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2 war bells back to Philippines; what about big ones?

So when are they going to return the big bells?

The question came up on Sunday after American Catholic nuns returned to Philippine custody two small bells taken by US soldiers after they bombarded a church in Meycauayan, Bulacan, 112 years ago during the Philippine-American War.

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The two small bells were formally turned over on Oct. 8 by the Sisters of Mercy (SOM) based in Omaha, Nebraska, to Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim, head of the Philippine Consulate in Chicago, according to officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The two bells are “connected by a hard block of black wood with a handle on top,” said the US newspaper Omaha World-Herald.

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An inscription on the wood says the bells were “taken from the Church at Meycauayan, Luzson (sic) Island after bombardment by Utah Battery (on) March 29, 1899, by P.O. Thomas Co., a battalion of engineers,” the newspaper noted.

The return of the Meycauayan bells was welcomed by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario but it also raised a question: When will the United States finally return the much bigger bells taken by its soldiers during the Balangiga Massacre on Samar Island on Sept. 28,1901?

Two Balangiga bells are being kept at the 11th US Infantry Regiment at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. A third is kept at the headquarters of the 9th US Infantry Regiment in Camp Red Cloud, South Korea.

Manila has repeatedly asked Washington for the return of the big bells.

‘Priceless heritage’

Del Rosario expressed his government’s “sincerest appreciation” for the return of the Meycauayan bells, which the consulate plans to keep at the National Museum in Manila.

Del Rosario, a former Philippine ambassador to the United States, called the Meycauayan bells “priceless pieces of our heritage.”

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“Their return at this point of our history is a demonstration of the commitment of both the United States and the Philippines to further solidify our close relations for the mutual benefit of our people,” Del Rosario told the Inquirer.

Extraordinary journey

Lim and his wife, Fidelis, received the bells placed in a box from Sr. Judith Frikker, president of the SOM’s West-Midwest Community.

Frikker told the Lims that the SOM was “very pleased to return (the box containing the bells) to its people.”

Lim was quoted by Omaha World-Herald as saying: “The bells have taken an extraordinary journey.” He said that “only the bells and God know the journey the artifacts have taken.”

Lim is considering having replicas of the bells made for the consulate and the SOM.

He also expressed hope that National Museum researchers would be able to get more information about the bells and how they eventually ended up with the American nuns.

In a box

How the nuns acquired the bells is still a mystery, according to World-Herald.

The newspaper said SOM archivist Monte Kniffen came across the bells in July while exploring the contents of a box in their Omaha archives.

The box contained items from former SOM convents in Red Bluff and Grass Valley, located in Tehama and Nevada counties, both in California.

Kniffen, who attended the handover, said perhaps a small museum or a family had turned the bells over to one of the convents, according to the newspaper. Kniffen then e-mailed the Philippine Consulate.

Brutality of war

World-Herald called the Meycauayan bells “reminders of the war between the United States and (the) Philippines, which took place from 1899 to 1902.”

“The Philippines, a Spanish colony for centuries, anticipated independence after the US won the Spanish-American War. But the US took over the Philippines, prompting a war between Filipinos and American soldiers,” the newspaper said.

“The Americans burned and bombed villages and about 200,000 Philippine civilians died of disease and brutality in the war.”

World-Herald said “an American soldier evidently took the small bells after a bombing at a church in Meycauayan.”

Apparently referring to the Balangiga bells, the newspaper said the US forces also took huge Philippine bells during the war and now kept them at military bases in Wyoming and South Korea.

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TAGS: Balangiga bells, Bulacan province, church bells, Meycauayan bells, Meycauayan town, Philippine-American War, Samar Island, War bells, Wyoming
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