Duterte de­mands US re­turn church bells

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MANILA: Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte has de­manded the United States re­turn church bells seized by Amer­i­can forces in a bloody cam­paign more than a cen­tury ago, in an­other blast at his coun­try’s tra­di­tional ally. Amer­i­can forces took three bells from the Catholic church of Balangiga town on the east­ern is­land of Sa­mar in 1901 as war booty in what his­to­ri­ans said was a par­tic­u­larly bru­tal mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in the new US colony.

“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are not yours. They are ours. They be­long to the Philip­pines. They are part of our na­tional her­itage,” Duterte said at his an­nual State of the Na­tion Ad­dress on Mon­day. “Those bells are re­minders of the gal­lantry and hero­ism of our fore­bears who re­sisted the Amer­i­can colonis­ers and sac­ri­ficed their lives in the process.” Two of the bells are in­stalled at a me­mo­rial for US war dead in Wy­oming, while the third is with US forces in South Korea.

Some US politi­cians op­pose the dis­man­tling of the me­mo­rial. US em­bassy spokes­woman Molly Koscina gave a non-com­mit­tal re­ply yes­ter­day to Duterte’s de­mands. “We are aware that the bells of Balangiga have deep sig­nif­i­cance for a num­ber of peo­ple, both in the United States and in the Philip­pines,” she said in an email to AFP. “We will con­tinue to work with our Filipino part­ners to find a res­o­lu­tion.” The bru­tal Sa­mar cam­paign was launched about a month af­ter Filipino rebels killed 34 US troops in Balangiga on Septem­ber 28, 1901, ac­cord­ing to a US Army War Col­lege re­search pa­per. Seven other Amer­i­can sol­diers per­ished dur­ing the es­cape from Balangiga, and US re­in­force­ments razed the town the day af­ter, it added. Duterte on Mon­day re­peated a Filipino ac­count of the cam­paign that the com­mand­ing gen­eral, Ja­cob Smith, or­dered Sa­mar be turned into a “howl­ing wilder­ness” and that all Filipino males aged 10 or above be killed.

A 1902 US court-mar­tial con­victed Smith of a mi­nor of­fence in re­la­tion to the Sa­mar cam­paign, while 39 other Amer­i­cans were sep­a­rately found guilty of tor­tur­ing and shoot­ing Filipino pris­on­ers there, the US Army War Col­lege re­search pa­per said. How­ever none of them were jailed, ac­cord­ing to the pa­per. The then Philip­pine pres­i­dent Fidel Ramos first sought but failed to re­cover the bells dur­ing a 1998 Wash­ing­ton trip.

Duterte, a self-de­scribed so­cial­ist, has since his elec­tion last year worked to dis­tance Manila from Wash­ing­ton while build­ing closer ties with China and Rus­sia. The Philip­pine is­lands, a Span­ish colony for cen­turies, were ceded to the United States in 1898 at the end of the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War.

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