Saturday, March 21, 2009

Life as a Catalyst at JoeyAlarilla.com

Please visit my new personal blog at JoeyAlarilla.com

Thanks!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

chapter 6, part 1

The house was still alive after all this time, defying the passage of the years and the decay of the old city. Miriel had last seen her childhood home some fifteen years ago. She had promised herself that she would no longer visit this place that had given her immeasurable joy yet even more overwhelming grief. It was no longer so much a place as a space behind her face, something that existed inside her mind, where memories could temper what reality could not.

Her older sister had been surprised by her sudden return, but she had greeted Miriel with what joy she could muster considering they had no seen or spoken to each other in almost 10 years. Her sister was aged beyond her true years, a broken down woman steadfastly keeping watch over their old home, refusing to let go of the past. This was her kingdom, and if others could not see past the age and the ugliness and the rot that was devouring her palace from within, that was their problem, not this proud monarch’s.

"So," her sister said as she offered Miriel a chipped cup of instant coffee, "you’re looking fine. You did not find it difficult traveling?"

Miriel shook her head. "No, Ate, it was fine. It’s good to see you again."

The older woman gave a mirthless smile. "Ah, well, I’m sure. No, I didn’t mean that… it’s just, well, you came out of the blue."

"I know, and I’m really sorry for that, Ate. But this is important and I had to see our old house."

Her sister sighed. "You… still have these visions?"

"Not visions. They’re real. These spirits, I mean."

"Miriel…"

"I’m not crazy, Ate. I told you all the truth years ago, and I’m still telling you the truth now." She paused and bit her lip. "If only you could see Esperanza right now sitting next to me, and Mama and Papa standing behind you, nodding and listening to our every word..."

"Stop it!" Her sister had stood up, shuddering and making the sign of the cross. "I’ve been living here alone for many years and I’ve never seen anything or felt anything or heard anything. I don’t need this, my little sister. You, coming back here and…"

"Please forgive me. I… I just need to stay the night. That’s all I’m asking. Please."

Hot tears filled the eyes of Lucia, and she felt them streaking down her hollow cheeks. Fear and indecision vied for control of her face. She nodded slowly.

"All right. You may stay."

#

Sunday, November 28, 2004

chapter 5

The Maharlika Legacy

By Arianna Martinez

More than 22 years after the first People Power revolution overthrew him and 19 years after he died a lonely exile in Honolulu, former Philippine president Ferdinand Edralin Marcos continues to shape the politics and history of the country he ruled for over two decades.

To many Filipinos and according to the history books, Marcos was the dictator responsible for the arrest, torture and death of countless political dissidents, and the criminal who ruined the Philippine economy -- some say irreparably -- through the systematic plunder conducted by the conjugal dictatorship and their cronies. The Marcos wealth has become the stuff of legend, with billions of dollars allegedly stashed in Swiss bank accounts. The search for the Marcos wealth continues, becoming as epic a quest as the saga of the Yamashita gold that at one time was supposedly the source of his riches. That, and his financial genius, or so his widow continues to claim.

That is the face of Marcos that most people see. Yet in this country of numerous contradictions, a significant number of Filipinos continue to idolize him, in particular the loyalists of the North, who not only honor him as the most illustrious scion of Ilocandia but who have made his heirs the rulers of the vast fiefdom he left behind. And what is shocking to most Filipinos and foreigners is that to a growing number of people, Marcos was not only a hero but a god -- the Messiah who was sent by God the Father to save the Filipino race, and who will return to restore the glory of the broken land that had rejected and exiled him in the end. To these members of the Church of the Maharlika, Marcos is the once and future king, the Apo, the Filipino Christ.

