Last December 11, 2018, the return of Balangiga Bells from USA made news and was a cause of celebration in the country, especially in Leyte, where they belonged. Following the wake of the Balangiga Massacre, the bells were taken as war booty by American soldiers during the American occupation in 1901. After 117 years, the Philippine government is finally successful in retrieving this lost piece of history back in San Lorenzo de Martir church, Balangiga, Eastern Samar.
Surprisingly, the Balangiga bells were not bought all at once. The acquisition of the first bell took the whole town 4 years to raise enough funds to buy it. It bears the Franciscan coat of arms and the inscription R. San Francisco Año El 1853 (R. San Francisco the year 1853), which could refer to the parish priest at the time or to the Franciscan order, Religioso de San Francisco.
The second bell was acquired through the initiative of Fr. Agustin Delgado, whose name was inscribed on the bell, Se Refundio Siendo Cura Parroco El M.R.P.F. Agustin Delgado Año 1889. This type of bell is often referred to as campanes colgantes, hanging bells, as it hung from a wooden beam and rung using a rope attached to its clapper.
The third and smallest bell was acquired 6 years later, through the initiative of Fr. Bernardo Aparicio. It also bears the Franciscan emblem and has the inscription Se Refundio Siendo Parocco P. Aparicio Año 1905, after its initiator. This other type of bell is called esquilla (small bell) or campano de vuelo (flight bell), as it served as a signal warning in times of emergency.
On September 28, 1901, Filipino villagers from Balangiga ambushed a part of an American infantry while they were having breakfast, killing 48 and wounding 22 people out of the 78 American men, with 8 of them escaped or missing in action. In retaliation, General Jacob H. Smith ordered to turn Eastern Samar to a ‘howling wilderness’, shooting any Filipino male above 10 years of age and capable of bearing arms. In total, 2,500 Filipinos were killed, and this massacre is considered as the most widespread killing of Filipino civilians in the entire duration of Filipino-American war. As a reminder, the 9th US infantry regiment took one bell at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea, and gave the other two to the 11th infantry regiment, which were formerly based at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
After the official turnover ceremony last December 2018, the Balangiga Bells are formally reinstated and can be visited at their original church, San Lorenzo de Martir, in Samar.