Balangiga bells on the way home

Photo via US Embassy

By Eimor P. Santos/CNN Philippines – The historic Balangiga bells, seized by American soldiers from a church in Eastern Samar in 1901, are on their way home.

Photos released by the United States Embassy on Saturday showed two of the bells’ journey home –after being removed from display at an air base in the western U.S. state of Wyoming to being loaded onto a truck for transportation.

The bells left Wyoming on November 15, the same day these were formally turned over to the Philippine government in a ceremony led by Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Romualdez then said that the two bells will be shipped to a facility in Philadelphia for restoration, before sending it to South Korea, where the third bell is located in a U.S. military museum.

The bells are scheduled to arrive at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on December 11, where a “simple ceremony” will be held, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

He said President Rodrigo Duterte “will be there,” contrary to earlier reports that he would not be attending the arrival ceremony.

“The program is like this. So the aircraft that will be bringing the three bells will arrive before lunch in Villamor Air Base. They are going (to) unload and then they are going to remove it from the crate, put it in the display,” Lorenzana said in a chance interview on Friday.

Historians believe one of the bells signaled the attack the Filipinos launched against American troops stationed in Balangiga town in Eastern Samar on September 28, 1901. The attack, which killed 48 American soldiers, was reportedly in retaliation for oppressive treatment that Filipinos received from the foreign soldiers.

The American soldiers retaliated, destroying the town and killing thousands of Filipino soldiers and locals in what came to be known as the Balangiga Massacre, historical accounts said. The American soldiers seized all three bells from the Balangiga Church, and a 1557 cannon as war booty.

President Rodrigo Duterte resurrected a decades-old fight for the return of the Balangiga bells during his second State of the Nation Address in 2017.

“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage,” Duterte said in his speech.

Although some U.S. officials earlier opposed plans to return the bells, the U.S. Department of Defense notified Congress as early as August 2018 that it intends to repatriate the bells.

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