Newly-appointed Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel G. Romualdez comes to Washington during one of the lowest points of Philippine-US relations. Sparking tensions between the two allies was President Duterte’s threats to cut ties with the U.S. after former President Barack Obama raised concerns about Duterte’s human rights record. Although Duterte has toned down his anti-American rhetoric following President Trump’s election, much still need to be done to heal any fissures and correct any misconceptions.
To that end, Romualdez has vowed to “interact and renew our relationship with several US senators and congressmen.” He added that what Duterte wants him to do is “to be friends with everybody and enemies to no one.”
Well known for his communication skills, which makes him a fine diplomat, Romualdez is in a good position to take on a deeply emotional issue for the Philippines: the return of the Balangiga Bells.
It will be recalled that during the American war in the Philippines in 1901, a U.S. Army unit brought two of the 600-pound bells captured from the church in Balangiga to an Air Force Base in Wyoming. Because they were considered “war trophies,” efforts to have them returned have been futile. The law prohibiting return of any spoils of war, however, is expiring in September. Unless it is renewed, authority to return them will revert to the Executive branch. With Duterte and Trump getting along well, it makes it a lot easier.
Romualdez is confident those bells, which actually belong to the parish of Balangiga, will find their way home soon. You may rest assured, Mr. Ambassador, that the Filipino American community will fully back you as you bat for the bells.
We also want to express our thanks to Charge d’Affaires Patrick Chuasoto, who held the fort admirably during the interim with a good and efficient embassy team.