The return of the Balangiga bells has generated riveting interest for its historical backdrop on our relations with the United States. The bells are among the booties brought by the American soldiers who turned Balangiga into a wilderness, killing every resident of gun-carrying age in the village.
The bells have no sentimental value to the American people, not even to the American soldiers who were involved in the Balangiga massacre. They can be mementos but not as prizes for gallantry of American soldiers since it was not a war in defense of their country’s freedom and independence. The Philippines did not initiate the war; it was the United States who invaded the Republic of the Philippines.
The United States had no right to take possession of the Philippines. No actual battle between American and Spanish soldiers ever took place on Philippine soil.
General Emiio Aguinaldo proclaimed the Philippine Republic on June 12, 1898, confident that the United States will respect the independence of the first Republican government in Asia. He was aware that the United States encouraged leaders of Spain’s colonies in South American in their struggle for independence and was always the first to recognize those who succeeded. The US recognized the independence of Argentina in 1816, Valenzuela and Mexico in 1821, Columbia and Peru in 1824, Ecuador and Uruguay in 1830 and Brazil in 1889.
The surrender of Intramuros, by then the last and only remaining fort or garrison of the Spanish colonial government, to the American military contingent, must have been the basis for the US to claim sovereignty over the Philippines. But the surrender was a sham. It was secretly arranged by a Belgian consul in connivance with the colonial officials and the officers of the American military contingent. No actual battle between the American and Spanish soldiers took place.
What was more ironic was that the news on the signing of the protocol, ending the Spanish-American war reached Manila three days after the capitulation of the Spanish colonial government. The surrender scenario should not have been held.
But it was Jose Rizal who prophesied that the Philippines will fall into the hands of the United States.
In his article, “The Philippines A Century Hence,” published on Sept. 30, 1889 issue of La Solidaridad, the country’s foremost national hero made the curious prediction that neither Germany, France, Holland, China or Japan will take interest in the Philippines once Spain’s colonial hold weakened.
“Perhaps,” he wrote, “the great American Republic whose interests lie in the Pacific and who has no hand in the spoliation of Africa, may someday dream of such a possession.”
It was the jingoists led by Henry Cabot Lodge. Theordore Roosevelt and the owners of media establishments who strongly advised President William McKinley to “keep the Philippines.’’
But the most influential advocate of US expansionist policy was Admiral Alfred T. Mahan, who became famous as the author of the book “The Influence of Sea Power in History.”
President McKinley ignored the protests of the Anti-Imperialist League led by Speaker Thomas Reed.
When asked about the Treaty of Paris, Reed acidly remarked, ‘We just bought 10 million Malays at $2 a head, unpicked.”
After the war, the United States had specific plans on what to do with Cuba and Puerto Rico but none on the Philippines. In fact, McKinley admitted that he did not even know ‘where those daned islands were.’
The Anti-Imperialists League and many Americans were opposed to the the acquisition of the Philippines as part of the terms in the Treaty of Paris signed on Dec. 10, 1898. They considered it a violation of the American Code of Morality and a desecration of the American Purpose.
The Treaty was eventually passed in the US Senate by one vote, reflective of the divisiveness of the issue on the propriety of the young and robust American Republic flirting with imperialism.
It took more than a decade before the United States could subjugate the 10 million Filipinos who fought valiantly in defense of their honor and independence.
The return of the Balangiga bells could serve as a symbolic closure of the Philippine-American war which cost the lives of thousands of both American and Filipino soldiers and over 200,000 civilian casualties.
Once reinstalled in the Catholic Church of Balangiga in Eastern Samar, the bells will serve as a memorial to the gallantry of the Samarenos who were among the last Filipinos forced to sing the Star Spangled Banner.
Rizal’s prophecy became a fact of history.