Ring them bells. In Balangiga, not Wyoming

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

Journalist-turned legislator Ben Evardone is looking for data to support some obscure theory about mercantilism and colonization. Did the lust of the Great Powers for conquista precisely wane at the exact period mercantilism lost its value as a driver of national trade policies?

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Maybe yes, maybe no. Or, somewhat related. He does not have an answer. That is why he is looking for empirical evidence to prove that the lust for conquista took place at the same time mercantilism was going down the path of irrelevance.

He is, however, sure of one thing, that there is no longer much pride on conquistas. The colonizing powers no longer beat their chests in collective pride as they display their spoils of war, the mementos from their brutal days as the grand architects of subjugation. In fact, Portugal, the now-diminished Portugal that gave the world Ferdinand Magellan, has been extended an economic lifeline, courtesy of a former colony. Portugal is now a financial colony of Angola, a country it colonized during Lisbon’s heyday as an imperial power.

Except for some despots with imperial ambitions, no country is annexing another. The lust for territories, he said, even under the blanket invocation of “manifest destiny,” is a thing of the past. No mas.

And the fact that imperial ambitions won’t probably wash in the 21st century.

In fact, Rep. Evardone believes that modern society probably wrote the phrase “healing the wounds of war” to literally accomplish that. In conscious efforts to bury the memories of wars and brutal conquests, the countries that used to thrive on wars and colonization are the forefront of the healing process. Or the process of physically and psychologically healing the wounds of the vanquished.

What the Allied Powers led by the US did for Japan and Germany after world War 11 summed up the healing process. The US-led Marshall Plan that rehabilitated vanquished Germany after the war stands out as the costliest and most comprehensive rehabilitation effort in post-war history.

So how does this segue into the bells of Balangiga, a particularly sore point in the bloodied history of Philippine colonization? Simple, he said. Mr. Evardone represents Eastern Samar, and that includes the town of Balangiga, in Congress.

If the US can undertake the Marshall Plan as a supreme act of magnanimity to vanquished Germany, he asked, why can’t it seem to carry out the mundane act of returning the three bells of Balangiga? The US can load the three bells on their visiting naval ships, then unload them at the Port of Tacloban. From the Tacloban Port, I will do the rest – ferry the bells back to Balangiga. Why the US has allowed the historical gangrene of the bells to pester for over a century is beyond us, said Mr. Evardone.

Old Man, you may want to ask, what are those bells of Balangiga that you are yakking about? I can’t see them on my FB wall. Mr. Duterte in his second SONA, tells the story of the bells of Balangiga. I quote Mr. Duterte:

“In 1901, there was a place known as Balangiga in Eastern Samar. It was the time of the Philippine – American War. A combined group of Filipino villagers and guerrillas, in an effort to defend Samar Island from the invaders, attacked and overwhelmed a US infantry garrison. Forty-eight American officers and men were slain in the attack. On the Filipino side, the casualty count was 28 killed and 22 wounded. In retaliation, US gunboats and patrols were sent to Balangiga with the orders to make a desert of Balangiga and reduce Samar Island into an island of howling wilderness where every male citizen from the age of 10 and above and capable of bearing arms would be put to death.

The church bells of Balangiga were seized by the Americans as spoils of war. The bells are reminders of the gallantry and heroism of our forebears who resisted the American colonizers and sacrificed their lives in the process.

Give us back those bells. They are ours. They are part of our national heritage.”

Two of the bells are at a fort in Cheyenne, Wyoming. One is at an air force base in South Korea. The three bells have been in American hands in 116 years.

Why the US is holding on to those bells and by that act refuses to give closure to the bloodied history of Balangiga is the essential question being asked by Mr. Evardone. Indeed, the bells should toll. But not in Wyoming, where there is no reverence for the bells and a place that does not need the bells. But they should toll in Balangiga, their true place of domicile.

Ring them bells. In Balangiga. The place once reduced to a “howling wilderness” by the US forces needs rest and closure. Ring them bells, as the song of the same titles goes, from place that dreams.

As Mr. Duterte said: Give us back those bells, they are ours and they are part of our national heritage.

Personal note. I stole the headline from a Bob Dylan song, Ring them bells. You might want to hear it. Or listen to the cover of Sara Jarosz.

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