U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has thrown support for the return of the contested Balangiga bells to the Philippines.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila announced that Mattis signed the documents favoring the return of the bells which were taken by American troops as spoils of war 117 years ago.
Mattis reportedly signed the papers on Aug. 10, as people of Balangiga in Eastern Samar province marked the feast of their town’s patron saint, San Lorenzo de Martir.
The information was relayed to Malacañang by Deputy Press Attache Trude Raizen of the U.S Embassy in Manila on Saturday.
“Secretary of Defense Mattis has notified Congress that the Department intends to return the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines,” the Presidential Communications Group quoted Raizen as saying.
“No specific date has been identified for the return of the Bells. We’ve received assurances that the Bells will be returned to the Catholic Church and treated with the respect and honor they deserve,” Raizen added.
The bells were taken by U.S. forces as a war trophy in the aftermath of the Balangiga Encounter during the Philippine-American War.
One of the bells is in the possession of 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud based in South Korea while two others are at a former base of the 11th Infantry Regiment at F. E. Warren air base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Efforts to return the bells to the Philippines have started in 1957 when Jesuit historian Fr. Horacio de la Costa requested the 13th Air Force in San Francisco, California to repatriate the bells.
Meanwhile, the Balangiga Historical Society through the National Historical Institute and the Department of Foreign Affairs initiated formal government efforts in reacquiring the Bells in 1989.
The Diocese of Borongan, to which the parish of Balangiga belongs, has also stepped up its efforts by organizing a Diocesan Committee on Balangiga Bells composed of Filipino priests and lay people in the Philippines and in the U.S.
In 2005, former bishop of Borongan Leonardo Medroso met with several legislators in US congress in view of lobbying for the return of the bells.
In 2010, current Borongan bishop Crispin Varquez met with the members of the committee in the US who are spearheading the lobby in the US Congress for the return of the bells.
Every September 29, the province commemorate the Balangiga Encounter Day to remember the bravery and courage of the Estehanons.
By Roy Lagarde
August 11, 2018