Washington, Feb. 14, 2003 -- US President George W. Bush will make a state visit to the Philippines, possibly in October. And if Congressman Dana Rohrabacher will have his way, Bush will bring with him the Balangiga bells that US forces looted from Samar during the Philippine-American war a century ago.

A senior member of the International Relations Committee and vice chairman of the East Asia Pacific subcommittee in the US House of Representatives, Rohrabacher told The STAR he would try to convince Bush to bring the bells back to the Philippines when he goes on a state visit "in a few months."

Diplomatic sources said President Arroyo, who is making a state visit to Washington in April, has asked Bush to make a reciprocal visit to the Philippines, which will likely take place in October to coincide with the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Philippines has been pressing for the return of the historic church bells to serve as a memorial to the countless Filipinos ordered killed in Balangiga.

The return of the bells has been the subject of on-and-off negotiations between both countries since the 1950s but so far no agreement has been reached.

Two of the bells are in Cheyenne, Wyoming and a third is with the 2nd Infantry Division, 9th US Infantry Regiment in Korea.

The famed Balangiga bells were shipped out of Samar and brought to Wyoming more than 100 years ago as a trophy by American troops.

The bells apparently signaled the start of an attack against US soldiers by Filipinos waging a guerrilla war of independence against the United States.

US troops suffered heavy casualties in the attack on Sept. 28, 1901 and in retaliation, Brig. Gen. Jacob Smith ordered his troops to reduce Samar into a "howling wilderness."

"I'm going to put pressure on our administration to return the bells, to make it a major issue with them because these bells mean so much more to the people of the Philippines than it does to the people of the National Guards in Wyoming, for God's sake," Rohrabacher, a California Republican, said.

"If necessary, I will introduce legislation to ensure the return of he bells, but I think I can do it quietly.

"I'm going to try to convince President Bush to perhaps bring them back when he visits the Philippines.

"It would be a great gesture of friendship. We have a president with a very good heart and I think he would be very open to that idea. The bells are something very significant to the Philippines and they should be back," he said. (By Jose Katigbak, STAR Washington Bureau)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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