Singapore—President Rodrigo Duterte will visit the United States if his condition that the Americans return the historic Balangiga bells is met, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Thursday.
In a press briefing during the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit here, Locsin said Duterte will have to pay an official visit to the United States as he already confirmed that the bells—taken as trophies during the Filipino-American war—will be returned to the Philippines after 117 years.READ: ‘No hiccup’ in Balangiga bells return
“Well, they’re coming back so he [Duterte] will have to go there to the United States,” Locsin said.
Locsin recalled how he told then US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, last year that President Duterte said he would step foot on American soil only if the historic bells were returned to the country.
Locsin said he had already informed the President the other night about the US meeting his condition.
“He laughed,” Locsin said. “He said yes [to going to the US].”
Locsin’s remarks came a day after the President attended the ASEAN-US Summit, which was attended by US Vice President Mike Pence.
“Mike Pence is extremely convincing, he spoke very well, [and] he has a complete grasp of the different issues,” Locsin said, adding that the Southeast Asian leaders tackled concerns about trade and economic development of all the countries in the region with Pence.
US Embassy spokesperson Molly Koscina assured the Philippines that the US Department of Defense was committed to a timely return of the bells in accordance with their laws and policies.
Although some US officials opposed attempts to return the bells, Koscina said the US Defense Department already notified Congress in August that it intends to repatriate the bells.
“The decision follows a year-long consultative process with associated veterans’ organizations and government officials to ensure appropriate steps are taken to preserve the history of the veterans associated with the bells,” she said.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs welcomed the gesture.
“The Philippine government and the Filipino people appreciate this gesture. Today is a time of solemn remembrance as we pay tribute to all those who gave up their lives during the Filipino-American War,”
DFA Assistant Secretary Elmer Cato said in a statement.
The announcement was made by Defense Secretary James Mattis during the Veterans Remembrance Ceremony at the Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, which was attended by Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez.
In returning the bells of Balangiga to the country, Mattis said the US picks up this generation’s responsibility to deepen the respect between the American and Filipino people.
“History teaches us that nations with allies thrive. In returning the bells of Balangiga to our ally and our friend, the Philippines, we pick up our generation’s responsibility to deepen the respect between our peoples, linking the Western people, the great State of Wyoming and people in the Philippines,” he said.
“We return the bells with consideration of our present but also with utmost respect of our past,” he added.
Romualdez said the announcement marks a closure to the part of history that the two nations had in the 1900s.
“This is a very significant (event) that we have today, not only because these bells represent the long history that the Philippines and the United States had, but it brings to a close a part of our history—the Filipino-American War in the 1900s,” he said.
“Of course, many people died in that war and we honor those people, but more than that, we also honor those people who died in the World War II and the many wars that we fought with the US,” he said.
Romualdez said the bells are expected to be shipped back to the Philippines by the end of 2018.
The two war artifacts will be refurbished in a facility in Philadelphia and transferred to one of the US Air Bases in South Korea, where the third bell is housed, before its transit to the Philippines.
“Before the end of the year we should expect these all three bells from Balangiga back in the Philippines,” Romualdez said.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said the imminent return of the bells would continue the process of “historical and diplomatic healing between the Philippines and the United States.”
He described the bells’ return as a timely and significant gesture that can only lead to the further mending and strengthening of relations between two traditional allies.
“We’ve insisted on getting them back for generations,” Pimentel said. “Now that the Balangiga bells are coming home after more than a century, we’re thankful.”
President Duterte called for the return of the Balangiga bells in his second State of the Nation Address in 2017.
Pimentel filed Senate Resolution No. 610 more than seven years ago on Sept. 28, 2011 seeking the return of the bells and other war artifacts taken by US troops at the turn of the 20th century. His father, former senator Aquilino “Pimentel, authored the first Senate resolution on the issue in 2002.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the return of the bells would symbolize the renewed goodwill between Filipinos and Americans. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and PNAREAD: Balangiga plaza to transform into war memorial
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