US pledges to return Philippine church bells but unsure when

September 5, 2017 GMT

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The United States is committed to returning three church bells seized by American forces as war spoils from the Philippines more than a century ago, the U.S. ambassador said Tuesday, raising the prospects of a resolution of a thorny issue between the allies.

Ambassador Sung Kim said the two governments have discussed the return of the Balangiga bells, named for the Philippine village from which they were taken in the early 1900s. He said in response to questions from reporters that the U.S. is “deeply committed that the bells are returned to the Filipino people,” but that he could not specify when that would happen.


Filipinos revere the Balangiga bells as symbols of their long struggle for independence. The bells gave the signal for insurgents to attack American soldiers who were occupying Balangiga after the U.S. took possession of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War.

Talks about returning the bells have been a perennial issue in U.S.-Philippine relations.

Kim said there was “an ongoing discussion within the U.S. government and the Philippine government to try and facilitate the return of these bells as quickly as possible,” but added there were some issues that needed to be solved in the U.S.

“We want to return them,” he said. “I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked the U.S. to return the bells in his state of the nation address in July, saying “they are part of our national heritage ... return it to us, this is painful for us.”

Duterte has had an antagonistic attitude toward U.S. security policies while building closer ties with China and Russia.

Two of the three bells are displayed at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. They are part of a memorial to 46 U.S. troops killed by Filipino insurgents in 1901. A third bell is with a U.S. Army regiment in South Korea.