THE return to the country of the so-called Balangiga bells looted by American troops in 1901 from a Samar town as war trophies after defeating — massacring, Filipino historians claim — Waray insurgents hugely raises President Duterte’s prestige not only in the country but even on the world stage.
Despite pathetic attempts by the Yellows, such as the blabbermouth Sen. Risa Hontiveros, to wrench off this feather in the President’s cap, I don’t think there is any doubt over Duterte’s crucial role in getting the US to return the bells, as I will discuss below.
Historians will all be reporting: “Under Duterte’s leadership and with his pressure on the US government, the Philippines after 117 years recovered very important symbols of its nationalist aspirations and its people’s sacrifices to establish an independent nation.”
This is a President that understands the subtle requirements for building a nation: symbols.
What hasn’t been given enough attention is the fact that his success in convincing the Americans to give the bells back to the Philippines strengthens even in a small way as another precedent, the efforts of over a dozen colonized nations to get their former colonial masters to return their own looted treasures.
The three-feet-tall 19th century church bells of course are far from the level — in value or antiquity — of, for instance, the looted ancient Parthenon sculptures Greece has been demanding for decades Great Britain to return, or the Chinese zodiac bronze heads that were at Beijing’s Summer Palace and stolen by the British and French troops in the 1860 so-called “Opium War,” which the Chinese have been demanding to be returned to China. A distinction might also be made of a “war trophy,” which the bells were, and treasures of a nation looted by a conquering army.
However, the principle — or the crime — is the same. A European colonizer or invading state takes as war booty a defeated nation’s property and keeps it in their museums, or as in the Balangiga case, in a US Air Force War museum. The Balangiga bells after all were not pistols or swords — the usual war trophies — but were religious artifacts of our Spanish colonial history, having been cast circa-1863, and were the property of the Franciscans whose coat of arms is even etched on them.