Balangiga Bells – The Return


It is rare that the study of history makes a difference, but it did in the case of the Balangiga Bells. The town, and its bells, have been part of my life for a quarter of a century and the work that I and Rolando Borrinaga put into establishing the real history of what happened played a role in the education program launched by US Veterans to get the bells returned.

Although my role was modest it is, nevertheless, one I am quite proud of.

The bells were returned to Balangiga on 15 December 2018. Sadly, I could not be there to greet them but I did get to see and touch them for my birthday two weeks later.

It was, for me, a moving and emotional moment as you can see below.

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Quezon’s Game and the Japanese Earthquake.

My ‘must-see movie’ of the moment is Quezon’s Game. Having worked with wonderfully talented Matt Rosen, who directs this story of the rescue of more than a thousand Jews ahead of Germany’s Holocaust by Manuel L Quezon, with Raymond Bagatsing, whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with on two movies, I’m excited to see it.

Normally, my heart sinks when I hear ‘historical’ and ‘movie’ in the same sentence. Especially with Philippine movies where the historical advisors are not usually up-to-date on current scholarship, as in the case of Luna. I often prefer it when there is a historical connection by the actual facts don’t matter, as in Balangiga: Howling Wilderness, a wonderfully quirky movie with flying carabao which I thoroughly enjoyed.

In the case of Quezon’s Game there is good reason to expect a truthful rendition without being a documentary. Matt Rosen is Jewish, with some of the best Jewish jokes you can imagine, so the story is very close to his heart. While Quezon is depicted watching film of the Nazi death camps, which he could not possibly have seen at the time, how else would one show the results if Quezon had failed?

As many as 10,000 Jews were to be offered a place in the Philippines in Mindanao as farmers. There was opposition based on stereotypes of Jews not being farmers.

At a time when top lawyers in the Philippines like Ferdinand Topacio hang portraits of Hitler in their offices and deny the Holocaust ever happened, and the President of the Philippines can casually and coldly liken the Jews to drug addicts, a film like this is really needed.

But this was not the only time that Quezon, a brutal and astute political operator, reached out a hand to help those in trouble overseas.

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Mountain men and the Counterfeit Coins

Igorrotes coing their own currency

This intriguing photograph was posted by Pepito Achicocho on the excellent Philippine-American War facebook page with the caption:”General view of an Igorrote counterfeiting outfit – Man in centre operating bellows, man on left filling crucible-mould with broken copper, and man on right breaking copper into fragments.” (Leslie’s Weekly).

Later, trawling through Insular accounts, reports and Jenks’s The Bontoc Igorot I found the rest of the story.

Igorots and other Cordilleran mountain people don’t get nearly as much attention as they should. Other than their reluctant participation in the Battle of Caloocan, which they were conned into participating, mentions of them as Aguinaldo and later Funston, passed through the mountains on the way to Palanan, and photographs of them demonstrating their culture¬† at exhibitions in the US – usually accompanied by lot of lowlander comments tutting because the Igorrotes weren’t dressed like Spaniards, and, of course, their habit of taking heads, they tend to be very much in the background. That means that many aspects of their lives go under the radar of history.

The Igorots were never conquered, at least by force of arms and play little role in history teching in the Philippines. As William Henry Scott observed in his paper Igorot Responses to Spanish Aims: 1576 to 1896:

“Modern writers of the Republic of the Philippines have been almost as slow as their Spanish predecessors to give credit to the Igorots for this defense of their territory, and lecturers in college classrooms in the nation’s capital have been known to dismiss the accomplishment as a simple accident of geography or international politics-that is, that it was too much trouble for the Spaniards to invade the rugged mountains or that they didn’t want to do so in the first place. The idea that the Spaniards did not want to invade Igorot territory is flatly contrary .to the historic record. ”

They didn’t even surrender to the Americans, as Frank Jenista shows in his The White Apos, the Igorots and the Americans came to a mutually beneficial understanding.

In fact, when threatened by Spanish forces the Igorots said the equivalent of “Hold my tapuy” and gave the invader a good thumping.

That is why few people are aware that Igorots had their own currency for many years — discs of copper, called sipen, made from almost pure ore found in the region which was smelted and formed into coinage.¬† The exchange rate was 80 sipen to the peso.

Low value copper Spanish coins did not make it into the Cordilleras so the Igorots, being a resourceful people, made their own, pressing a rare Spanish coin into clay to make a crude die, each coin requiring a new die.

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The Deadly Cool Carnival

Ice Drop moulds and the finished product, familiar even today.

It was towards the end of 1921, with excitement building towards the annual Manila Carnival just a few weeks away, that a Japanese company sought permission to make what appears to have been a new product to market: Ice Drops. It proved to be a time-bomb in terms of public health.

Ice Drops were the last major type of frozen confection to be developed and the first to be produced on an industrial scale. At the 1922 Manila Carnival, one stall sold nearly a quarter of a million in one week. For the first time, a frozen confection could be eaten casually anywhere one wished.

They were made by putting a boiled wooden or bamboo stick into a slightly tapering metal mould. This would be filled with a mixture of sugar water, appropriate ingredients like fruit flavouring, ube, coconut milk, toasted rice pinipig, with cassava starch as a thickener, Theses were held in a rack containing 64 filled moulds.

The filled racks were placed in an insulated ice box filled with a saturated solution of calcium chloride which was kept moving by a motorised paddle. At the bottom of the box were copper coils filled with ethyl chloride/chloroethane pumped from a tank by another motor. Vaporised chloroethane in the coils kept the calcium chloride well below the freezing point of water.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later the contents of the moulds were frozen. The racks would be briefly dipped in warm water to release the ice drops which were then wrapped in glazed or greaseproof paper by hand and transferred to ice storage boxes for later sale.

Note the year that Ice Drops hit the streets of Manila: 1921. Frank Epperson, who is usually creditted with inventing this type of confection, only went on public sale in 1924 and patented it a year later. It was known as the Eppsicle but his kids insisted he renamed it to Popsicle, which is now a trademark of Unilever. Magnolia appears to have licensed the name for use in the Philippines.

So, an imported American name for a product that first went on sale in Manila. Go figure.


Epperson’s 1924 worldwide patent for Popsicles.

Ice and frozen desserts had now gone through five distinct stages: the emergence of sorbet/sherbets serving a wealthy elite after the introduction of ice imports from Salem, Massachusetts in the mid-19th century; the emergence of ice-plants in the 1880s which reduced prices; the introduction of ice cream in the opening years of the 20th century boosted by the growth of a Filipino middle class in the American period; The transference of shaved ice desserts from Japanese immigrants to the Filipino mainstream consumer; and now a solid frozen product, also made by a Japanese business.

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