I am not one of these people, but for months I walked among them, talked to them, learned to know some of them as intimately as some of my friends. I did not think that I would one day meet these people, or write this book, or, if I were to be perfectly honest to myself, grow to like some of them, in spite of our considerable differences. As a journalist, I strove to be objective no matter what my own beliefs were, and I realized that the two people who had set these wheels in motion were correct: that these worshippers, no matter how unpalatable their beliefs were to me, were not the crazy cultists I had imagined or maybe even hoped them to be. For the most part, they were ordinary people, who simply saw the world in a different light, read history in a different book, carried on with their lives in a different place.

It is difficult to understand the spell the Maharlika has cast, the hold he and his heirs still have over Ilocandia. You might accept it as a political reality, but to them it is simply the truth. He said he was a hero. He said he was destined to lead the Filipino people to greatness. They believed him, and they continue to believe.

To understand them might take the ability to accept someone like Father Constantino, the bishop of the Church. He was a Roman Catholic priest who chose to renounce his Catholicism and give up his priesthood rather than renounce the Maharlika. You must realize, however, that he and his followers still mainly see themselves as good Catholics, following most of the rituals of the Church of Rome, with the addition however of Marcos to their theological foundations.

Father Constantino, surprisingly enough, is a very charming and intelligent person with a keen sense of humor and empathy for his fellow man. He tried to explain his beliefs to me in his desire to have this book published and the truth about the Maharlika and his Church known to more Filipinos.

He told me that the Jews had expected their Messiah as a great king like David, who would deliver them from the Romans and found an earthly kingdom that would restore the land of Israel. Small wonder then, he said, that they failed to recognize him in the form of a lowly carpenter’s son, who preached not the death of the enemies of the Jews, but peace and brotherhood. A Messiah who had come not to deliver the Jews, but to promise salvation for all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike. And so did he become not the promised Messiah of Judaism, but the new one of the church founded in his name.

This, Father Constantino said, was also the same fate that befell the Maharlika, who had founded a New Society in order to save the Filipinos, but who like many prophets was not honored in his own country. According to these believers, Marcos not only rebuilt Ilocandia but also the other parts of the archipelago, but in the end his enemies succeeded in exiling the rightful king through lies and deception.

#

Beatrice was dying.

Ian knew this with as much certainty as if the angel of death had paused from his rounds and whispered this into his ear. He was a thief in the night, this servant of God, who came to take men and women back to the paradise from where they were expelled.

The doctors had no explanation for the young woman’s sleeping sickness. A strange cold emanated from deep within Beatrice’s inert form, and everyone who entered the room could feel the chill that had enveloped the room and was even now making its way to their very core.

One doctor had said that her brain activity and REM showed that she was dreaming at a fantastic rate. Years had been compressed into minutes, lives into moments, time into nothingness. She was living the hours as if they were seconds and even less.

"But what can we do, Doctor?"

"The only thing we can do. Hope and pray."

For days Ian had decided to stay at the hospital, watching over this strange woman that he had only met that fateful afternoon when she had been struck down by this sleeping sickness. He ruefully old himself that this seemed to be par for course for his luck -- or lack of it.

Ian stared at her face. It was not truly a beautiful face, but a pretty one just the same, though sorrow and bitterness had left their mark in the lines that everyone could read. Her colleagues at Task Katarungan had said that she was old before her time, because she had seen so many things but had been powerless to change them. She had kept her tales mostly to herself, yet she was tireless in helping others and passionate in trying to keep alive the memory of the long dark night that Martial Law had ushered in, and which even now, more than two decades later, still covered the archipelago with fear and doubt.

"Fighter talaga ‘yang si Bea," Aida had told him that first day. "’Yun nga lang, tagapagtanggol siya ng mga naaapi pero mukhang sarili niya, di niya matulungan."

Ian had told Aida that he had never really worried too much about helping others. He freely admitted that he was a selfish bastard, as he put it, which is why he had to admire someone like Beatrice.

What’s happening to you? What are you dreaming of? And who?

He could not quite put his finger on it, but she reminded him of Ari -- not that they looked anything like each other. He thought maybe it was the fact that they were both strong women, who made him feel even more ashamed of his weakness.

