Corporate Watch

When after 117 years, the three Balangiga bells taken as war booty by the US Army in 1901 were returned to Samar Island, there was victorious jubilation on the Philippine side. In the crack of the Balangiga clash in the midst of the Philippine American War, bolo-wielding Filipino insurgents won over the superiorly equipped American infantry. It is said that in rabid retaliation for the 48 of 74 men of Company C who were ambushed and killed while at breakfast, the US reportedly massacred more than 2,500 of the village people. Historians cannot agree on the numbers. But of course history is written by the victors and rewritten by the losers if given a chance.
It was Fr. Horacio de la Costa of the Department of History at the Ateneo de Manila University who first wrote a letter in November 1957, asking the Thirteenth Air Force at Clark Air Force Base “to return the Balangiga bells because these belonged to the Franciscan community who ran the parish” (McKinnon Jr., Daniel W. “Veterans of Foreign Wars,” Wyoming: 2008, cited in Wikipedia). Fr. De la Costa, the historian, did not judge the moral winner in the Battle of Balangiga. He called down instead the property theft — land and improvements whereupon a parish church and appurtenant structures are titled to the corporation sole that is the bishopric — while alluding to moral turpitude in the desecration of the sacramental that the bells were. Bells, in the Catholic tradition, are the Godly call to worship.
How ironically humbling that the Catholic Church should be “kept whole” by the return of the Balangiga bells, urged as it was seemingly by the rough rhetoric of a man who once publicly called God “stupid.” Why, when all presidents since Fidel Ramos asked for the return of those bells? “Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage,” President Rodrigo Duterte said in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2017 (ABS-CBN News, Nov. 15, 2018). US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim was physically in Duterte’s audience at that time. Amb. Kim, American-born of South Korean ancestry, worked on the return of the three Balangiga bells to Samar. The two big bells were at the former base of the 11th Infantry Regiment (that fought in the Philippine-American War), at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The third and smallest bell, the one that pealed the deadly call to action to the Filipino attackers of the US barracks at Balangiga, was at the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud, their base in South Korea.
When Amb. Kim made his speech for the turnover of the bells, he made no apologies, no explanations for the confiscation of the bells by the US. He simply said, “In World War II and in Korea, our soldiers fought, bled, died, and sacrificed side by side. Together they made possible the peace and prosperity we enjoy today… Our relationship has withstood the tests of history and flourishes today. And every day our relationship is further strengthened by our unbreakable alliance, robust economic partnership, and deep people-to-people ties” (, Dec 11, 2018).
Somehow, Amb. Kim’s careful diplomatic allusions to “our relationship” cannot but call back Pres. Duterte’s oft-repeated open disdain for the US (specially for past US President Barack Obama and for immediate-past Ambassador Philip Goldberg). Duterte’s rejection has progressively been made more painful to the US, juxtaposed to his open and gushy declaration of love for Chinese President Xi Jinping and all things Chinese. In the current heightened US-China global trade and political war, the suddenly rushed return of the Balangiga bells might plaintively ring: but we two — the Philippines and the US — we are friends, are we not?
President Duterte attended the handover of the bells in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, but he did not attend the concelebrated Holy Mass attended by thousands. He said, “I do not want to hear the mass. I have heard all the masses in the world” (The Philippine Star, Dec. 14, 2018). Perhaps to the nation’s political leader, the Balangiga bells had no “sacramental value” as the local parish priest devoutly explained on national news, nor the religious symbolism and affirmation that tearfully dawned on the 85% Christian believers that “(our) Faith has saved us” at the Balangiga battles as in every situation that call the Faithful to prayer.
And insistently, triumphantly, the bells will toll again at Balangiga. But for whom, and for what will the bells toll?
The once-silenced Balangiga bells must peal and boom even more urgently now than in the chilling wars of betrayal and treachery for dominance and power in the early 1900s. The jubilation for national pride redeemed by the return of the symbolic bells is confused by the sickening feeling in the pit that the horned specter of dominance and greed still hovers, in the appearance of the Filipino’s own skin and mien. For colonization and dominance, and its treachery and betrayals can also be by our own leaders.
So many issues in our country that overwhelm us at yearend: is there really democracy guided by the rule of law, in the insuppressible and persistent “rumors” of extrajudicial killings and transgressions of human rights, protested and called down locally and by foreign observers?
Have we not observed and experienced first-hand how the constitution and the laws have been turned upside down in shockingly unorthodox little-known legal trickeries like the quo warranto to remove a Chief Justice; and the revocation of amnesty granted to one particular ex-putschist senator and present critic of the administration? Why are other politicians accused of plunder and other high crimes pardoned? What about the fate of another senator languishing in jail for alleged drug involvement? And are we not chilled by the continuous extension of martial law in Mindanao, justified by an Armed Forces who should have been doing its job as it is supposed to be competently doing?
Are we not aghast and terrified at the blatant dishonesty and corruption that are dismissed lightly for “friends” of those in power versus the persecution by evidently trumped-up charges for the vulnerable non-friends or those “unfriended” for lost utility? And we are overwhelmed in anxiety for a 2019 budget not yet approved, discovering in painful bits and pieces the self-serving “insertions” and allocations of “savings” in hidden pork barrel that was already deemed unconstitutional in the previous administration. Players in the controlling “team” seem to be fighting each other in sibling rivalry for opportunistic control of the resources of government — nay, the resources of the people.
But the unkindest cut of all by the “new colonizers” that we may call those who want to perpetuate themselves in economic and political power, is rushing the charter change for federalism to be transfused into our life veins. We will not be a free people anymore if the Hadean concepts are installed and institutionalized of unlimited terms for government positions, allowed political dynasties forever, and the divide-and-rule over federal regions controlled by a president practically for life, with a convenient vice-president of the president’s own party and personal subservience — among other self-serving and opportunistic insurances of control and impunity by those already in power.
The Balangiga bells must toll for freedom and democracy in the Philippines.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.