Bells of Balangiga Make It to Hollywood

The Bells of Balangiga at    F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. (Photo courtesy of The Committee for the  Return of the Bells)

The Bells of Balangiga at  F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. (Photo courtesy of The Committee for the  Return of the Bells)

A pre-launch meeting for a renewed campaign to recover the “Bells of Balangiga,” the famed war booty from Eastern Samar during the Philippine-American war in the 1900s, was held on February 28 in this Southern California beach town.

A formal launch of the campaign is planned along with an Indiegogo crowd-funding drive called “Bring the Bells Back.” Planned activities include a full-length documentary about the bells to raise awareness of this issue.

The church bells are from the town of Balangiga, Samar, where the 9th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. expeditionary army seized them in the aftermath of an early morning attack by Balangiga townsfolk on September 28, 1901. In that encounter, 48 U.S. soldiers, including many officers, were killed and scores were wounded.

The American commanding general and other subordinates responsible for the atrocities were held accountable by the U.S. Army and court-martialed. However, despite efforts by the Philippine government and U.S. legislators to have the bells returned, they have remained in U.S. military installations in Wyoming and South Korea for the last 115 years.

U.S. Naval Academy graduate and committee member Max Ricketts wrote: “From the Samar campaign, the U.S. Army took four items as war booty: A 16th-century English Falcon cannon and three church bells. One church bell remains with the U.S. Army 9th Infantry Regiment at their base in South Korea. Two other bells and the English cannon are prominently displayed at a former Army base of the 11th Infantry Regiment at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.” 

American soldiers with one of the captured Balangiga Bells, Samar 1902 (Photo courtesy of The Committee for the Return of the Bells)

American soldiers with one of the captured Balangiga Bells, Samar 1902 (Photo courtesy of The Committee for the Return of the Bells)

Ricketts states further that the Bells of Balangiga “are now silent symbols of a sad and nearly forgotten chapter in otherwise harmonious U.S.-Filipino relations — relations secured by common bonds of aspiration for individual liberty and freedom as well as blood commingled on the battlefields of World War II. The bells harken to a time, for better or worse, when a Progressive America was expanding its global influence and Filipinos were crying for emancipation from foreign rule.”

In 2006 U. S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher sponsored a resolution in the House of Representatives to have the war relics returned but was unsuccessful. In 2001 there was an attempt in the San Francisco Bay Area led by lawyer and community leader Rodel Rodis to bring the bells back as part of a centennial celebration, but that also proved to be unsuccessful.

The Committee for the Return of the Bells founder and President Logan Clarke and U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrbacher (Photo courtesy of The Committee for the Return of the Bells)

The Committee for the Return of the Bells founder and President Logan Clarke and U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrbacher (Photo courtesy of The Committee for the Return of the Bells)

Despite the fact that there have been efforts in the past to have the Bells of Balangiga returned, members of the group that met in Huntington Beach, California, resolved to succeed where others have failed.

The current effort to bring back the historically significant religious symbols to the Philippines is led by the Committee for the Return of the Bells. The president and founder of this non-profit organization is Logan Clarke, a former Hollywood and Philippine movie actor and current Los Angeles-based international private investigator. 

Clarke, president of the Committee for the Return of the Bells, stated that “the main reason why the earlier efforts failed is because of a lack of public awareness and that is one of the major focuses of the campaign.”

There were numerous photographs displayed at the pre-launch that chronicled the history of the Philippine American War. These included pictures of American military generals and leaders of the Filipino resistance along with photos taken in Samar that showed the extensive civilian casualties suffered by the Filipinos in the gruesome aftermath of this encounter. 

A number of Filipino and American celebrities have joined the campaign. Philippine Congressman and world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao  is the Honorary Committee Chairman; U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher; former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis "Chavit" Singson; Beverly Hills Police Chief David Snowden; philanthropist Armando Derossi; actors/activists Danny Glover, Rosario Dawson, John Savage, Nastassja Kinski, and Xander Berkeley; award-winning documentarian Jack Silberman; radio host-activist Kerri Kasem; writer-educator-activist Oscar Peñaranda; actor-director-producers Ronnie Ricketts, Casandra Cava, Ferdinand Galang, Grant and Lysa Heslov, the author, who is a musician, and the Filipino American Press Club of Los Angeles. 