Outside, the sky was falling and the country was in turmoil, yet all Ian could think of right now was how small he felt, how much he missed Ari, and how much he wanted Bea to wake up and tell him that everything was going to be all right.

It’s all about you, eh, Ian? So what else is new?

When he was a boy growing up and still worshipped his father, Ian had know exactly what he wanted to be. He was going to be a brilliant lawyer, and he would take up the cause of the weak and oppressed and right whatever wrong he saw. His father had been a lawyer, and so had been his father’s father and so on. It was all destined, Ian had once happily told his schoolmates while he was still in grade school. He was set for life.

Yet his father had given it all up when he joined the opposition, and even before that Ian had lost faith in him when the perfect family he thought he had fell apart and showed him what a fool he was. His mother and father claimed that they were still friends and that they would always love him. Yet Ian has also wanted them to love each other, to be husband and wife, his perfect parents.

He knew that he still clung to that picture inside his head, years after his father’s death, years after the wide-eyed young boy had turned into a man -- one who was growing older each day. He had given up on his dream of entering law school, choosing instead to hop from one job to another.

The bohemian revolution, he had once drunkenly proclaimed to Ari, echoing the lines of a movie he had fallen in love with at around the same time he had grown to passionately care about this young online journalist. They had sung the songs together, laughed and cheered and wept. She had been the perfect partner. Yet in the end he had left, driven away by his demons, the gnawing emptiness that sucked in everything life had to offer and spat out the semblance of death.

I like it in the gray, he once told Arianna. When you don’t really care, you can’t really get hurt.

#

When the long night that was the second Battle of Quiapo had ended and the defenders had proclaimed victory over the government forces, the flag of the Kapatiran ng Kris at Kali had been unfurled and placed where the Plaza Miranda monument once stood.

The masked figures had broken their silence long enough for one among their ranks to tell television reporters that the KKK was declaring Quiapo a holy place that they, Christians and Muslims alike, would defend to the last drop of their blood from any attempt by Malacañang to forcefully retake the territory.

"The governador-general and his heirs can keep their palace," the masked figure had cryptically stated, refusing to explain or answer any of the reporter’s questions.

The few surviving members of the Anti-Piracy Agency, Marines and riot police had been placed in a makeshift cell at Plaza Miranda. They had been allowed to make their appeal on national television, as they asked the President not attack Quiapo for fear that they would be executed by their captors.

Fortunato had been allowed by his mysterious benefactors to leave his room and walk outside Quiapo Church now that he felt he had sufficiently recovered from his injuries. They had told him of the horrors of the night before, and how the government had issued an ultimatum, demanding the surrender of the defenders of Quiapo by five in the afternoon, or else the military would launch a full-scale assault.

As he surveyed the carnage that had been wrought by this new revolution, Fortunato could only stare in stunned silence at the evidence of his eyes, which told him that the unthinkable had happened. The invisible people of Quiapo had risen up against the government, and Christian and Muslim had joined hands in this new brotherhood. One that claimed to have been inspired by the ancient ones that ruled over the archipelago long before Spain had laid claim to these islands, yet had forgiven the followers of the Cross and now worked toward restoration of the balance.

The usurpers, Fortunato had heard the Brotherhood refer to the governador-generals and their spiritual descendants that now occupied Malacañang. His masked benefactor had simply said that the KKK had always existed, yet it was only now that the time was ripe for the invisible to be seen.

Fortunato had visited the men caged at Plaza Miranda, seeing their fearful faces, the minds that were almost shattered in trying to comprehend the unreal events that had befallen them in the past 24 hours. One of the APA operatives had openly wept and told Fortunato that he wanted to go home to his wife and three children, begging the vendor to speak to the masked ones and convince them to be merciful.

"If they weren’t merciful, you wouldn’t be talking to me now," Fortunato said. "You would be dead, just as I’m sure you would have killed me without any thought."

