The bells will ring for all people of goodwill
ON Tuesday, December 11, the bells of Balangiga, Samar, will return to the Philippines. 117 years after they were taken away as war booty by American troops in a bloody war in Samar. From Villamor Air Base in Pasay City , they will be airlifted to Balangiga by December 15, so that on the first day of “Simbang Gabi” on December 16, they will ring once more in their old church.
Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana said United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis informed him of the scheduled arrival of the bells at Villamor Air Base. Mattis said he had informed the US Congress that the US government, following a year-long consultative process with veterans organizations and government officials, had decided to finally return the bells. “This is my good news to you, that after 117 years, the bells will come where they should belong,” he said.
Balangiga is a small town in today’s Eastern Samar, about 98 kilometers fom Tacloban City. On September 28, 1901, Filipino guerrillas and town residents attacked a US garrison in the town, killing 54 American soldiers. The Americans countered with a campaign throughout Samar that killed some 2,500 Filipinos.
Over the years, there have been many attempts to get the Americans to return the church bells, but US veterans organizations and the families of the soldiers who died in the attack of September 28,1901, held on to the bells they claimed as trophies of war. Many appeals for their return were not heeded. This year, in response to a renewed effort by President Duterte, the US finally decided to return the bells.
Their return will make this December a specially memorable one for Philippine-American relations. As long as the bells were on display at US bases in Wyoming and in South Korea, they served to recall a bitter and deadly war between Americans and Filipinos. Our two nations have long forgotten that war, eclipsed by the succeeding events of World War II when they fought together as one.
Today, on this second Advent Sunday, with Church rites around the second candle of Peace, following last Sunday’s first candle of Hope, we have so much in our land on which to anchor our hopes for peace. The next two Advent Sundays will center on the candles of Joy and finally Love.
This December will be a great month for our people. In the face of so many trials, we remain a people of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. When the Balangiga bells peal forth to proclaim the start of Simbang Gabi on December 16, they will be ringing not just for the people of the small Samar town of Balangiga but for the entire Filipino nation – and for all people of goodwill.