The sound unheard of the bells of Balangiga

It is said that in the early morning of September 28, 1901, Filipino villagers attacked the men of the Company C of the 9th Infantry Regiment of the American Army. Many were killed and many more were wounded. On the side of the Filipinos, there were also casualties that day. In some accounts, this is called “the Balangiga incident”; in some books this is referred to as “the Balangiga Massacre”.

As with any chronicle of wars, the interpretations of the events and battles can vary. Caught unprepared, the Americans suffered a huge defeat in a sense on that day in Balangiga. The new colonizers, however, would not accept defeat easily.  Gen. Jacob Smith issued the already infamous command to turn Samar into “a howling wilderness” and ordered that all men 10 years and above be shot.

When one mentions the Balangiga Massacre one wonders which side is being referred to as “massacred”.

There are many more details about this war in Balangiga and they have become part of the narrative of the people there. It is said that when women and children were evacuated, the men plotting the attack were anxious the Americans would notice the absence of women in the town. They thus asked some men to dress as women. These women entered the church bearing coffins, one of which contained a dead child. When told that the child was a victim of cholera, the American sentry allowed the procession to enter the church. In the other caskets were bolos and guns.

At the center of the story are the bells, which were rang to signal the attack. These bells were taken as war trophies: one is in an American base in South Korea and the other two in a Wyoming base.

Now, the president of this republic wants the bells returned to the nation. He is not the first to do so. President Fidel V. Ramos has asked the Clinton administration then to facilitate the repatriation of the bells but nothing happened.

As in war, there are again two sides to this issue. The bells signify the bravery of the Samarenos and that cannot be contested. The bells, however, displayed in American bases could represent also the resoluteness of the American soldiers stationed on the island of Samar. Both sides signify a valued position.

The bells point for the contradictions of colonization. They are of the church and their pealing represents more than prayers.

The bells in churches were evangelizing and colonizing instruments. They were rung so that the sound could reach areas that had been converted. We have this saying about places that are not reached by the sound of bells. We call them uncivilized.

If the bells are returned, they are placed in belfries and will be lost in the symbols of the church. They will cease to be valued for valor of the peasants who stood up against the might of the American invaders.

Kept in America, the Balangiga bells will always remind the American soldiers that defeat is always possible even in lands wracked by poverty.

Let the bells stay in American territories. Let them continue to tell the stories from the howling wilderness of the Philippine Islands. Let the Balangiga bells remind the Americans of their colonizing mind.




Image credits: Jimbo Albano


1 comment

  1. i love the angle of this essay not because you are my brother but because you showed us another perspective of the balamgiga bells. thank you

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