PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte, continuing his independent foreign policy pivot, called on the United States to return the Balangiga bells which chimed when American troops massacred an entire village in Samar in the early part of the 20th century.
In his second State of the Nation Address of his six-year presidency, Duterte, who sometimes ad libbed from his prepared text, vowed to continue following an independent foreign policy even as he pivoted to China to cool the ties with Beijing strained by a maritime dispute over the West Philippine Sea.
“We have cultivated warmer relations with China, bilateral dialogues and other mechanisms leading to easing of tension between the two countries and improve the negotiating environment on the West Philippine Sea,” Duterte said.
The Balangiga bells are three church bells taken by the Unitred States Army from the town church of Balangiga in Eastern Samar as war booty after reprisal following the Balangiga massacre in 1901 during the Philippine-American War.
One church bell is in the possession of the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud, their base in South Korea, while the two others are on a former base of the 11th Infantry Regiment at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Official documents suggest at least one of the bells had tolled to signal the surprise attack by the Filipinos while the Americans were eating breakfast.
The attack claimed the lives of more than 40 soldiers of the US garrison posted in the town, and in reprisal the US army killed every male over the age of 10 years, during which the bells were taken. Duterte said he, as this year’s chairman of the Asean summit, would continue to “uphold and promote our national interests… strengthen and seek partnership with those who share our values.”
He added: “We will engage the nations with full respect of the rule of law, sovereign, equality, and again, non-interference.”