Image from the book ‘History of the Ninth US Infantry, 1799-1909’ by Fred R. Brown shows American soldiers posing with a Balangiga bell in Calbayog, Samar in April 1902. Image Credit: ‘History of the Ninth US Infantry, 1799-1909’

Manila: The presidential palace welcomed plans by the United States to return church bells that are over a century old and taken in 1901 as spoils of war by American soldiers.

The Balangiga Bells had become a symbol of American colonial conquest of the Philippines, marking a dark chapter between the two countries’ relations.

“We welcome this development as we look forward to continue working with the US government in paving the way for the return of the bells to the Philippines,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement on Sunday.

On Saturday, Trude Raizen, deputy press attaché at US Embassy in Manila, informed that the US is planning to push through with the return of bells but did not say when it would happen.

The Bells of Balangiga. Two out of the three bells seized by American troops from Balangiga, Samar in 1901 have been displayed for more than a hundred years at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.   Inquirer

“Secretary of Defence (Jim) Mattis has notified Congress that the department intends to return the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines,” the presidential communications group quoted Raizen as saying.

No date

“No specific date has been identified for the return of the bells. We’ve received assurances that the bells will be returned to the Catholic Church and treated with the respect and honour they deserve,” Raizen added.

The Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO) said the expected return comes after US President Donald Trump signed the US National Defence Authorisation Act of 2018 on December 12, 2017, giving the US Defence Secretary the chief authority to decide on the return of the bells.

“As the Balangigaons (residents of Balangiga Samar) celebrated the Feast Day of San Lorenzo de Martir — the town’s patron saint — on August 10, 2018, US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis signed the papers favouring the return of the Balangiga Bells to the Philippines,” the PCOO said.

In July 26, 2017 President Rodrigo Duterte issued a public demand to the US to return the Church Bells.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said: “The Bells of Balangiga are important to us because they are a part of our history.”

The three Balangiga Bells were taken by American troops as war booty in 1901, after an uprising by locals left 48 American officers and men dead.

Collective punishment: 'Howling wilderness'

In retribution for the uprising, American General Jacob Smith ordered his men to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness.”

In Balangiga and other parts of the province, all males above the age of 10 were shot to death.

A view of the inside of Saint Lawrence The Martyr Parish Church in the coastal town of Balangiga after a typhoon in November 2013. The town built the church's belfry in 1998 in the hope that the US would return three bells it says were stolen during the 1899-1902 Philippine-American War.  File/Nathan Layne, Reuters

One of the bells is with the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud based in South Korea, while two others are at a former base of the 11th Infantry Regiment at F.E. Warren airbase in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Efforts to return the bells to the Philippines had been ongoing since 1957, when Jesuit historian Fr. Horacio de la Costa requested the 13th Air Force in San Francisco, California to repatriate the bells, according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.