Interesting Facts About the Balangiga Bells

Some artifacts have cultural importance in a historical context which is why they are considered important in modern times as well. Many such artifacts have been preserved in museums because of their importance. One of the most important ones includes the Balangiga Bells which have an importance for the United States with regards to the US-Philippine War. 

What are the Balangiga Bells?

Balangiga Bells were the three bells that hung inside a church in the state of Balangiga. They were taken away by the US Army as war trophies. The specific reason why the Balangiga bells were considered as war trophies is because of the Balangiga Massacre which took place in 1901 during the Filipino-American War. This massacre was one of those where the US army was taken by surprise by the villagers in Balangiga and Company C suffered major losses. 

Balangiga Bells

Interesting Facts About the Balangiga Bells

Below are some of the most interesting facts about the Balangiga Bells you might have not known before. 

First Attempt to Get the Bells

The first attempts to get back the Balangiga Bells started in the 1950s. It was November 1957 when the Department of History at Ateneo de Manila University wrote a letter to the Air Force Command at the Clark Air Force Base stating that they wanted the bells back as they belonged to the Franciscans. However, there were no conclusive results to these letters which makes the first attempt to get the bells a failed one. 

Attempt to Gain Balangiga Bells in 1987

Fun Fact – After the first attempt, the hustle for getting back the Balangiga Bells slowed down. The organizations that wanted to get the Balangiga Bells significantly reduced their attempts. However, the second major attempt was seen in 1987 when Tomas Gomez III who was the Consul General of the Philippine Consulate in Hawaii received correspondence from John Witeck regarding the bells. 

The bells were spotted at the Warren Air Force Base by a few colleagues of John Witteck which gave the entire issue a major hype once again. Letters were written to the senators such as Senator Spark Matsunaga representing Hawaii and the officials requested his help in getting the Balangiga Bells back to the Philippines. However, the efforts once again failed because after the Senator wrote to the Department of Air Force to return the Balangiga Bells present at the Warren Air Force Base, he received a negative response. 

The Balangiga Bells at Warren Airforce Base.

The Philippine Government Demanded the Return of Balangiga Bells

This may seem odd that something like a church bell was given so much importance, the Government of the Philippines demanded that the church bells should be handed back. The Former President of the Philippines, Fidel V. Ramos, requested the U.S Government to return the Balangiga Bells when Bill Clinton was the President. This was the decade of the 1990s when the two governments were directly involved in the matter of Balangiga Bells. 

However, the US Government did not pay attention to the matter and said that the bells were a part of American Government property. Things got so heated that officials in the US said that the request needed to be passed by an Act of Congress even though Bill Clinton offered that the bells could be returned back to the Philippines. Needless to say, it appears quite unusual that a simple artifact like the Balangiga Bells were requested for return by the Philippines as well as the fact that the US did not entertain this request easily as if the Balangiga Bells were something extremely important.

The two Balangiga bells in Wyoming after removal from display at F. E. Warren AFB

Other Parties Involved in Negotiation of Balangiga Bells

Surprisingly, one of the main things observed was that there were several other parties other than the government of the Philippines who supported the cause of the Philippines to get back the Balangiga Bells. As of 2002, the Philippine Senate passed resolution No. 393 which made the President of the Philippines responsible for negotiating the deal with the United States to get back the Balangiga Bells. 

What was unique was the fact that in 2005, the Bishop of Borongan wrote a letter directly to the President of the United States, George W. Bush, as well as the United States Congress and Helsinki Commission to initiate the process of returning the bells. This letter created a major impact on the government of the US as many officials started to favor the return of Balangiga Bells back to the Philippines. The Wyoming Veterans Commission as well as Congressman Bob Filner made efforts to favor the return of the many artifacts held by the US post the Filipino-American War. 

However, these positive efforts by the officials in the US government once again failed due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, there was resistance by other congressmen and governors who did not want to return the bells. Furthermore, two different resolutions were passed in the congress in 2005 and 2007 respectively. These resolutions were short-lived as they were adjourned by Congress after being in the discussion for a few months. The resolutions were focused on providing the right authoritative measures to officials so that the return of Balangiga Bells could proceed. 

We are in Pain – Says, Philippine President

The Balangiga Bells were now becoming a much more interesting and culturally significant phenomenon that was giving rise to nationalism in the Philippines.  As of 2013, in the town of Balangiga, the citizens requested the United States to return their bells. This happened during the time when the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan and the US government was providing military aid and supplies. 

Nonetheless, the real drama began in 2017 where the President of the Philippines addressed the nation on July 14 2017 where he called upon the US government for the return of these bells. His speech got much popularity after he said the words “Isauli naman ninyo. Masakit ‘yan sa amin” which means that “Please return it. This is painful for us”. However, it did not appear as something serious because, during the bilateral meeting between the Presidents of both countries, there was no discussion regarding the Balangiga Bells and their return to the Philippines. 

Learn more about the Balangiga Massacre here – Balangiga Massacre

Dr. Henry B does the Job

Till 2017, there was no significant progress towards the return of Balangiga Bells while there were many statements as well as official letters. However, in late 2017, Dr. Henry B. Howard made efforts to change the US National Defense Authorization Act while he also got permission for the return of Balangiga Bells with the courtesy of the Secretary of Defence. 

In 2018, the Secretary of Defense made an announcement to Congress that the Department of Defense is now planning to return the bells to the Philippines. The two bells which were at Wyoming were to be returned while the third bell was in South Korea and was also ready to be returned back to the Philippines. If there is one person who we can give the real credit for getting back the Balangiga Bells, it would be Dr. Henry B. This is because, despite all the efforts done in the past, the Balangiga Bells were still never returned to the Philippines unless he took action. 

The Bells were Returned to the Philippines after 117 Years

After numerous efforts by the Government of the Philippines as well as the other negotiators, the Balangiga Bells were returned to the Philippines on December 11, 2018. They were captured in 1901 which makes it 117 years of a long hold by the US government before they were handed back to the Catholic Church in the Philippines. 

These bells are considered to be one of the most important historical artifacts because there were several US governments involved to resolve the matter. Furthermore, these bells are important because they took over a century to be recovered. There have been various war artifacts that have been captured by the US from the numerous wars that it has participated in. However, the issue of Balangiga Bells is significant because of how the bells got back to the Philippines. On December 16, 2018, one of the Balangiga Bells was rung inside the church after 117 years. 


Above we have mentioned the various interesting facts about the Balangiga Bells. The story of Balangiga Bells is surely an intriguing one where the bells became something so politically and culturally significant that the governments were involved in getting them back vs retaining them. 

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