The United States will return the historic Bells of Balangiga to a Philippines church, more than a century after they were seized by American troops during a war between the two countries.
In 1901, American forces took three bells from the Catholic church of Balangiga on the eastern island of Samar as war booty in what historians said was a particularly brutal military operation in the new US colony.
The American embassy in Manila said on Sunday that the bells would finally return to the Philippines, following a demand by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte and previous Philippine governments had urged Washington to return the bells, with the president often raising the issue in his anti-American tirades as he builds closer ties with China and Russia.
‘Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are not yours. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage,’ Duterte, who took office in mid-2016, demanded during his State of the Nation address last year.
The US had initially given a non-committal response to Duterte’s demands but on Sunday said it would return the bells.
‘The Secretary of Defense has notified Congress that the Department intends to return the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines,’ said Molly Koscina, spokeswoman for the US embassy in Manila.
‘We’ve received assurances that the Bells will be returned to the Catholic Church and treated with the respect and honor they deserve,’ she added, saying there was no date scheduled for the move.
Duterte’s spokesman welcomed the announcement.
Two of the bells are installed at a memorial in the state of Wyoming, while the third is with US forces in South Korea.
Some US politicians oppose the dismantling of the memorial. The issue had sparked an emotional response from the descendants of American soldiers who served in the Philippines campaign.
The Philippines, a Spanish colony for centuries, was ceded to the United States in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. The country gained independence from the US in 1946.
The brutal Samar campaign was launched about a month after Filipino rebels killed 34 US troops in Balangiga on September 28, 1901.
Seven other American soldiers perished during the escape from Balangiga, and US reinforcements razed the town the day after, it added.
Then-Philippine president Fidel Ramos first sought but failed to recover the bells during a 1998 Washington trip.