AS THE BAMBOOS SWAY | The Spirit of the Balangiga Bells


Now that the Bells of Balangiga are repatriated to the Philippines, there is a flurry of claims as to who should be credited for their return. Malacanang Palace has the audacity to say that it was only through the “political will” of President Rodrigo ‘Digong’ Duterte that the bells will again be hoisted at the Balangiga Church towers in Samar.

Carted as war booties in 1902 by US colonialist troops, the earliest recorded request for their return was in November 1957 when Fr. H. de la Costa of the Department of History at the Ateneo de Manila University wrote the Thirteenth Air Force at Clark Air Force Base stating that the bells should be returned to the Philippines.

In the 1990s, during the term of former President Fidel Ramos, attempts were made to talk to US President Bill Clinton for the bells’ return. From then on, the Catholic Church, the Philippine legislative and executive offices, civic groups, and other organizations – both in the Islands and US mainland – in concerted or individual group efforts buttressed the clamor for their return.
The debate, however, should not shroud the spirit for why the bells rang and why they were looted.

Moreover, their return should not muddle an atrocious episode in Philippine History where a muddling is exemplified by Sung Kim, US Ambassador to the Philippines, when he stated on Dec. 11, 2018 that “The history of these bells spans the entire relationship between the United States and the Philippines. In the process, they have touched many lives. And their return underscores the enduring friendship between our countries, our shared values, and shared sacrifices.”

Enduring friendship, shared values and sacrifices between the American and Filipino peoples, yes. Not, however, with the US government and their lackeys who run and influence the Philippine Government.

Not now, not then, before, during, and long after the so called Balangiga massacre.
The massacre happened during the pacification campaign of the Filipinos by the US colonialist troops sparked by the Philippine-American war in February 4, 1899. One of the villages occupied by the US troops was Balangiga in Samar, a small seaside village of 200 nipa houses. In August 1901, the Company C of the 9th Infantry Regiment of the US army was ordered to set up a garrison in Balangiga as a springboard for the pacification of the Visayan Islands. One of the hunted rebels then in the area was Vicente Lukban.

Immediately after their arrival, the US troops took over the government of the town, occupying local huts. The male residents from eighteen years old were forced to clear the nearby forests where guerillas were suspected to be hiding. The men were forced into wooden pens at night where lodging was cramped. Becoming boisterous, an American also raped one of the town’s lasses.

With pent up anger, the residents decided to get back at the intruders. On September 28, after making the women and children hide for safety, the males dressed up as women and marched as in a funeral carrying coffins of what appeared to be children’s corpses. The coffins contained rifles and bolos. At a signal at 6:30 a.m. by the pealing of one of the bells from the Church bell fry, 400 men attacked the 74 American soldiers who were having their breakfast. Fifty-four American troops died and 18 were wounded in the attack.

A retaliation expedition led by General Jake Smith resulted in a reign of terror in Balangiga. He ordered to “kill and burn” the town, to shoot at everyone capable of carrying arms – even boys over ten years old. “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me…” He had turned Samar into a “howling wilderness.” Ransacking the whole village, the American forces carted the Balangiga church bells.

According to Wikipedia “The small signal bell was later given by the 11th Infantry to the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment at their headquarters in Calbayog a few months before the 9th Infantry’s departure for home. They arrived in San Francisco on 27 June 1902. The unit was returned to its old Madison Barracks in Sackets Harbor, New York. There, a brick pedestal was built to display the bell. In 1928, it was moved to Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington. The bell was later kept at the 2nd Infantry Division Museum in Camp Red Cloud, Uijeongbu. It had previously been displayed at the unit’s Camp Hovey headquarters.

The 11th Infantry left the Philippines in February 1904 taking their trophies with them and redeployed to Fort D.A. Russell in Wyoming, arriving on 23 March 1904. On 16 May 1905, the Cheyenne Daily Leader newspaper reported that the cannon had been mounted on the parade ground near the flagpole along with other relics from the Philippines…to include the famous bell which gave the signal for the massacre of a whole company. Two large bells three feet tall and a seven-foot cannon were proudly displayed in front of the flagpole on the parade ground of the fort.”

A British writer in the 1990s estimated that 2,500 Samarians were killed by US troops in Balangiga. Filipino historians posted figures as high as 50,000. While the figures will never be ascertained, the incident exhibited the monstrosity of US troops during the pacification campaign.

Mark Twain, an anti-imperialist American writer, touched on the annihilation of the Samarians in his coverage and critique against imperial America. The American people, nonetheless, were more horrified with the killing of the Company C troops by ‘barbarians’. They considered the episode in historical pages of US Army military campaigns as “the worst defeat since the epic Battle of the Little Bighorn, commonly known as the Last Stand of Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry Regiment in 1876.”

Although the Filipinos were considered to be savages, tulisans, barbarians during the US occupation of the Philippines, there is no question that the Balangigans were revolutionaries in their own rights who resented occupation by foreigners and wanted independence. The retaliation from the US troops under Smith is a repression massacre and the looting to the bells is carting away the spirit of fighting for freedom.

For whatever reasons the US government now returned the bells after 117 years and after so long a concerted request for their return, the spirit of contention should never be forgotten for which the bells tolled. We have to contradict the statement of Domingo Siazon Jr., then Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs in 1998 saying that “By sharing the bells, we share the agonies they represent, and then we can close this chapter of our history.”

There can be no closure to this chapter of Philippine History as long as the reasons why multitudes of Filipinos are still in extreme poverty under the prevailing systems are identified and stamped a solution to…there will be those for whom the bells toll.#


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