Duterte thanks Americans for returning Balangiga Bells

MANILA, Philippines – After more than a century, the Balangiga bells are finally home in Eastern Samar.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday, December 15, witnessed the turnover of the Transfer Certificate of the Balangiga Bells from United States (US) Deputy Chief of Mission John Law to Philippine Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

The certificate was then handed over to Balangiga Mayor Randy Graza.

In his speech, Duterte said that the return of the bells was possible due to "several efforts made by both Americans and the Philippines." But he said that no particular statesman can claim credit for the bells' historic homecoming. (READ: Joy as U.S.-seized bells return to Philippine church)

"Let me be very clear on this: There are some who are front loaders and pedantic in the government. The bells are returned and it was really because of the fervent prayers of the entire Filipino nation," Duterte said.

"But nobody can claim a singular credit for the generous act of the Americans. The bells are returned. The credit goes to the American people and to the Filipino people. Period," the President added.

The Balangiga bells arrived in Manila on December 11, after making a stopover in Okinawa, Japan, where the two bells in Wyoming, USA, and the bell in South Korea were reunited.

'Vibrant' US-PH relations

Duterte also said that the return marks a "vibrant chapter" on the bilateral relations between Manila and Washington.

The Balangiga Bells were used to signal a historic siege during the Philippine-American War in 1901, where Filipinos killed 48 out of 74 US troops.

In revenge for the US' worst single defeat in the Philippines, the American forces led the Balangiga Massacre, where about 2,500 Filipinos were killed.

The bells were taken as war spoils.

The bells' return, Duterte said, is a "restoration of Filipinos' dignity."

"I am sure that our ancestors are celebrating with us here on this remarkable victory. And that it does not only bring back the glory of the town, but also contributes to the full restoration of our dignity as a Filipino," he said.

Long process

Duterte was not the first president to ask Washington to return the bells. In 1994, then-president Fidel Ramos requested the same from his US counterpart, Bill Clinton, but to no avail.

In 2014, more than 3,000 online petitioners also urged the US to return the Balangiga Bells. When then-US president Barack Obama visited the Philippines that year, however, the US leader made no mention of the matter.

Duterte first demanded for the return of the bells during his second State of the Nation Address in 2017. The statement was made in the presence of US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim.

"We know fully well that several efforts have been made by both Americans and the Philippines. It is really indeed a long and tedious process to the point that the outcome was disappointing sometimes, but the long wait is over," Duterte said on Saturday. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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