Young Filipinos opposed to the US war on Iraq

Clamor for Return of Balangiga Bells Snowballs

By Alexander Martin Remollino,

As U.S. President George W. Bush’s visit to the Philippines scheduled this coming Oct. 18 nears, calls for the return of the bells taken by American occupation forces from the church of Balangiga, Samar in 1901 have been snowballing.

Last Sept. 12, Bp. Leonardo Medroso of the Diocese of Borongan, Samar said he would write the U.S. president and other concerned sectors about the Balangiga bells. The U.S. Congress recently passed a resolution calling for the bells’ return, but Medroso said “we are not yet sure” if Bush would bring the bells on his visit to the Philippines.

Bishop Medroso, whose diocese has jurisdiction over Balangiga, said the bells “are religious articles…and therefore they belong to the church.”

Balangiga church bell at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Loren Legarda-Leviste and the militant church group Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) made similar calls.

“The bells symbolize the sovereignty and aspirations of the Filipino nation,” Legarda-Leviste said. She also pointed out that the bells show the courage of the Filipino people against adversity.

PCPR, for its part, is planning to stage a noise barrage that would coincide with the Bush visit on Oct. 18.

“We will be far from silent, in fact we are calling on the church leaders, clergy and laity to lead the nationwide protest through a noise barrage during Bush’s eight-hour visit on Oct. 18,” said Rev. Fr. Allan Arcebuche, PCPR spokesperson. “The ringing of church bells are also symbolic of our demand for the U.S. government to return immediately the historic Balangiga bells and to offer official public apology for the massacre of thousands of Filipinos since the Filipino-American War in 1899.”

Balangiga “massacre”

The controversy surrounding the bells of Balangiga traces its roots to the war between American soldiers and Filipino guerrillas in this town in 1901-02. The U.S., which had intervened in the Philippine war against Spanish colonialism a few years back ostensibly to help the Filipino people secure their liberty, was then waging a war of occupation in the Philippines.

In August 1901, the 9th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army was sent to garrison the town and aid in pinning down guerrilla movements in the Visayas. Immediately upon arrival, the U.S. troops took over the local government.

The soldiers forcibly occupied some of the huts. They ordered all male residents 18 years old and above to clear the surrounding forests, which were suspected to be guetrilla hideouts. In the evenings, these men were crammed into wooden pens unfit for lodging. One of the soldiers even raped a villager, records show.

The residents, led by the top town official, thought of a plan to fight back.

On the night of Sept. 27, 1901, a procession of 400 women followed by baby coffins passed through the town.

At 6:30 the next morning, the church bells were rung. It was then that the U.S. troops stationed in the town got the surprise of their lives: the “women” were actually men and the coffins contained bolos. They turned on the U.S. troops who were then enjoying their breakfast, killing more than 50 and wounding others.

The incident was played up by the American press, which branded it a “massacre.” To this day it is called a “massacre” in the U.S. media, as in a report by Associated Press dated Sept. 18, 2003.

“Kill and burn”

The Balangiga incident of Sept. 28 led to calls for vengeance among the American public. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt issued orders to pacify Samar.

Gen. Jacob “Jake” Smith was assigned to carry out the orders. He issued his own instructions to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness.” He added: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn: the more you kill and burn the better you will please me.”

Asked for clarification, Smith said the order applied to anyone “capable of carrying arms.” He meant to include even ten-year-old boys, who could hold rifles and bolos. For him, it was just like “killing niggers.”


On Oct. 18, Geneneral Smith’s men attacked Balangiga, and began to kill and burn. As in other provinces they conquered, U.S. soldiers looted the whole place and took the bells from the church.

Smith’s campaign lasted well into 1902. He was court-martialed for leading this campaign, but all he got as a punishment was an admonition. After that, he retired from the service.

The Balangiga bells are considered war trophies. Two of these presently serve as markers on the grounds of F.E. Warren Air Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming, while a third is held at a U.S. military base in South Korea.