Hollywood actors, Fil-Ams renew drive for return of Balangiga bells
LOS ANGELES — Hollywood actors joined hands with Filipino community groups on Saturday, April 4 at an Indigogo “launch party” at the Pilipino Workers’ Center (PWC) to revitalize the campaign to return the Bells of Balangiga from Wyoming to Samar, Leyte.
This coming-together of American entertainers and Filipino writers and activists from Northern and Southern California is seen as unprecedented by local leaders here.
The Indiegogo campaign, “A 100-Year Journey Home,” launched by The Committee to Return the Bells intends to raise funds as well as awareness of the controversy behind the historical artifacts.
Some 114 years ago, the bells of the town church of Balangiga, Samar were seized as war booty by retaliating American soldiers, after Filipino rebels attacked and wiped out one of their detachments. The Bells have been in a US Air force base in Wyoming. Over the years, several high-level efforts have been made to recover the bells; two US presidents even promised their return.
The campaign features a short film narrated by Danny Glover, interviews with US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and conversations with Hollywood personalities. World boxing champion Manny Pacquiao is the Committee’s honorary chairman.
The campaign is led by its president, Logan Clarke, a former actor in the Philippines (he played opposite Pilar Pilapil in “Sunugin ang Samar”) and here and world renowned private investigator. Clarke brought in friends to the Committee including actors John Savage (“The Deer Hunter”), Martin Kove, best known for his portrayal as the evil karate sensei John Kreese in “The Karate Kid trilogy,” and award-winning author Michael Pare’ (“Eddie and the Cruisers”).
Clarke said he had met with Pacquiao, who is busy training for his May 2 fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., several times both in Manila and here and “Manny believes in this campaign and very interested to be a part of it.”
Filipino American actor Lou Diamond Philips is also on the committee. “As soon as Lou completes his filming for another movie, he will join us in meeting the communities; he’s very interested,” said Clarke.
PWC Executive Director Aquilina Versoza, who leads a national organization that advocates for the rights of domestic workers and temporary protection for immigrants “without papers,” noted the significance of forming the Return the Bells Committee, which she expects to lead to legislative action in the US Congress.
She was impressed that Hollywood celebrities with mainstream recognition like Danny Glover would embrace the campaign. She is hopeful that the campaign could build mainstream networks that would eventually revitalize other local community goals.
“Personally for me, this is an important campaign because it is part of our history that shows the Filipino aspirations for freedom,” Versoza said. “It is very clear that religious items are not to be kept as the spoils of war. As long as the bells are not returned, it is a stain on America. Let’s have a timetable for the return of the bells to its rightful place, the Philippines.”
Fil-Am writers and historians attended the Campaign launch of its Indiegogo fundraiser, including Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier and Greg Villanueva (co-authors of Filipino town: Voices from Los Angeles). “Balangiga is a sad part of Filipino and American history, but the story deserves to known by Filipinos and Americans, and I intend to promote it as much as I could,” said Bonnivier.
Villanueva, who is an architect and a pillar of the Historic Filipino town movement, said, “It is significant for the launch to be in downtown LA because we have a very large community in this area who may not have heard of the bells of Balangiga. I have certainly not heard much about this until the most recent activities.”
Well known muralist Eliseo Silva whose mural, “Gintong Kasaysayan,” is featured in a government sponsored “Unidad Park” among his other paintings across the U.S. and the Philippines, expressed commitment to the campaign.
Multi-awarded Filipino author and professor from Oscar Penaranda, one of the proponents of the campaign, told the group at PWC that his grandfather was in the Philippine-American War, among revolutionaries who resisted the American occupation of Samar. He was part of the planners of the surprise attack on American soldiers in Samar, which led to the retaliatory massacre of villagers by American soldiers.
“You know I am a Waray and my relatives are from Samar who told me that my grandfather worked with General Lucban, the Filipino commander of the uprising in Samar and General Mojica, both captured in Leyte. After the Balangiga massacre, my grandfather went underground with a prize on his head.”
Penaranda will join the Committee to bring back the religious icons to the Philippines and said he was “excited to go back to Balangiga and talk to people there.”
The Indiegogo campaign will last 45 days and the funds raised will finance a short documentary produced by Hollywood writers and actors.
For those who would like to support the campaign, go to the website, www.bringthebellsback.org and share on your Facebook, Twitter, email to friends, make a small donation. If 30 percent of the campaign’s total goal is raised in the first week, it will be one of Indiegogo’s “pick of the month”– that means exposure to over 15,000 people in one click.
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