The Saga of the Balangiga Bells


Explore these links for more info:

  1. The Massacre and the Aftermath

  2. The Balangiga Massacre

  3. Balangiga Massacre, 1901 - Philippine-American War, 1899-1902


MANILA, Nov. 23 (PNA) -- President Fidel V. Ramos today ordered Ambassador to Washington Raul Ch. Rabe to exert greater efforts for the recovery of the so-called Balangiga bells, taken to Cheyenne, Wyoming, 96 years ago as a war booty, despite strong opposition from US military and political leaders.

In a handwritten memorandum, the Chief Executive told Rabe: "Let us try harder," and suggested a "sharing" formula in order to heal the wounds left by that historical episode 96 years ago.

"There are two sides to this important episode," the President said. "A `sharing` will heal." The Chief Executive did not specify the ``sharing`` formula he is suggesting.

Since his posting in Washington in 1993, Rabe has been quietly negotiating for the church bells' return with Wyoming priests, politicians and business executives. But during Rabe`s visit to Cheyenne last month, US veterans groups there, considered a political force, warned him that the bells will never be moved.

The bells now hang on a brick structure at the parade grounds of F.E. Warren Air base in Cheyenne.

A report published in the November 19, 1997 issue of the Wall Street Journal said the return of the two Balangiga bells has now become a diplomatic dilemma for both the Philippines and the United States.

The report said the State Department has already referred the Philippines' request for the return of the bells to the Defense Department, which took the position that it will take an act of the US Congress to move them. The Pentagon said the US has proper title to the bells under international law. A resolution has been introduced in the US House of Representatives by five members calling for the return of one bell, but it has not been calendared for a vote.

Former Vice President Salvador H. Laurel, who chairs the National Centennial Commission (NCC), has said the Balangiga bells' return would be a ``beautiful gesture`` by the United States. The Philippines will mark next year the centennial of the declaration of its independence from Spain.

US politicians who support Manila`s request, however, only want to return one bell to the Philippines.

Balangiga is a remote coastal village in Samar where 78 US soldiers were killed in a bloody encounter with Filipino revolutionaries fighting US colonization. As a result of the killings, a US general ordered Samar to be torched. Its two bells were taken to Cheyenne by withdrawing US Army units after Samar`s burning.

The order to burn Samar came from Brig. Gen. Jacob Smith, a former Indian fighter, who dispatched Marine and Army units there to turn the entire island into a ``howling wilderness.``

The US troops destroyed crops, burned villages and summarily shot hundreds of suspected rebels and sympathizers. A Marine major had later testified in a court martial proceedings that he had been sent to Samar on orders to shoot every Filipino male over the age of 10.

According to US military accounts, one Sunday in September 1901 a local police chief grabbed the rifle of a 23-year-old US sentry named Adolph Gamlin and smashed its butt across his head.

A few minutes later, the bells of Balangiga began to peal. As the bells pealed, hundreds of Filipino freedom fighters poured out of the church disguised as women mourners and carrying coffins filled with bolos and attacked a company of US troops who were caught off guard as they ambled out of their quarters for breakfast.

All in all, 74 US soldiers died. Many of them were pursued by sharks or drowned as survivors retreated. (PNA) DCT/OPS/ecp

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MANILA, Dec. 5 (PNA) -- President Fidel V. Ramos today proposed a sharing formula as a "win-win" solution to Philippine demands for the return of the historic Balangiga church bells, which were taken by the American soldiers from Eastern Samar and brought to Cheyenne, Wyoming 96 years ago as a war booty.

Under the President's proposal, the United States would retain one of the two bells and return the other to the Philippines. Or both countries would get one half of each of the two bells.

The Chief Executive made the proposal in a meeting with US Senator Max Baucus (Democrat, Montana) in Malacanang this morning "to heal the wound" in US-Philippine relations left by the Balangiga incident almost a century ago.

"We have suggested a solution. You see, there are two bells there and so, I said: "Why not one for each? Or, if the two bells are really embedded somewhere in Wyoming, I said "Why don't we cut the bells into half? You keep one half of each of the two bells and reconstruct them later on. You give us the other half of the two bells and we will reconstruct them here," the President explained to Senator Baucus.

The President requested the US senator to help the Philippine government in convincing key American officials to return the bells to the country through his proposed "win-win" solution.

He said he was confident that efforts to recover the bells would succeed and the bells would be returned to the Philippines in time for the celebration of the country's 100th year independence.

The President had earlier directed Philippine Ambassador to the US Raul Rabe to exert greater efforts to recover the bells.

Since his posting in Washington in 1993, Rabe has been negotiating with Wyoming priests, politicians and business executives for the return of the church bells to Eastern Samar.

The bells now hang on a brick structure at the parade grounds of F.E. Warren Air Base in Cheyenne.

Aside from enlisting Baucus' help, the President has also requested the Democratic Party's continued support for the Filipino Veterans Equity Act pending in the US Congress.

The bill seeks to compensate Filipino World War II veterans for their services and heroism during the war.

Senator Baucus arrived in the country with a group of Montana businessmen to look into business possibilities in the Philippines.

They were accompanied to Malacanang by Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Victor Ramos. (PNA) SCS/OPS/jsd

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