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An Open Letter
Regarding War Time Booty

Dear America:

Consider this scenario.

How would you like it if some species of intergalactic pirates from some faraway space station were sent down to "colonize" the State of New York and by order of their commanding officer, they set up camp in Manhattan?

...and quietly, from neighbor to neighbor, grandma to grandma, homeless to homeless, person to person, you develop a plan to oust your visitors from your beloved city.

These smelly intergalactic woebegones come out of their space suits, lounge around the Broadway theatre section with their boots off, walk around arrogantly, speak disparagingly about our gridlocks and bagels, point to our subway systems and call us "hicks".

Their continued alien presence becomes a heavy imposition on the Big Apple lifestyle. Our continuing show of hospitality borders on paranoia and trepidation. One has to almost walk either behind them but never beside them, and always talk in whispers. When they shout, you jump. You wake up each day wondering when they will leave. And the days have multiplied into months.

What would you do, America?

That's right! You would device a way to get them out-either ship them to New Jersey or shoot them back to outerspace.

You can't have a town meeting to discuss this. You can't call a referendum. You form a secret alliance, and quietly, from neighbor to neighbor, grandma to grandma, homeless to homeless, person to person, you develop a plan to oust your visitors from your beloved city.

You force them out, all right!

But guess what, six months later in the throes of summer, when fire hydrants are opened to let loose torrents of water, they return. Battalions swarm into the Lincoln Tunnel and Holland Tunnel; the skies are filled with their space ships about to land at both La Guardia and JFK. Penn Station and Amtrak vomit them out into the streets where even the pretzel vendors and other hawkers run in fear of their lives. You thought the Promise Keepers were bad? Think again! Retribution was never like this! Not even in the Bible or the Greek tragedies! What would come close is Attila the Hun's army roaring down some Asian plateau and wiping out villages along their way á la-David Lean cinemascope style.

They haul the lady
in parts, ship her off in crates and beam these up to their space stations scattered all over the galaxy, leaving out one of the Lady's little pinky fingers...

It turns out these barbarians only returned to slaughter and burn to the ground dear old Battery Park and Coney Island, to name a few. When they leave, they decide to take apart the Statue of Liberty. They haul the lady in parts, ship her off in crates and beam these up to their space stations scattered all over the galaxy, leaving out one of the Lady's little pinky fingers, which the Commander-in-chief insist they put on a plaque for him!

How would you feel, America? No more Statue of Liberty to enhance cinema credits! No more postage stamp portraits of the Lady! In fact, ships arriving from Europe and Asia overshoot the New York Harbor because the famous landmark is not there to guide them. Tired of constantly backtracking, these maritime hulks decide to set their sails towards New Jersey ports instead.

America how would you feel, if a hundred years from now, Ambassador Han Solo Rabe, that maverick and dashing debonair diplomat, broke ground and tried to persuade those intergalactic smelly pirates to consider returning the Lady—as a conciliatory gesture-even if one of her pinky fingers was missing? You would jump for joy, that's what! You would imagine her imposing and familiar figure outlined against the harbor sky. You would start up the manufacture of souvenir Lady Libertys as soon as the union approved the weekend overtime hours. In short, you would rejoice!

HALLELUJAH!
HALLELUJAH!
HALLELUJAH!

Hold it! Not so fast! You forgot I said that Ambassador Han Solo Chuh! Rabe tried to persuade them. This genteel hero of EDSA days even wore his lucky barong tagalog woven from a specially grown piña and jusi fibre intertwined within a single polyester plant. He graced that special assignment by donning a new pair of black striped trousers, recently purchased at Filene Basement.

Armed with nothing but his charismatic smile-one Colgate tooth gleaming! TING!—he flew "business class" on the S.S. Enterprise to Planet Wyy-yoh-mingoh. But before that terrible mission, he practiced his oratorical skills, having trained under a maestro of QBd Ink, and carefully cued by Madame Buena to remove all those "uhs... and anos...and kwans" from his speech pattern. This devastatingly handsome son-of-a-gun even spent time in front of the bathroom mirror before and after shaving to practice putting on his famous poker face after a punchline to a joke. And talk about his stature and poise! Why, all those Tanghalan practice sessions being the prince of the Singkil Dance gave him absolute confidence that he would walk in style when he confronted those pirates.

America, what do you expect us Filipinos to do, since you won't return our Balangiga Bells?

All this, for what? They didn't! They weren't persuaded, that is! Those Wyominjuns talked about not throwing their "precious souvenir" even though it was rusting away and taking up too much room. Something about a matter of principle regarding intergalactic war and pirates' booty, whatever that means!

What do you do, America? The Statue of Liberty may be lost forever.

What, then, do you expect us Filipinos to do, since you won't return our Balangiga Bells? And now our Han Solo Chuh Rabe is being called away to negotiate more pressing foreign diplomatic and economic crises?

America, what do you expect us Filipinos to do, since you won't return our Balangiga Bells?

In extreme state of anxiety,

A ragtag Pinoy

(Huy, Sandali! Pare, what are you guys doing? Put that down! Porke't sinabi nila na they won't return our Bells doesn't give us the chutzpah to cart off the PHILADELPHIA Liberty Bell! Baka kunin si Rizal sa Luneta in revenge!)

* * * *

The Balangiga Massacre

"The brutality of the war was best exemplified by the Balangiga Massacre. In August 1901, Balangiga was a small seaside village of 200 nipa houses in Samar, Visayas. The U.S. Army 9th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. army was sent to the town to establish a garrison and assist in the pacification of the Visayan Islands. Upon arrival, the American soldiers took over the affairs of the town and forcibly occupied some of the local huts. All male residents, eighteen years and above, were ordered to leave their families to clear the surrounding forests that were suspected to be the refuge of guerrillas. At night, these men were hauled into open wooden pens unsuitable for lodging. To aggravate matters, an American even raped a village lass.

Survivors recounted how the night before there was a procession of women followed by baby coffins. The women turned out to be men and the coffins contained rifles.

"Finally, on September 28, 1901, while all 74 American soldiers were eating their breakfast, they were suddenly attacked by the townsfolk, resulting in 54 deaths and 18 wounded. So grisly were the deaths that it was prominently played up in the news. Survivors recounted how the night before there was a procession of women followed by baby coffins. The women turned out to be men and the coffins contained rifles. At 6:30 a.m., the bells of Balangiga were rung, signaling the attack of 400 men led by the highest town official.

"The deaths of the Americans resulted in a punitive expedition and a reign of terror. General Jake Smith ordered the American soldiers to "kill and burn", to shoot down anybody capable of carrying arms including boys over ten years old." When the smoke had cleared, Samar had been turned into a "howling wilderness." The American forces completed the pillage by taking the two Balangiga church bells and a rare 1557 cannon as war booty and shipping them to Wyoming. Almost a hundred years after the Balangiga incident, the current Philippine government is making representations to retrieve these national treasures."

Balangiga

For more on Balangiga, go to: www.opmanong.ssc.hawaii.edu/filipino/balangiga.html
See also November 19, 1997 issue of the Wall Street Journal

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