The United States should return the Balangiga bells back to the Philippines instead of conducting air strikes in the conflict-stricken Marawi City, a Filipino lawmaker said on Wednesday, August 9.
In a statement, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate stressed that the Filipinos “want the bells, not the bombs.”
“The U.S. has yet to return the Balangiga bells and other war booties they took from our country as well as apologize for the atrocities they committed during the Philippine American War and now they have the gall to say that they are going to launch airstrikes against parts of our country?” he added.
The lawmaker made the remarks following a report from NBC News that the Pentagon is considering a plan to allow the U.S. military to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS)-linked group in the Philippines that attacked Marawi City in Mindanao.
Zarate, however, slammed the report, saying that it “blatantly trample[s]” the Philippines’ national sovereignty.
“This is the height of callousness and should be condemned,” the lawmaker said, adding that such move signals the “commission of blatant human rights violations.”
For its part, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that it has “yet to receive any formal notice or offer for such air capability deployment.”
Referring to the Philippine-U.S. defense pact, AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Año noted that the existing Mutual Defense Treaty provides that “only technical assistance and training” may be allowed under the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB).
“Direct military actions may only be allowed during actual invasion of the Philippines by another state actor,” he added.
He then expressed appreciation over Washington’s desire to help Manila in ending the ongoing fight against terrorists in the southern Philippines.
“We appreciate Pentagon’s reported desire to help the Philippines in the fight against Daesh-inspired Maute Group because terrorism is a global menace that the community of nations must unite to fight against,” the AFP chief said.
In his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) last month, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked Washington to return the bells of Balangiga Church in Samar, which were seized by U.S. soldiers as spoils of war in the 1900s.
In response, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim assured that Washington “would like to return all three bells as soon as possible.”