Yet still he could not help but feel sorry for the bewildered prisoners. Don’t hate them, Fortunato told himself, they’re only the small fry. They weren’t the ones who gave the orders.

At the Center for Psychic Research, they had helped him hone his raw talent, harnessing it into a new tool for manipulating the digital world and creating artificial intelligence. The scientists at the Center had argued over the peculiarity of the talents they had discovered for the man/machine interface, the psychic energies that manifested themselves only in relation to the datastream. Fortunato, for instance, could not read another person’s mind, yet he could open files on a PC and activate applications with just a thought, as one of the first batch of research subjects who were supposed to revolutionize the information technology industry.

"The Philippines is a gold mine of talents such as you," one young American researcher had excitedly told Fortunato at one time. "This could be the hub for this emerging field of psychic user interfaces."

Yet Fortunato had not felt more privileged than anyone else. He had volunteered for the project as part of his amnesty program for his activities as an advocate of the Free and Open Source Software Alliance, when students from different schools and universities had demonstrated in numbers not seen since the days of the mythical First Quarter Storm to protest the reimposition of commercial software in the educational institutions that had already declared independence from the likes of Insanely Great Software. The Intellectual Property Council and vendors such as IGS, however, successfully lobbied to have the government overturn these decisions, even as on the international front they were working to have FOSS declared in violation of commonly accepted IP practices.

The Center was a nondescript building that was located at the IT zone of the University, the very Republic of the Proletariat that had initiated FQS and the Diliman Commune in the 70s. The first batch of talents was composed of four mean and three women. Fortunato had become friends with all of them. He saw all of them die the day the Center was destroyed and he made his bid for freedom.

"We are here to unlock the secrets of the human and digital neural network," one of the University scientists had told Fortunato. If you think about it, matter and energy are manifestations of the same thing, and human thought and the data stream are both composed of bits."

One mind, Fortunato told himself as he shuddered.

And during that fateful moment when the Rizal Virus had been unleashed and he had, for a brief moment, become one with the anomaly, he had understood perfectly what this one mind, man yet machine, truly was, yet now it was only a trace of a memory -- one that still filled him with fear. He had seen cyberspace for what it was, yet it was something he could no longer see or describe.

He started at the realization that this was the same feeling he had now, that of knowing something that was now somehow beyond reach.

#

"How is she?" Sarah asked Ian, her arms crossed as she looked at the woman who had been going to her for counseling for the past month.

Ian shook his head. "The doctors can’t really say for sure. All they know is that she’s dreaming." And I know she’s dying, Ian added to himself but did not say aloud.

"It’s the strangest thing…"

"I know, the doctor’s can’t figure it out. It isn’t a regular coma, from what they’ve told me… "

Sarah smiled sadly as she shook her head.

"No, what I mean is that during the course of our therapy, she told me some remarkable things that she claimed had happened to her."

Sarah paused, seemingly thinking of what she wanted to say.

"She told me that something had happened to her, that she had fallen asleep for seven long years."

Ian frowned.

"What are you saying?"

"I’m not sure. I’m only telling you what she told me. That she slept and slept, and when she woke up, the world had changed."

"Changed? How?"

The psychiatrist sighed. "Well, she wasn’t really clear about what she meant by that. Only she said that she no longer dreamed when she woke up from her long sleep."

"You mean she didn’t remember…"

"No. She said she didn’t dream."

Ian smiled. "Well, she seems to be making up for that now. The doctors say she’s dreaming right off the charts. That’s a very strange story. I’ve never heard of that."

"Oh, I know, I know. I think it’s a very vivid scenario she created for herself, but it seems she believes in it fully."

Sarah looked at him. "Do you smoke? Because I’m really dying to have a ciggie, so maybe we could call in a nurse and go outside to smoke."

As they sat on one of the benches outside the hospital building, Sarah found herself appraising the young man who was obviously worried over the sleeping Beatrice. He had told her that he had only met Beatrice at the University at the Martial Law Diorama. She had just collapsed without warning.

