Two church bells taken from a church in Meycauayan Bulacan Philippines 110 years ago during the Philippine-American War were returned to Filipino hands as representatives from the Sisters of Mercy order gave them to the Philippine Consulate in Chicago. According to a placard attached to the bells, they were taken after the church was bombarded by a U.S. artillery unit. It is not known how a Sisters of Mercy convent obtained the bells. The return of these smaller bells begs the question about another set of bells that are a point of contention between the U.S. and the Philippines: what about the Balangiga Bells?
What are the Balangiga bells? In 1901, men from the village of Balangiga on the Philippine island of Samar ambushed a company of U.S. troops, killing in the 48 out of 74 in an incident known as the Balangiga massacre. In retaliation, American general Jacob H. Smith ordered that anyone capable of bearing arms in the area be killed. When asked what that constituted, Smith said anyone over the age of ten.
“I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me… The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness..” – General Jacob H. Smith
Many civilians were killed, with estimates varying from 2500 and higher. Three church bells from Balangiga were taken home by US troops as war booty. Smith was court-martialed for his actions and. News of the retaliation sparked outrage in the United States.
Flash forward to the 1990s. Efforts were launched to recover the bells, but at the same time, the lease to U.S. bases in the Philippines was expiring and the Philippines refused to renew it. According to Bob Couttie, who has written on the Balangiga massacre, some U.S. veterans felt snubbed by the rejection, and when asked for the bells back, they refused. Couttie contends that the return request ended up being politicized and highly publicized in the Philippines and that if the request was made quietly, they could have been returned.
Two of the Balingiga bells are in Wyoming with the 11th Infantry Regiment, and another one is with the 9th Infantry Regiment in South Korea. The Philippine Consulate in Chicago plans to send the Meycauayan bells to the National Museum in Manila.