MANILA (Xinhua) – After 117 years, the United States has returned the three original church bells taken by American soldiers as war booty during the Philippine-American war in 1901.
A US Air Force plane bearing the historic bells landed in the Philippines on Tuesday morning.
US officials led by US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim handed the bells to Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at a Philippine air force base in Manila.
“It is a most memorable day of our nation’s history and we celebrate it with deep gratitude and respect for all those who helped to make this day happen,” Mr Lorenzana said during the handover ceremony, expressing hope that the return of the church bells will bring closure to the painful conflict 117 years ago.
“The bells of Balangiga will once again peal. They will still remind the people of Balangiga of what happened in the town square more than a century ago, but they would also look at that history with more understanding and acceptance. These peals will be of joy, revelry and remembrance of shared histories and ideals of new beginnings,” he said.
Filipinos from Balangiga, a seaside town in Eastern Samar province in the central Philippines, used the church bells to signal an attack against American soldiers at the dawn of Sept. 28, 1901.
Two of the bells have been on display at the Warren Air Force base in Cheyenne, Wyoming and another at a US military facility in South Korea.
A number of Philippine presidents and defense secretaries have demanded the return of Balangiga bells.
During his second State of the Nation Address last year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte specifically demanded the return of the bells.
“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage. Please return them. This is painful for us,” Mr Duterte said then.
Mr Duterte, who was initially scheduled to witness the handover ceremony on Tuesday, did not attend.
After the handover ceremony held in Manila, the bells will be flown by a Philippine Air Force plane to Eastern Samar for their return to Balangiga town church officials on Saturday.