ANNAPOLIS – For more than 50 years, two massive bronze bells, symbols of Filipino national pride, have stood silent inside a brick and glass monument in a Wisconsin Air Force base.
After crushing a 1901 Philippine revolt in the village of Balangiga, the United States claimed the pair of bells that insurgents used to signal their attack on American soldiers.
Now a Maryland lawmaker wants the state to have a hand in sending the bells back. A House Joint Resolution introduced Tuesday would urge President Bush to return the symbols of liberty to their country of origin, the Philippines.
A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
The Philippines has asked for the bells’ return, arguing they are a national symbol of independence from the United States.
However, American veterans’ groups say the bells are a symbol honoring their fallen comrades and belong in Cheyenne, Wyo., where many of the dead soldiers came from.
Delegate David M. Valderrama, D-Prince George’s, a co-sponsor of the resolution, became the first Filipino-American elected to the House of Delegates in 1990.
For Filipinos, the Spanish colonial bells “have become a sort of emotional issue,” said Valderrama, who was born in Manila, the Philippines’ capital. “I thought we could, here in the Free State, come up with a resolution to resolve this issue.”
The bells belong in the Philippines because they are “a symbol honoring the fight for independence,” Valderrama said.
But when Filipinos celebrate their independence June 12, the bells will be on display at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne where they’ve been since the 1940’s, said Robert Nab, American Legion spokesman.
The bells are there to honor the American soldiers killed during the Balangiga uprising, including several from Wyoming, Nab said.
“We feel our fellas deserve the right to a memorial,” Nab said.
The 18-inch tall bells of Balangiga were taken by the United States as a war trophy, said Mike Cullinane, associate director at University of Wisconsin’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
From 1898 to early 1902, the Philippines, which were annexed by the United States after the Spanish-American War, fought for their independence from what Cullinane calls “American imperialism.”
After Philippine guerrillas attacked an American Army base in Balangiga, Brig. Gen. Jacob “Hell Roaring Jake” Smith told his troops to “kill everybody over the age of 10,” Cullinane said.
The death toll during that period is “a matter of unbelievable debate,” Cullinane said.
While Americans estimate their casualties at around 10,000, they say 150,000 Filipinos were killed. The Philippines says more than 1 million of its people were killed.
Because of the strong alliance between the Philippines and the United States, Filipino-Americans are taking a diplomatic approach to the issue.
The National Federation of Filipino American Associations created a task force last year to find a way to convince the United States to return the bells.
In 1998, then-Philippine President Fidel Ramos proposed to then-President Clinton that both countries cast two new bells, and each nation would keep an original and a duplicate. While Clinton supported the move, veterans’ groups refused to comply. While they would rather see the bells go back to the Philippines, said Joe Montano, executive director of the National Federation of Filipino-Americans, his members hope they can get Americans and Filipinos to find common ground, “so that the relationship between both countries ends up stronger.” – 30 – CNS-2-13-01