Beatrice had told her about the exhibit. When Sarah found out who Ian’s father was, she had been excited and had started asking questions, only to be rebuffed by the young man who said he really didn’t want to talk about his dad.

Another one, Sarah had told herself. Another soul hurting from loss of faith.

It was a cliché that people became their parents, yet it was true just the same. Just as it was true that more and more people were losing their faith in their parents, or ceasing to care about them at all. How many people had told her that their parents didn’t understand, that they had worshipped their parents only to be let down hard by breakup.

How many?

How long would she hear the same things?

#

How did things slip away like this?

The director general of the Intellectual Property Council was on his way home after a nightlong vigil at Malacañang. The Cabinet and her advisers had convinced the President to give the Quiapo rebels -- rebels, that was how William Harris thought of them now -- time to consider surrendering peacefully. He and the generals had been in favor of an immediate attack after the Anti-Piracy Agency operatives, Marines and riot police had been overrun and massacred.

This is insane. The longer they let these terrorists hold on to Quiapo, the stronger they’ll get.

Already, the government had received reports that more rallyists were marching on to Quiapo, eager to join what some opposition members were already calling a modern-day crusade and some militants were hailing as a new revolution.

Meanwhile, the crowds also continued to swell at the EDSA Shrine, the University and Makati City. The riffraff are coming out, Harris thought to himself. We should have destroyed the Quiap rebels when we had the chance.

From Version Control, he had also received reports of grumblings in Ilocandia, with Felice Andion saying that some members of the Church of the Maharlika were proclaiming that the violence in Quiapo was one of the signs of the end days and the second coming of the Apo in all his glory. Felice had been laughing as he recounted this to the IPC director general, but the official could tell she was worried about this development.

It was time, Harris told himself, that we take matters into our own hands. He told himself that he could not really on this government to have the political will to crush the terrorists instead of negotiating with them.

He would order the Anti-Piracy Agency to mobilize immediately. He would take full responsibility for this decision. He might end up in jail or be deported, but he was not going to let this rabble get way with killing his men and protecting the pirates.

Let them all burn in hell. Kill them all.

#

Felice Andion nervously puffed on a cigarette as she waited for Arianna’s interview with Father Constantino to end. Part of her regretted asking Arianna to fly over here, while an even bigger part of her wished with all her might that she was out of the country.

The shit has well and truly hit the fan, Felice. Let’s see Harris wriggle out of this one. Hell, how am I gonna wriggle out of this?

The TV broadcast that showed the appeal of the hostages -- no use denying the bitter truth, eh, Felice -- had filled her with a cold fear that she had no idea she was capable of feeling. For the first time in a very long while, she was truly terrified.

Now the Maharlika’s heirs and his church followers were mulling fortifying Ilocandia and declaring independence from the national government.

Father Constantino had told Felice point blank that the Church was praying for the swift collapse of the administration in the face of these momentous events.

"The hand of God is at work here. These are signs -- signs that the impious have taken over the land and that we need to ask for the Maharlika’s forgiveness. The President has reaped the whirlwind, and it is only a matter of time for their downfall to begin."

Felice had bluntly told him that he was making seditious statements and that, like it or not, this administration was the legally elected government.

She was rapidly losing patience with the Marcos loonies, as she privately referred to them, so she decided to step out and have a ciggie break. It still wasn’t doing wonders for temper, but at least she could feel the nicotine giving her a more light-headed feeling.

She could picture the President also losing her temper and angrily demanding solutions from everyone around her. At least I’m not there to personally endure that, thank God for small blessings.

Felice remembered the first time she met the President, how she had impressed the chief executive with a long discussion on the different versions of reality that a leader must always have ready. Felice had pointed out that many public relations consultants were spin doctors who only provided a cure, but what was needed was a proactive approach that deployed and tested scenarios ahead of time to be prepared for any political eventuality.

