The occasion was highly emotional for some people, “I’d like to cry, I’m so happy...How many years of waiting? It’s already one century, but at last, the bells [have] come home,” stated Terencia Dunnighaus, 63, a descendant of the rebels who fought American occupation of the Philippines.
“It was time to do the right thing,” stated John Law, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy to the Philippines.
The bells belonged to the Catholic Church of Saint Lawrence the Martyr, in the city of Balangiga. Their historic relevance goes back to local rebellions against US occupation of the Philippines in the early 1900s. Rebels rang the bells to signal an upcoming attack on the foreign army.
The last time they were employed was during the Balinga massacre of 1901, the bloodiest strike on the foreign occupants, in which militants ambushed and killed 48 US troops. As a response, “kill and burn,” where the orders issued to American soldiers who then obliterated the church and then looted the bells as war-bounty.
President Duterte rang the bells in an event commemorating the return of the stolen symbols of freedom. The attendees included military officials, as well as US veterans, citizens, and clergy.
For Duterte, this signifies a symbolic victory, as the US government has responded to his demands to return the bells, “The bells are returned...The credit goes to the American people and the Filipino people. Period.”
The US government violated the norms regulating war booty by holding the bells, “Under those norms, private property taken during wartime must have a purpose in prosecuting the war. When the war is over, the booty is supposed to be returned,” stated NPR, based on expert criteria.