The Balangiga Bells (Part 2) » Manila Bulletin News



By Edgardo J. Angara
Former Senator

Former Senator Edgardo J. Angara

This is a sequel to an earlier column where I narrated briefly the history of the Balangiga Bells. (“The Balangiga Bells” Business Mirror, July 26, 2017).

Over the course of several decades, multiple attempts at recovering the Balangiga Bells have been unsuccessful. In 1957, noted historian Fr. Horacio dela Costa wrote to the 13th Air Force in Clark Air Base, pointed out the Franciscan emblems engraved on them, indicating their Franciscan provenance and ownership, and requested that the US Air Force to return the bells to the Franciscan Order in the Philippines.

In 1987, the Balangiga Historical Society petitioned the US government, through the National Historical Institute and the Department of Foreign Affairs, for the bells to be returned, writing that their return “would mean a great deal to the town people of Balangiga, as they represent the rich heritage of the town, the emblem and the aspirations of their forefathers for freedom and liberty.”

Philippine Church leaders also joined the recovery campaign. In April  1998, Borongan Bishop Leonardo Medroso wrote a letter asserting the Church’s ownership to Bishop Hart in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where two of the bells currently reside. Around the same time, Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, representing the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), wrote that the “Church was willing to pay for the recasting of two replica bells, one of which would be given to the US government to replace the genuine items.”

By and large, the American government and even the US world War II veterans were sympathetic to the Philippines’ cause. A small, but vigorous veterans minority in Wyoming opposed the return, saying it’s an affront to the sacrifice of American soldiers during the Samar campaign.

The opposition, despite belonging to a small minority, succeeded in convincing the US Congress to put a restraint against its return, through the Veterans Memorial Physical Integrity Act of 1998 and a rider in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2000, barring the US President from transferring to a foreign country so-called “veteran memorial objects” without specific authorization by law. This prohibition is good until September 30, 2017.

As one will note, there is in the US a strong advocacy for the bells’ return. No less than the 9th Infantry Regiment Association — representing the US regiment fighting the Philipines in Balangiga — supported the cause in 1998, writing a letter in support of a House resolution in favor of the bells’ return to the Philippines.

In 2003, two US House resolutions were filed urging then President George W. Bush to return the bells. In November of that year, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo Higuera, the apostolic nuncio to the United States of America, wrote President Bush a letter supporting the Philippine Catholic Church’s request for the bells to be returned, signifying Vatican endorsement on the matter.

The Balangiga Research Group (BRG), composed of Filipino professor Roland O. Borrinaga, British journalist Bob Couttie, and E. Jean Wall, daughter of US soldier Adolph Gamlin, who survived the Balangiga attack, likewise worked for the bells’ return. Their joint research effort was singularly helpful, especially the presentation of E. Jean Wall, in changing the minds of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, which passed in March, 2005, resolution urging the Wyoming Governor to return the two bells in Cheyenne to the Philippines.

Over and above the private efforts of US veterans’ groups and civic organizations, the work of two US veterans are noteworthy — Dennis Wright, a retired US Navy captain who resides in the Philippines, and Dan Mckinnon, a former US Navy rear admiral who served in Subic Bay and is now a military historian. Together, they organized “Bells of Hope,” to which I belong.

By the way, the two were responsible for last year’s return of another bell — the San Pedro Bell taken by US troops from the Church of Saint Peter and Paul in Bauang, La Union.

The two have successfully lobbied for a resolution from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Pacific Affairs  — representing up to 11,000 US veterans across the Pacific region — calling on the president of the United States, in collaboration with the US Congress, to take action on the matter.

This year, the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor — the highest award of honor in the United States — will be presented to Filipino veterans who fought alongside the US military to defend the Philippines. Hence, this year is a year of hope, that the US will remember that the bells are not bootys of war, nor memorials to soldiers. The bells are symbol of hope and community among Filipinos.

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