FACT CHECK: No, this US diplomat did not credit Duterte with Balangiga bells return

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 14 2018 06:42 PM

A report that has been published by multiple Philippine news websites and shared tens of thousands of times on Facebook claims that an American diplomat said the US returned the Balangiga bells -- church bells taken as war trophies by US troops in 1901 -- because of President Rodrigo Duterte. The claim is false, the diplomat mentioned has retired from the US foreign service and was not involved in the December 11 return of the bells.

The claim was originally published on the Insider website and has been repeated on other websites like this, and in multiple Facebook posts such as this one and this one.

Here is a screenshot of the Insider report:

Screenshot of misleading article

The Insider report quotes "US Diplomat Daniel Russell" as saying: “We returned the Balangiga bells because of Pres. Duterte.”

The Insider report is a word for word copy of a December 11 report by ABS-CBN news except the final two paragraphs of the original report, which contain a quote from the current US Ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, have been replaced with the purported quote from "US diplomat Daniel Russell".

"US diplomat Daniel Russell has stated (off-record) that the bells were returned because of Pres. Duterte's strategy in geopolitics that made the US grant Duterte's request of returning the Balangiga Bells," the report says.

The report adds: "'We returned the bells because of Pres. Duterte,' Russell said."

The US returned the Balangiga Bells to the Philippines on December 11. Here is an AFP report on the return.

The three church bells were taken by US forces in 1901 from the central Philippines town of Balangiga after an attack which killed thousands of Filipinos.

A reverse search of the image used by the website traced the photo back to a 2014 article by Xinhua, a Chinese news organization.

Here is a screenshot of the article by Xinhua:

Screenshot of article

The photo in the Insider website report is a reversed version of the 2014 image used in the Xinhua article. Both show the same yellow tie and the same hand gesture.

Xinhua identified the man in the photo as Daniel Russel, who was then assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

A search of the official website of the US embassy confirmed that the man in the photograph is former US diplomat Daniel Russel.

Here is an AFP photo of Russel:

AFP photo

The US Embassy in Manila told AFP that Russel is no longer a US diplomat.

“Daniel Russel retired from the Department of State and is therefore no longer a diplomat,” Molly Koscina, embassy press attache and spokeswoman told AFP in a December 13 email.

Russel left his post as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in March 2017.

Russel, according to his LinkedIn account, is now vice president for International Security and Diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute, a think tank.

The US State Department’s official press release on the return of the bells did not contain any quotes from Russel.

None of the press releases and statements from the US embassy in Manila about the return of the Balangiga bells quoted Russel. They can be seen here, here, and here.

The misleading report on the Insider website has been shared some 6,000 times by pro-Duterte Facebook pages and groups with more than two million followers, according to CrowdTangle data.

CAPTION: Snapshot of Crowdtangle data]