The Balangiga Incident
I have always considered myself as someone with a keen interest in history, specifically Philippine history. I certainly do not consider myself as an expert or a scholar but I do consider it a duty. It might sound trite but I believe it is the duty of every citizen to know and understand their nation’s history.
But more than just a duty, I really enjoy reading the stories of the past. There is a lot to be learned from the stories — triumphs and defeats; ordinary and extraordinary — of past Filipinos. I do not think that we should be copying what happened in the past (they have totally different contexts) but I think we can reconfigure some lessons to deal with without our own problems. And there are stories from the past that are worthwhile because they inspire and uplift.
One of those stories from the Filipino past is the so-called “Balangiga Incident” which transpired on the morning of September 28, 1901 — 119 years ago.
Balangiga is located on the southern coast of Eastern Samar facing Leyte Gulf. During the Philippine-American War, American forces belonging to Company C of the 9th US Infantry Regiment occupied this municipality in order to block its small port from being used as a supply route by Filipino revolutionary forces.
The US forces essentially choked Balangiga from supplies whether military or civilian. US forces confiscated rice and food stocks leading to widespread starvation among the local population. Balangigan-ons were also forced to work and detained in inhuman conditions with very little food and water.
Dr. Rolando O. Borrinaga of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) recounted in an article how the locals plotted to resist this American cruelty. The local chief of police, Valeriano Abanador, led an attacking force of about 500 men from virtually all families of Balangiga. They neutralized the “moving armed guard by grabbing his gun from behind and hitting him unconscious with its butt on the head.” This served as the cue for the “communal laborers positioned in and around the town plaza to make the rush at the two other stationary armed guards and the unarmed men of Company C.” The now-famous Balangiga church bell was then rung to signal that the attack had begun.
When the dust settled, the Americans suffered one of its biggest casualties in a single encounter. A total of 48 American soldiers out of the 74 men of Company C died in the attack. Of the 26 survivors, all but four were wounded. The brave Filipino natives, underdogs compared to the firepower of the US soldiers, suffered 28 dead and 22 wounded.
As Dr. Borrinaga pointed out: “The Balangiga Incident in 1901 was unique in that it involved a rare Filipino victory during the Philippine-American War, the ringing of a church bell or bells during the attack, and the taking of these bells as documented war booty from that war.”
Among many efforts before its return, I filed Senate Resolution No. 177 on October 25, 2007, which expressed “the sense of the Senate for the return to the Philippines of the Balangiga Bells which were taken by the US troops from the town of Balangiga, Province of Samar, in 1901.” I am glad that 117 years later, in 2018, the Balangiga Bells were finally returned to their rightful place.
Stories such as the “Balangiga Incident” give us pride as a people. The courage of Filipinos despite tremendous odds should be admired. There have been a lot of setbacks and defeats in our history but our people have shown that the good of others, freedom, and country are worth fighting for.
We are not engaged in a real war today, not militarily at least. But the bravery of ordinary Filipinos during ordinary times should make us proud of the country. I know some are in the habit of criticizing Filipinos for lack of discipline and other character faults but Filipinos are survivors. We have always endured.