"It’s not enough to do damage control," she told the President. "You need to have all those scenarios prepared ahead of time."

She and Harris had already put several scenarios in motion, yet how could anyone have anticipated the shocking turn of events in a little over 24 hours?

Felice considered the offer of the Maharlika’s heirs and the Church of the Maharlika. It was a dangerous game that she was playing, yet she had felt at the time that she could it off with ease. Yet this new KKK was a threatening to destroy everything. Harris and Roman had unleashed forces that were now spiraling out of control.

The door opened. Peter San Diego walked over to Felice and lit his own cigarette.

"They seem to be getting along," he said with a wry smile. "I didn’t really think they would, but the man’s a charmer."

Felice shrugged. "I guess he is. He’s a snake and a charmer," she added, laughing at her own joke.

The lawyer frowned. "Careful, Felice."

"Oh piss off. You’re always so serious."

"And you’re never serious enough. So, any word from Harris."

"He’s going to do it."

Peter sighed. "Why am I not surprised? I wouldn’t put it past him if he was the one who ordered Roman’s murder."

"Wheels within wheels. That’s always how it is when you’re playing this game."

#

Hers was a face that was familiar to every Filipino, beautiful still despite the passage of the years. She had married the dashing young Maharlika when she was an innocent provincial lass from Leyte, charming him and winning his heart with her boundless love for life. And even as she became more powerful and exchanged the barrio lass for the Iron Butterfly, a part of that strange innocence never really left her. She lived in a world of her own, moved to the beat of a drummer only she could her, saw life with eyes that somehow differed from most others.

She had wept when the mobs were closing in, fearing for her children and the desecration of the Palace she had loved and lovingly taken care of as befits royalty. Even when she knew the end was near and flight was the only option left, in her mind she entertained pictures of a heroic last stand, a magnificent scene from a real-life drama that would have Filipinos marveling for generations to come, that such beauty could come with such strength of character, that to the end she would be the mother of the Filipino people even if some of those children had turned against her and those she loved most.

"I forgive them," she once said in a television interview years after her beloved husband had died in exile. "When you’re a mother, you can forgive anything your children do, no matter how much they hurt you. And the Filipino people are my children."

It was a mausoleum that preserved the body of the Maharlika, which for years had been denied burial in his homeland. Denied burial because the Immortal Widow had insisted that he be laid to rest among the heroes of this nation, a request which government after succeeding government had denied, but which she continued to fight for tooth and nail.

"How long must my husband wait? How long must justice be denied to the Marcoses?" she had demanded during one newspaper interview that had launched a thousand angry letters.

Hers was the face that was now covered with tears, as she gazed at the body of the king who had ruled over this land with a firm yet wise hand, who had dreamt together with her of a New Society that would put those of other countries to shame and would lift the Philippines into the ranks of First World nations.

She had a dream, and like all her dreams it was of the true, the good and the beautiful. So many people had misunderstood her, still misunderstand her good intentions for every Filipino. They did not appreciate the gifts the Maharlika had given them, the lessons he had bequeathed to history.

They would learn to, in time.

Just as the mausoleum preserved the Maharlika’s body, so too did the museum preserve the brilliant mind of the lawyer and politician. The museum gave an intimate look into the many facets of this remarkable man, who was born in the year one thousand nine hundred and seventeen, on the 11th day of the ninth month -- a date that would also be immortalized in history as the start of the War on Terror after the fall of the Two Towers.

The Maharlika’s career had encompassed several lives, from his beginnings a brilliant young lawyer, to his exploits in the Second World War, to his election and re-election as president, to his declaration of Martial Law, to the legacy he had left behind.

He was born in the sleepy town of Sarrat, in the northern lands of Luzon that were known for a hard life and even hardier people, survivors who had tamed the unruly land and, by sheer industry, eked out a living for themselves and their families. The son of teachers, the Maharlika had dreamed of becoming a great lawyer, and decided to pursue his law studies at the University of the Philippines.

