US returns three church bells taken as war trophies from Philippines

Philippine government officials inspect three church bells seized by American troops as war trophies more than a century ago, as they were returned to the Philippines, in Pasay City. (AP Photo)
Updated 11 December 2018

US returns three church bells taken as war trophies from Philippines

  • It took more than five decades’ of initiatives and stalled negotiations before the historical relics were finally returned
  • The bells have come to symbolize one of the most painful episodes in the Philippine-American war

MANILA: Three church bells taken as war trophies by US troops more than a century ago are back on Philippines soil, closing a dark chapter in relations between the two countries, who are now treaty allies.

At 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, the three bells of Balangiga arrived at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, transported by an American C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft.

After they were unloaded in front of the air base grandstand, Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana received the relics from US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim.

Prior to the historic handover, the bells were inspected by Lorenzana and Kim who were joined by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Southeast Asia Joseph Felter, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez, and Filipino and American military officers.

“The return of the bells of Balangiga lets us reflect on the US-Philippine relationship — where we have been, where we are, where we are going,” Kim said during the ceremony.

He said that the bells had been on a “very long road home.” Many Filipinos and Americans, he added, worked tirelessly for decades to make the return of the bells possible.

It has taken more than five decades’ of initiatives and stalled negotiations before the historical relics were returned to Philippine soil. The efforts began in 1957 when Father Horacio Dela Costa wrote to American military historian Chip Wards seeking help in the return of the bells, then in the possession of the US Air Force.

Kim noted that since former President Fidel Ramos first raised the issue of the bells with President Clinton in 1993, nearly every Philippine president has pressed for their return.

In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte made a forceful appeal for the bells’ return during his second State of the Nation address.

“I was there and heard his passionate call loud and clear,” Kim said, adding that Duterte followed up with a personal appeal to US Secretary of Defense James Mattis who, “like all of us here today, recognized that returning the bells is the right thing to do.”

“By returning the bells, the United States could restore to its friend and ally an important symbol of national independence and also demonstrate our commitment to a relationship of two sovereign nations, two equal partners, and mutual respect,” Kim continued.

The history of the bells spanned the entire relationship between the US and the Philippines, he said. “In the process, they have touched many lives. And their return underscores the enduring friendship between our countries, our shared values, and shared sacrifices,” he said.

“The bells before us are the original bells that hung in Balangiga’s San Lorenzo de Martir church. The history of these bells spans the entire relationship between the United States and the Philippines,” Kim said, adding that their return “reflects the strong bonds and mutual respect between the Philippines and United States and its peoples.”

“The bells of Balangiga are home now, in the Philippines, where they belong. Secretary Lorenzana, please take them to the people of Balangiga and to the Church of San Lorenzo de Martir. May they ring in peace and bear testament to the ties and values which bind our two great nations for generations to come,” he said.

Lorenzana, in his speech, noted that the bells have come to symbolize a painful episode in the history of both the Philippines and the US during the Philippine-American war.

“How could a mere three church bells evoke so much intense emotion among Filipino and Americans? Maybe because we human beings live by symbols such as the national flag and in this instance, these bells. It is a symbol of our unity and identity of ourselves,” the secretary said.

“And now they are home, they are going back to where they belong,” Lorenzana continued, adding: “It is time for closure. It is time to look ahead as two nations should with shared history and allies.”

“The bells of Balangiga will once again peal. They will still remind people of what happened in their town square more than a century ago. But they would also look at that history with more understanding and acceptance,” the defense chief said.

Felter, when asked about the return of the bells, told reporters: “That is what allies do. This is what friends do.” The decision to return the bells, he continued, “was made for the Philippines as an ally and partner, in recognition of shared sacrifices and also in recognition of the future (the two countries) have.

“We know that it is an important issue for the Philippines ... It is giving the Philippines the respect that they deserve,” he said.

The tolling of the Balangiga bells on Sept. 28, 1901 during the Philippine-American War, signaled the launch by Filipinos of an ambush against Company C of the 9th Infantry Regiment, killing 48 and wounding 12 American soldiers.

In retaliation, Gen. Jacob Smith directed his men to turn Balangiga into a “howling wilderness.” He ordered the killing of all male Filipinos aged 10 years old and above, and the burning of the entire town. Around 2,500 Filipinos were killed in the US retaliatory attack.

American soldiers then took the three bells from Balangiga town as war trophies. Before they were returned to the Philippines, two of the three bells had been enshrined at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, US while the third bell was at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.

The bells will be flown to Balangiga town on Dec. 15.

For Iman Jodeh, being Muslim and a progressive Democrat go hand in hand

Updated 8 min 23 sec ago

For Iman Jodeh, being Muslim and a progressive Democrat go hand in hand

  • Iman Jodeh, the Democratic nominee for Colorado’s House of Representatives District 41, speaks to Arab News

NEW YORK CITY: In the 1980s and 1990s, Colorado’s Muslim community was made up of fewer than 30,000 people, and there were only five mosques in the entire state.

“It was really small, but we were happy,” said Iman Jodeh, the Democratic nominee for Colorado’s House of Representatives District 41.

