By Corina Oliquino i FilAm Star Correspondent
Eastern Visayas historian Rolando Borrinaga on August 10 shared a message from Bellevue, Nebraska Mayor Rita Gomez Sanders to The Philippine Star the impending announcement from Defense Sec. James Mattis that the U.S is reportedly in favor of returning the Balangiga bells to the Philippines.
“Good news today! The Secretary of Defense announced the return of the Bells! Keep you posted for announcements! I am so happy for you!” read the message of Sanders, a Filipino-American.
In his exchange with the Philippine Star, Borrinaga said Sanders received the information from Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, who learned of Mattis’ announcement.
But Bacon said no official announcement has been made as of August 13.
“This is just an alert, posted by Mayor Rita Gomez Sanders on Facebook after getting a call from her congressman within this hour. I guess the official statement will be released (soon). Anyway, the announcement was apparently made in time with the fiesta of San Lorenzo de Martir in Balangiga, August 10,” Borrinaga said on a Facebook post.
In the interview, Borrinaga, who is also the secretary of the National Committee on Historical Research of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, said congressional approval is not needed for the return of the bells as the return was also provided for in the U.S.’s National Defense Authorization Act of 2018.
“The final clincher is the recommendation of the Secretary of Defense to the President for the bells to be returned,” Borrinaga said.
“The final push was brought about by the concerted efforts of U.S. veterans working for goodwill and understanding between both countries,” added Borrinaga in the comments thread of his post according to The Philippine Star.
According to its report, the three bells were taken by the United States Army from the church of Balangiga town, Eastern Samar in 1901 during the Philippine-American war.
“The ringing of the bells signaled Filipino guerrillas to attack American troops on September 28, 1901, killing at least 48 members of the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment,” the report reads.
In retaliation, U.S. Gen. 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.
Return of Balangiga Bells will help heal wounds of PH-U.S. war
In an interview with GMA News, Borrinaga said, “The return of the Balangiga bells is virtually the unresolved ‘last issue’ pertaining to the Philippine-American War. In the past, the bells have been overly used by Filipino activists to ‘smash’ the Americans. With this issue settled, Philippine-American relations would have to assume a new posture, at least a less hysterical one.”
Borrinaga is also an advocate for the return of the bells and author of the book The Balangiga Conflict Revisited.
However, Borrinaga has warned that the return of the bells may still face opposition.
“I took the news in a matter-of-fact way. I took a deep breath, (cried) a bit, and then felt a deep sense of relief that an advocacy I held on to for 24 years now had borne fruit. I can no longer be over-excited about this because on the other hand, I was always open to the possibility that this event would not happen,” Borrinaga said.
Borrinaga also noted how the veterans community in the U.S. helped with the campaign to return the bells to the Philippines.
“The Veterans of Foreign Wars approved the resolution to return the bells during their national convention some three weeks ago. And if the American Legion will approve the same resolution during their national convention on August 24, then the voice of two major veterans organizations would become very loud and clear,” Borrinaga explained.
Malacañang welcomes U.S. intent to return Balangiga Bells
In a statement on August 12, the Palace through Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque has welcomed the intent of the U.S. Government to return the Balangiga bell to the Philippines.
“We welcome this development as we look forward to continue working with the United States government in paving the way for the return of the bells to the Philippines,” Presidential Roque said in a statement.
The turnover date, however, has yet to be specified.