While the world waits to see what issues presidents Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte will talk about, there’s a century-old issue that some Filipinos are hoping could be resolved during their meeting.
The debate over a nearly forgotten and controversial piece of Philippine American history was resurrected earlier this year, when president Rodrigo Duterte called on the US to return the Balangiga Bells — a centuries-old church bell that was taken by American forces during the Philippine American war.
The Bells have been on display in a US Air Force base in Wyoming.
“I want him to make more than speeches. I want him the government to start taking steps into bringing the Bells back because they both said they’re going to work and bring the Bells back right? Both the US ambassador, and Duterte, both of them said they’ll be willing to work with each other but that’s the last we heard,” said Oscar Penaranda.
For Penaranda, who spent the past summer in Samar, those old wounds cut deep. His grandfather fought in the Philippine American War under General Vicente Lukban.
“My Lolo, my father’s father was the number two man of general Lucban, Aguinaldo’s appointed chief of Samar and Leyte. Lucban’s Tagalog, he had to find someone like my Lolo to take him around Samar and Leyte, cuz my grandfather spent more time in Samar than Leyte during the Filipino American war.”
Over the years, the Fil-Am community leaders have been part of multiple movements to bring back the bells.
They hope the topic will surface during the APEC meetings between President Trump and President Duterte in Manila.
“It’s has a very slim chance, but we’re still hoping Trump will finish the legacy of giving back the bells,” says Arturo Garcia.
“They still have to prove to me that both men are men of their words, I hope something comes out of it. I hope I’m wrong. Those are just empty promises trump likes to make empty promises and Duterte also,” said Penaranda. “They’re politicians so it’s understandable. It’s not really just them. But it’s up to the people to put pressure on those people to bring the bells back.”
The Philippine Congress recently passed a House resolution seeking the Bells return; the resolution has been given to US house speaker Paul Ryan.
While presidents speak and lawmakers can try to ring up legislation, supporters of the bells’ return say that ultimately, the community will also have to chime in to demand concrete steps for the bell’s transfer.