Let's park the fun for a moment, seryosong usapan muna.
The colorful yet horrific history of the three Balangiga bells had always been close to my heart. Having kept a homeschooling and cultural website for almost a year now, there was a point when I was asked on the Facebook group (of which I am an administrator) – Kulturang Pinas – to elaborate on this tragic account.
I had my historical bases for answering the said query and, although the facts were pretty straightforward, my opinions, however, were far from being unemotional.
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The Philippine History Site (PHS) encapsulated the account looking through the lens of a Filipino. However, there are other posts on American blogs that showed a different angle on this dreadful part of our history.
I will first delve into the most glaring point in both the PHS article and the i-Witness documentary (see the YouTube video below). If there is one point that is repeatedly stressed, it is that war is, indeed, ugly and the price that the warring parties have to pay in order to win the battle is high.
We have learned from the outset that history is often based on what the historian believes to be true and as E.H. Carr interjected in What Is History, historians “expect their work to be superseded again and again”. In this account, it was a case of who said what.
In WyoHistory.org, Douglas R. Cubbison painted a different picture of the Balangiga massacre. It is understandable that he made heroes of the fallen American soldiers after having described the testimony of the allegedly sexually assaulted young women as “confused and inconsistent” (2018). He also built up the image of Company C’s Captain Thomas W. Connell to be one who was sympathetic to the Filipinos.
The history as recounted by Filipinos was justifiably different. Here, it was described that the soldiers who were sent there to pacify the town “took over the [Filipinos’] affairs…and forcibly occupied some of the local huts” (The Balangiga Massacre, n.d.). And, yes, there was an alleged sexual assault on one of the young women in the village.
Knowing how important chastity was to Filipinos, this is definitely something that we cannot just bow down to – not anymore. Then fresh from the 333 years of Spanish colonization, those who were labeled as insurgents by Cubbison are just Filipinos who were practically tired of being controlled in their own land.
The Balangiga Massacre did not just happen because of that alleged rape or even the way that adult men were housed in wooden pens (were they pigs?), if one would clearly look at it, there were underlying reasons for the grisly deaths.
More than these allegations from both countries, the stark reality was, the Philippines, purportedly, gained its independence from Spanish rule but in reality, they were just sold to another colonizer – $20,000,000 USD for a whole archipelago - any takers?
It is just right that Filipino leaders request the return of the three bells. These were the tools used to signal the beginning of the Filipino attack on the American soldiers in Balangiga. Also, these served as a beacon of hope to the people of that town much as it is now a symbol of the bravery of the fallen Balangiga townsmen. Even the Catholics look to these objects as a symbol of prayer and worship.
Ex-president Fidel V. Ramos asked then U.S. President Bill Clinton for the bells to be returned but the latter insisted that they were already the property of the U.S. government and that it would require a Congressional act for the request to even be considered.
The 2002 and 2007 efforts of Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Manny Villar, respectively, also made similar appeals. Even the Diocese of Borongan appealed that religious artifacts are not supposed to be taken as trophies of war, although, Dennis Wright, Sandra Aguinaldo’s interviewee, said that taking the bells so they could not be turned into cannons was not particularly wrong.
I liked what he used as a follow-up statement, though, that they should have been returned when the war already ended. And I even like it more that President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned the Balangiga bells during his State of the Nation Address and how they truly belonged to the Filipino nation.
While I have no hatred towards the Americans (my father was a naturalized American citizen), I describe white to be white and red as red. It is no longer a matter of who is right but what is right. Is it right for the Americans to take the Balangiga bells as a trophy for killing and burning and for turning Balangiga into a howling wilderness?
I have yet to witness the return of the said bells and I will be there when they are finally returned to the belfry where they truly belong. National Artist Napoleon Abueva may have created an amazing monument of the Balangiga Massacre but not till the three bells finally find their way home can the Balangiga townsfolk and the Filipino people actually say that both nations have buried the hatchet.
Carr, E. H., & Evans, R. J. (2017). What is history? Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave.
Cubbison, D. R. (2018, June 4). The Bells of Balangiga. Retrieved August, 2018, from https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/bells-balangiga
Geducos, A. (2018, August 25). Return Balangiga bells before anytalk, Duterte tells US. Retrieved October 22, 2018, from https://news.mb.com.ph/2018/08/24/return-balangiga-bells-before-anytalk-duterte-tells-us/
Interaksyon. (2017, September 18). 8 Balangiga bells facts that will make you want them back in the Philippines. Retrieved October 22, 2018, from http://www.interaksyon.com/lifestyle/2017/07/31/88051/8-balangiga-bells-facts-that-will-make-you-want-them-back-in-the-philippines/
The Balangiga Massacre. (n.d.). Retrieved August, 2018, from http://opmanong.ssc.hawaii.edu/filipino/balangiga.html
Kevin Poch for the photograph of the two Balanginga Bells in Wyoming
The Balangiga Research Group for the photo of the smallest Balangiga bell in South Korea.
E.S. Villamor has made a career in writing for a decade now. Her online business - GIML (Gabriela Isabel & Miguel Lucas) Publishing started in 2014. She advocated for women's rights and was once enamored with imparting financial literacy through training and blogs but she is now focused on propagating all things Filipino. This site is also being groomed as a rich homeschooling resource.