By Genalyn Kabiling
The return of the historic Balangiga bells to the Philippines was made possible with the intervention of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), President Duterte bared last Wednesday.
The President admitted that he sought the return of the church bells in his conversation with the CIA, even threatening “never to be nice” with the United States if his demand was not met.
The bells, taken as war booty by American soldiers from Balangiga, Eastern Samar more than a century ago, were finally returned to the country last year amid repeated appeals from Duterte.
“The return of the bells after having been there in the far and wide, in between the years, for the demand for their return could not have happened had the CIA not interfered. Hindi masauli ‘yon kung government-government lang [They would not be returned if it’s a regular government-to-government deal],” the President said during the 1st anniversary celebration of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission in Malacañang.
“CIA ang kausap ko. Sabi nila, ‘Okay, we’ll work on it.’ Sabi ko, ‘Fine. Return it because you got it awash with blood of the Filipino’ [I talked to the CIA. They said, ‘Okay we’ll work on it.’ I said, ‘Fine.. Return it because you got it awash with blood of the Filipino],” he said.
Duterte admitted that he even tricked the CIA into believing his “drama” that his relative was one of the Filipinos killed during the US-Philippine battle in Samar years ago.
“I said, “’You know, one of those who died there must have been my great, great, great grandfather.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Yes!’ Wala gud. Pa-drama lang,” he said.
Duterte recognized that it was the “culture of soldiers” to bring home war booty or things from countries they conquered. The Balangiga church bells, however, were taken at the cost of Filipino lives, he pointed out.
“Ang bell you got it at the expense of the lives of so many innocent people and children. You do not return the bell, I will never be nice to you. Forget it. I can always get China,'” he said.
“Isauli ninyo ‘yan, p***** i** hindi sa iyo ‘yan [Return them. Son of a b*tch those are not yours],” he added.
Last December, the three church bells, taken during the Philippine-US war in 1901, were formally turned over by US embassy officials to the Philippine government during a ceremony at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.
The President later attended the formal turnover of the iconic bells in Balangiga town.
“Nobody but nobody can claim a singular credit for the generous act of the Americans. The bells are returned. The credit goes to the American people and the Filipino people, period,” he said.
He said the homecoming of the artifacts was “a milestone in the shared and meaningful history of the United States and the Philippines, and heralds a new and more vibrant chapter in our bilateral relations.”
In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) before a joint session of Congress last July, the President called on the United States to return the bells seized from Balangiga, saying they were part of the Filipino nation’s heritage.
He said the church bells were “reminders of the gallantry and heroism of our forebears who resisted the American colonizers and sacrificed their lives in the process.”