Ever since she was a child, on the first day of Ramadan, Jodeh has sent teachers a letter, written on the mosque letterhead, saying: “For the next 30 days, Muslims will be fasting. So if your Muslim students seem lethargic by the end of the day, please understand why.”

Today, there are over 100,000 Muslims in Colorado.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“Those Muslims are starting to make up a big voting bloc, a big portion of our legislators’ constituency. And it is incumbent upon those legislators to make sure they are listening and taking into account the views of the constituents, regardless of their race, creed or religion. And I constantly remind them of that,” Jodeh told Arab News by phone.

The Democrat hopeful grew up in the shadow of two Gulf wars, and shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the Afghan and the Iraqi wars. She remembers the anonymous phone calls at dinnertime threatening to kill her father Mohammed, and recalls her mother, who wears a hijab, being frightened to leave the house.

“It changed my life. In the wake of 9/11, I was a sophomore in college and had not declared my major yet. Two days later, I was a political science major and, again, speaking to crowds having to defend my religion.”

Being a first-born, first-generation American, with perfect English, understanding the cultural nuances of America, I had to walk that line of also understanding the Arab heritage and Islamic culture and nuances, and marrying those two to be able to communicate the need of being an Arab Muslim American woman.

Iman Jodeh

Jodeh, a trained political scientist, spent the years following those events advocating for the Muslim community and the Middle East, “the most misunderstood region of the world, and the people who call it home.” She taught about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the University of Denver, held cultural events about the region and discussed Islam.

The most effective results, according to Jodeh, came via her non-profit “Meet the Middle East,” which invited Americans to take an “educational immersion journey” to the region to meet various stakeholders there, from Arab Bedouin to Palestinians living in Nablus, and both right-wing and left-leaning Israelis.

The travelers were invited to spend time in Jordan, Egypt, and sometimes Iraq and Morocco.

“From the Berbers of Morocco to the Kurds of Iraq, all these cultural and regional nuances must be understood before you can even attempt to understand the complexities of the conflict, and the kaleidoscope that make up the Middle East,” Jodeh said.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“There are things we can highlight to prove to the world that the Muslim world is one of the most fascinating places to be: There are nine women heads of state in the Muslim world, and the US has yet to see our first. It was Arabs and Muslims who discovered contagion; Arabs and Muslims who discovered latitude and longitude.

“Some of the first and oldest libraries were in Alexandria and Baghdad. And one of the oldest universities was in Morocco, founded by a woman.

“The more we can show that to Americans, the more we’re going to see further understanding and commitment to ending violence in the Middle East, as well as asymmetrical policies from the US and how we look at the region.”

Jodeh said her love for Palestine is ingrained. She was never introduced to it. She did not have a first language: It was Arabic and English her entire life. She was never just American. She was Palestinian American.

I am running to make the American dream a reality for everyone. The American dream has become harder and harder to realize. It is not a trite or cliched phrase for me. I am someone who is the product of a family who came here to realize that dream and with the cost of living, the lack of health care, our climate being threatened, our lack of criminal justice reform, civil rights being accosted... These are all things that are hurting the American dream. This is un-American, this is not the Colorado that I want to see.

Iman Jodeh

“This is my identity, I will never abandon this narrative, because I feel I have an obligation to all Palestinians everywhere to advocate when I can.

“The age of learning, that renaissance period is coming. But we have to get through our dark ages before we can get there. And, unfortunately, that is what we are witnessing today in the Middle East. And it’s heartbreaking.

“But the majority of people in the Middle East are under the age of 35, people like myself. We are just learning how to step outside dictatorship and implement something that we have known our entire lives to be true, which is democracy.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“Democracy is not a concept that is new to the Arab world. Shariah law has paved the way for democratic processes like social welfare,” she said.

To Jodeh, being a Muslim and a progressive Democrat complement each other. She gained her knowledge of Islam from her father, a Palestinian immigrant who co-founded the largest mosque in the Rocky Mountain region, and took his daughter with him when he taught or gave speeches on Islam. That put her in contact with scholars whom she still consults today.

In Aurora, a city she calls home and “one of the best and most diverse cities in the nation, a true reflection of America,” Jodeh has been working at the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, where she speaks, often as a Muslim voice, on contentious bills, such as Equal Pay for Equal Work.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“I testified that, 1,400 years ago, God came down with a verse in the Qur’an: ‘I never fail to reward any worker among you, for any work you do, be you male or female — you are equal to one another.’

“It was ironic to me as a woman following a religion that is often deemed as primitive, that this was prescribed to the people 1,400 years ago.

“In Islam, there’s a chapter in the Qur’an called ‘Al-Nisa’ or ‘The Woman.’ There is not a chapter called ‘The Man.’

“What’s beautiful about the Qur’an is that it grants women rights not granted to women in the West until the 1920s,” Jodeh said.

“The fact that those rights were laid out for women so early on is proof of the sanctity of a woman in Islam: Her right to divorce, to own land, to take part in government, to own her own business. These were all things that have been practiced and continue to be practiced.”

The Democratic Party primaries in Colorado will take place on June 30.