Remarks by Ambassador Sung Kim at the Ceremony of the Return of the Balangiga Bells

Return of Balangiga Bells

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim

December 11, 2018
As prepared

Magandang hapon.  Good afternoon.  Thank you all for joining us today.  It is a tremendous honor for me to be a part of this historic occasion.

I’m proud and grateful to be joined by Executive Secretary Medialdea, Defense Secretary Lorenzana, Ambassador Romualdez, and outstanding leaders of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  We also have two very special guests who travelled from the US for this momentous event: INDO-PACOM Commander Admiral Davidson and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Felter.

We are gathered to welcome the return of the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippine people.  It has been a very long road home.  Many Filipinos and Americans worked tirelessly for decades to make today possible.  I’m so glad many of them are here today.

Since President Ramos first raised the issue of the bells with President Clinton in 1993, virtually every Philippine president has pressed for the Bells’ return.  As the video we just watched reminds us, President Duterte made a forceful appeal for the Bells’ return during his 2017 State of the Nation address.  I was there and heard his passionate call loud and clear.

President Duterte followed up with a personal appeal to our Secretary of Defense James Mattis who, like all of us here, recognized that returning the Bells is the right thing to do and that, by returning the bells, the United States could restore to its friend and ally an important symbol of national independence and demonstrate our commitment to a relationship of two sovereign nations, two equal partners, and mutual respect.

The bells before us are the original bells that hung in Balangiga’s San Lorenzo de Martir church.  The history of these bells spans the entire relationship between the United States and the Philippines.  In the process, they have touched many lives.  And their return underscores the enduring friendship between our countries, our shared values, and shared sacrifices.

This solemn ceremony reminds us of the many brave Filipinos and Americans who fought for freedom.  In 1901, our two countries were adversaries.  That painful conflict soon ended, and our countries became partners and friends.  We fought together for freedom and to protect democratic values across the Indo-Pacific region.  In World War II and in Korea, our soldiers fought, bled, died, and sacrificed side by side.  Together they made possible the peace and prosperity we enjoy today.

I recently had the privilege of awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to 40 brave Filipino veterans of World War II.  It was truly inspiring to hear about their courage, commitment, and sacrifice.  And thanking them in person was a deeply moving experience for me and in a sense an appropriate prelude to today’s ceremony.

The return of the Bells of Balangiga lets us reflect on the U.S.-Philippine relationship — where we have been, where we are, where we are going.  Having now served over two years as U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, I am convinced that our relationship remains ironclad, consecrated by the service and sacrifice of the Americans and Filipinos who fought side by side for freedom.

Our shared history is enduring and deeply personal.  Our relationship has withstood the tests of history and flourishes today.  And every day our relationship is further strengthened by our unbreakable alliance, robust economic partnership, and deep people-to-people ties.

On behalf of the United States, it is my great honor to be here at this closing of a painful chapter in our history.  The Bells’ return reflects the strong bonds and mutual respect between our nations and our peoples.  It demonstrates our determination to honor the past and the sacrifices made together by Filipinos and Americans.  And it heralds our bright future as friends, partners, and allies.

The Bells of Balangiga are home now, in the Philippines, where they belong.  Secretary Lorenzana, please take them to the people of Balangiga and to the Church of San Lorenzo de Martir.  May they ring in peace and bear testament to the ties and values which bind our two great nations for generations to come.

Thank you very much.