‘Filipinos are our allies, why can’t they have the bells (of Balangiga) back?’

The movers behind the return of the Balangiga Bells include: author Oscar Penaranda, TFLA publisher Dante Ochoa and editor Cecile Ochoa, the author, PWC Executive Director Aqui Versoza, actress Cassandra Gava, actor John Savage,  writer Lou Sabas, Evelyn Portugal of Beverly Hills Courier, muralist Eliseo Silva  and FMG members Tet Valdez and Evangeline Rodriguez.  Photos by TetBee photography

The movers behind the return of the Balangiga Bells include: author Oscar Penaranda, TFLA publisher Dante Ochoa and editor Cecile Ochoa, the author, PWC Executive Director Aqui Versoza, actress Cassandra Gava, actor John Savage, writer Lou Sabas, Evelyn Portugal of Beverly Hills Courier, muralist Eliseo Silva and FMG members Tet Valdez and Evangeline Rodriguez. Photos by TetBee photography

By Lawrence C. Ochoa

With her energetic rendition of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “I’m gon’ stand…we will not bow down to injustice,” the powerhouse executive director of the Pilipino Workers Center Aqui Versoza boosted the launch on April 4 of the campaign seeking the return of the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines.

The Indiegogo campaign was spearheaded by a group of Hollywood actors and concerned community members who call themselves the Return the Bells Committee.

Their goal is the return of the Bells of Balangiga to Samar after these were seized some 114 years ago as war booty by American soldiers. The bells have been in U.S. custody, specifically in F.E. Air Force Base in Wyoming, up to now.

Hollywood personalities like John Savage (“The Deer Hunter,” “Beauty and the Beast”) and Martin Kove (“Rambo: First Blood Part II,” “Karate Kid”) stopped by the Historic Filipino Town to join the Filipino American cause. There were talks that campaign stalwart Lou Diamond Philips would also be dropping by, but it was announced later that he was completing a new film.

“You have a great thing going on here,” exclaimed architect Gregory Villanueva as he joined authors Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier and Oscar Penaranda at HiFi.

In the meantime, Michael Paré (“Eddie and the Cruisers” series, “The Virgin Suicides”) joined Return the Bells founder and President Logan Clarke in one corner of the room, reminiscing about their good old days in Hollywood. Clarke said he lived in the Philippines for nine years. As a young man then, he became a movie star there and played the American villain in “Sunugin ang Samar,” a film about the American occupation of Samar during the Filipino American War of the 1900s.

“I knew about the bells being taken as war booty; and I was surprised that 43 years later after the most expensive film ever made and dedicated to this event, the bells have not gone back to the Philippines,” said Clarke.

It has become a personal goal of Clarke to return the bells. “I’m a retriever, that is my job now. I am a private detective. I return lost things, retrieve lost people, and I can return these bells back,” he vowed.

Being an actor in Hollywood, he has sought the support of his friends who wholeheartedly lent their name to the campaign. There’s Danny Glover, who narrated the Indiegogo campaign, and producer, director Jack Silberman whose support Clarke also acknowledged.

“But first and foremost, we’d like the Filipino people to personally identify with this campaign. Then we’ll go worldwide,” he said.

John Savage stood up and declared at the launch: “This is all about restoring friendship between the Philippines and the United States, and the Filipinos have always been our ally! Why can’t they have the bells back?”

The Indiegogo launch was attended by movers of the Filipino community including blues’ artist Carlos Zialcita, muralist Eliseo Art Silva, authors, writers and officers of the Filipino American Press Club of LA (est. 1978) Evelyn Portugal and Lou Sabas, TFLA publisher Dante Ochoa and editor Cecile Ochoa, PWC members, caregivers, and many others.

Said Eliseo Art A. Silva: “The Bells of Balangiga have become an icon and should be our watermark as a community here in America, the symbol of our struggle for liberty and justice that is truly American and Filipino at the same time; as symbol of unity, reconciliation and peace that can ultimately bring justice to the forgotten generation that ignited Asia’s First War of independence.”

PWC’s Aqui Versoza, who currently leads a grassroots organization that advocates for the rights of domestic workers and undocumented immigrants, underscored the need for legislative action to raise awareness on the campaign.

“This is an important campaign because it is part of our history that has not been known, and that shows the Filipino aspirations for freedom,” said Versoza. “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.”

She said she was touched that Hollywood celebrities with mainstream recognition, like Danny Glover, would embrace this campaign and add to its visibility.

Author and professor from Northern California Oscar Penaranda gave the campaign a personal narrative.

He said, “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 of the rebels and townsfolk, my grandfather went underground with a prize in his head.”

Penaranda will be joining the Return the Bells Committee in calling awareness nationwide to the campaign. “I’m excited to go back to Balangiga and talk to people there,” he added.

The Indiegogo campaign is billed as “A 100-Year Journey Home.” The goal is to raise awareness about the bells as it asks supporters for donation from $5 and higher. The campaign features a short film narrated by Danny Glover, with interviews with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and members of the Hollywood film community. Manny Pacquiao, world boxing champion, is the committee’s Honorary Chairman .

Will Pacquiao be joining the campaign? “Manny is focused on one bell now. He will join us later, ” quipped Clarke.

Here’s how you can help:

1) Check out the website, www.bringthebellsback.org and share with your network on your Facebook, Twitter, or email to friends.

2) Make a small donation. If we raise 30 percent of our total in the first week of this campaign, we will be one of Indiegogo’s ‘pick of the month,’ which means exposure to over 15,000 people in one click! The Indiegogo campaign will last 45 days

3) If you have ideas on how you can help, email us at info@the-bells.org.

Logan Clarke addressing the audience. ‘I can bring these bells back. I’m a retriever.’

Logan Clarke addressing the audience. ‘I can bring these bells back. I’m a retriever.’

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