after all, been working together for many years and economy, business, and military are important aspects of our relationship (which, let’s face it, has gotten a bit of bruising as of late). Understandably other topics might have needed to take center stage, but that doesn’t mean that discussions on our shared past and our Philippine heritage shouldn’t also have their time in the spotlight.

In all honesty, I believed that when President Duterte brought up the bells in the first place his reason was that they represented something far more than just Philippine property that was forcibly taken from us. They also represented how he felt the United States treated our country back then and – in some ways – the way they still treat us now. We’ve always been allies, this is true, but have we always been equals? Obviously not. We’ve come to rely on the US for so much over the past years and while they have been very gracious in giving their help, we can’t ignore that there has also always been something in it for them as well.

Not that that is a bad thing. That is the nature of international relations after all – find win/win solutions between countries, allies, and friends. It’s crazy to think you’d get something for nothing and for the most part I’m on board with the concessions we give the United States because we could always rely on them as a strong ally and as an important investor in our economy and business sector. But I guess the question at this point is, if they truly see us as allies then giving us back what they took from us should be no problem right?

In fact, even before the world’s leaders arrived last week for the summit, the US Ambassador to the Philippines had already promised our president that he would work on having the bells returned home before the year ends. Well that deadline is fast approaching and so far no word yet. I hope it’s not an issue that was put on the back burner. Again, on the surface it may seem like a little thing, but it speaks volumes about what the US will do for our country when we ask them nicely.

Personally, I am glad the meetings between President Duterte and President Trump went well (and thankful the entire summit went smoothly and without incident). I have always known our relationship with the United States has been important and I didn’t like how our president kept telling them we didn’t need them and puffing up his chest. It’s ridiculous to turn away any allies in the world today and hopefully the summit has reopened doors not just between the Philippines and the United States, but also between our country and many others. As he promised, President Duterte is fostering stronger relationships with China and Russia at the same time too. It’s still good to have as many friends around the world as possible.

*      *      *

Many Filipino citizens – whether married couples of single parents – are overjoyed that the Supreme Court has given the go signal to legalize birth control. This is a big step forward for the long awaited RH Bill that was approved but not implemented due to complications with the Catholic Church and other social groups. Hopefully now the bill can be implemented all over the country and finally give people more concrete options to family planning.

I believe this is a great step forward and I think it will go far in helping the country curb the constantly growing population problem. I mentioned in previous columns that I believe over population is the root of so many of our problems in the Philippines. We simply can’t properly sustain the growing number of people in the country. Our infrastructure can’t handle it and we end up with traffic jams and overcrowding in metropolitan areas. This causes job issues and economy issues and in the end we just end up with families that have too many kids that they are unable to support.

If this is not dealt with properly and soon, it will reach a point where the Philippines just does not have the resources for everyone (especially with the way wealth is distributed in our country). From just 19 million in 1945 our population has grown to a staggering 105 million and rising. It is important for everyone to be able to be more proactive in family planning decisions and not just leave everything up in the air. The country will be better for it and the family units will be better for it as well.

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