Balangiga bells taken by US as war trophies returned to Philippines

Balangiga bells taken by US as war trophies returned to Philippines 

Philippines President Rodrgo Duterte (R) gestures as he rings one of the Balangiga Bells during a handover ceremony in Balangiga, Eastern Samar province, Philippines, Dec. 15, 2018. EPA-EFE/MARK R. CRISTINO

Balangiga (Philippines), Dec 15 (efe-epa).- Three bells the United States seized as a war trophy from the Philippines 117-years-ago were returned on Saturday to the San Lorenzo church in Balangiga, located on the central island of Samar, where thousands gathered to witness the occasion.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attended a ceremony at the church, which was founded by the Spanish in 1859.

«The return of the bells does no only return glory to the people of Balangiga, but it restores our dignity as Filipinos,» Duterte said.

After planting a kiss on the bells, Duterte inaugurated their return with a toll, prompting a huge ovation from the crowd in attendance.

The three bells of Balangiga are seen as a symbol of national pride and patriotism. Successive administrations have claimed them insistently since presenting the first formal request in 1989.

The gesture seeks to improve the strained relations between the two countries since President Rodrigo Duterte came into power in the Philippines and opted to move closer to China.

One of the Balangiga bells was used to signal Philippine villagers to attack American soldiers with machetes, leading to the killing 48 of them, one of the worst defeats by the US military at the time, during the war between the two countries that went on from 1899 to 1902.

The US forces counterattacked, killed thousands of Filipinos and took the three bells from the church as war trophies.

Replicas of the three bells will be made for the US