Clarke with Honorary Committee Chairman Manny Pacquiao (Photo courtesy of The Committee for the Return of the Bells)

Clarke with Honorary Committee Chairman Manny Pacquiao (Photo courtesy of The Committee for the Return of the Bells)

Following the Spanish American War, which ended with the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898, the Philippines became a territory of the United States from 1898 to 1946. After becoming a Commonwealth, the Philippines gained complete independence on July 4, 1946, making that date the nation's Independence Day holiday (Araw ng Kalayaan). Former President Diosdado Macapagal moved Independence Day to June 12, the date on which the Malolos Republic declared independence from Spain in 1898.

Philippine Republic Day, also known as Philippine American Friendship Day, was created to commemorate the official recognition of Philippine independence by the United States of America and to coincide with Independence Day celebrated on July 4th in the United States.

Friendships between countries often involve acts of diplomacy and generosity, combined with mutual respect and kindness. Rather than wait for the next Centennial of the Philippine American War, perhaps the friendship between the United States and the Philippines can be symbolized even further by the return of the Bells of Balangiga to the people of Samar. That would indeed be a true act of friendship.

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Logan Clarke (right) with Ken Metcalfe in "Sunugin ang Samar!"

Logan Clarke (right) with Ken Metcalfe in "Sunugin ang Samar!"

Who would have imagined that an American actor in a Filipino movie about Samar during the Philippine-American War would someday lead a campaign to bring the bells of Balangiga back to Samar where they belong?

The film was “Sunugin ang Samar” (Burn Down Samar) (1974) directed by Joey Gosiengfiao and starring Ramon Revilla and Pilar Pilapil. Also in the film was Logan Clarke, who played the part of an American soldier. When Clarke learned that the bells of Balangiga are still in the hands of the U.S., he was deeply moved and inspired to work towards the eventual return of the bells.

“The time has come to return the bells,” said Clarke, who lives in Huntington Beach, California with his Filipina girlfriend. “The bells are not something you can keep as a war trophy. They are a symbol of freedom and the faith of the Filipino people and it is a disgrace that we have kept them for over a century.” He goes on to say that because of the increased use of the internet and social media to inform and mobilize masses of people to transform society and make needed changes, this is the right moment in history for the bells to be returned to the people of Samar. In other words, “technology has caught up with the crime.”

Known as “The Retriever,” Clarke is an international private detective who specializes in getting back family fortunes, lost or stolen jewelry, and rescuing individuals who have been kidnapped for ransom. It is easy to visualize Clarke in a Hollywood setting where actors like Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon” and Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown” have played the role of a detective. Logan Clarke, however, is the real thing--a private eye. One of his recent cases involved the mysterious disappearance of the late Casey Kasem, the U.S. radio celebrity disc jockey.

Not surprisingly, the Committee for the Return of the Bells, a non-profit organization formed by Clarke includes some Hollywood celebrities. An Indiegogo fundraising campaign will support the making of a documentary to raise awareness about the Bells of Balangiga and to engage in a personal dialogue about the return of the bells in Wyoming (where two of the bells are currently kept), Washington D.C. and the Philippines.

Clarke has also received support for this project from the Philippine press and media, community organizations and like-minded individuals. He is confident that despite failed efforts in the past to recover the bells, this time it will be successful. Focused on the mission of the Committee, Clarke emphatically stated, “It is the just thing to do—to honor that time in history.”

Carlos Zialcita

Carlos Zialcita

Carlos Zialcita was born in Manila and grew up in San Francisco after coming to the United States in 1958. He has been part of the San Francisco Bay Area jazz and blues scene for several decades as a harmonica player, singer, bandleader and educator. Zialcita is the founder and producer of the San Francisco Filipino American Jazz Festival and is the Executive Director of the Alameda Multicultural Community Center. He is one of the contributing writers to “Filipinos in San Francisco” (2011) on Arcadia Press (Photo by Henry Cheung). 

More articles from Carlos Zialcita:

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January 15, 2013
The Afro-Filipino King of Latin Soul disappeared from the public eye for two decades to counsel troubled youth.

OFW With All That Jazz
April 24, 2013
Manila-born singer mixes it up with jazz greats.