Continued

Philnews
The issue under contention right now are the bells themselves. I believe there are three bells in the possession of Americans: two in an Air Force base in Wyoming and one in Korea. And you indicate that you feel very strongly that these bells are going to be returned at some point in time. Do you still feel that way at this point?

Bob
I still feel that way. What one has to do I think is to go back and look at what happened in 1998 when the first really official request to have the bells returned...at that time (of course it wasn't long since the Philippine Senate had voted against retaining US forces in the Philippines. A number of the US veterans were still upset about that, they felt that America had been snubbed and that the Philippines was not a friendly nation any more). And of course more recently in Iraq--the withdrawal of Philippine forces from Iraq, have people questioning the Philippines as an ally of the United States.

But the other thing, I think, to look at is that people often criticize the Veterans in Wyoming being so firm that the bells should not be returned, but to be honest I've looked at a lot of the material that they were facing these are guys who put their lives on the line for their country. They've seen their buddies die for their country and along comes somebody and shows them a video that tells them that America, their country, is this great demon that's out to do all this nasty damage to everybody. It was really a slap in the face for the veterans and that really solidified their opposition.

Over the years since then, I have a feeling--because we as a group, the Balangiga Research Group, we have a number of fingers in several pies, we work very quietly [its amazing what you can do if you don't want to take credit] the feedback that we've got is that some of the veterans, they're not anti-Filipino, they don't necessarily feel that the Philippines has not got a case, but they just felt so insulted by the way that they were approached. And indeed I've looked at the stuff that they got and if I had been one of them I would have said 'hey just go away...walk, you're not getting the bells back.'

I think its a process of bringing the two sides together again; of also keeping politicians--there's a lot of political agenda going on, people trying to make something out of the bells in some way. To fill column-inches and so on. And that also didn't fly with them (US vets). These guys are not dumb, they can see when somebody is trying to use them for their own persona agenda. It would be nice to see an approach that did not involve the politicians, that did bring together, quietly--it would have to be done very quietly, that was the other error in '98 is that the whole issue was splashed across newspapers the minute Fidel Ramos asked for the bells. If he had made that request just quietly and let Bill Clinton try and do his stuff, the bells may have been back. But '98 was very, very messy and ever since then, we've been trying to put some oil on the troubled waters and to get the two sides talking again, and I don't think that its unreasonable that that will happen.

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