In April of 1939, however, his career seemed doomed to be cut short when he was arrested and accused of conspiring in the death of one of his father’s political rivals who had been murdered in 1933. He was found guilty by the court, but the following year he lodged an appeal and decided to stand as his own lawyer before the highest court in the land. It was a brilliant performance that led to the overturning of his sentence, freeing the young Maharlika to become a trial lawyer in the great city of Manila.

Who could have foreseen then that this young prodigy, brilliant as he was, would one day become the leader of this entire land? For then came the hidden years of the young Maharlika, when the Pacific War erupted with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the Empire of the Sun arrived to lay claim to the land the Americans had assimilated in the Far East.

From 1941 to 1945, the once and future king of the Filipinos had served in the army of the US government and the Philippine Commonwealth. History up to now has differing accounts on the true exploits of the Maharlika during the Japanese occupation. After the war, he had claimed to have led the Maharlika guerrilla unit in numerous missions against the Japanese. It is a tale well told, of heroes braving the odds and a great leader uniting his men and fighting for the freedom of their homeland. For his achievements as the leader of the Maharlikas, Marcos had become the most bemedalled war hero of the Filipinos. This had been a great source of pride to him and to many of his countrymen for years to come, yet when the myth of his wise rule had soured and more and more voices were raised against him, he was accused of inventing lies and awarding himself for exploits that had never occurred. Yet what few would argue against was that the seeds of the Maharlika’s kingdom were planted in those days, taking root in what seemed to be less than fertile soil.

Now the Maharlika lay in state in this darkened room, where light basked it in an almost saintly glow as the music of the requiem Mass fills the air. Here he lies, dreaming, perhaps, of the day the once and future king would rise from the grave and answer the call of his beloved land.

#

Thursday, November 18, 2004

chapter 4, part 4

In the days following the events of that night, people would have their own stories of what really happened and who was telling the truth about the second Battle of Quiapo.

As darkness fell upon the land, the rallyists decided to proceed to Quiapo Church and attempt to hold a vigil at Plaza Miranda, which they said presaged the proclamation of Martial Law once in this company’s history, but would now be witness to the people’s struggle to prevent its second coming.

With torches and electric lamps they came, chanting, singing, shouting, calling upon the people of Quiapo to join them and stand fast in protecting the country from those who would trample upon their rights.

The rallyists were met by a barricade of riot police, truncheons ready, shields linked to repel the human wave. On top of the fire trucks were positioned Marines and Anti-Piracy Agency operatives. At the sight of the firearms, the demonstrators began shouting, calling upon the soldiers and law enforcers to abandon their aggressive stance.

"Ito po ay isang mapayapang protesta," one rally leader called out using his megaphone. "Huwag po nating tutukan nang armas ang mga kabataan at mga anak-pawis na nais lamang iparating an gaming mensahe sa Malacañang. Ang Quiapo ay para sa mga tao, para sa masang Pilipino."

The chants began in earnest, as thousands of rallyists called on the law enforcers to allow them to proceed to Plaza Miranda.

The soldiers and law enforcers were tensely keeping watch, aware that at any moment the mysterious masked figures might launch another hit-and-run attack.

The APA ground commander wiped the sweat from his brow.

This is bullshit! How do we fight this enemy? And now we have all these civilians…

The orders from Malacañang had been simple: to hold fast and secure the area. This also meant preventing the demonstrators from marching to Plaza Miranda.

More people were converging in front of the soldiers and law enforcers, as the residents of Quiapo came out of their houses and left their stalls. And then they heard it. The chants, the songs, the praises shouted in Spanish and Filipino.

"Viva El Señor! Mabuhay ang patron ng Quiapo!"

They came in the hundreds, devotees carrying a life-size image of the Black Nazarene, a twin to the one that was crucified in Quiapo Church. Their cries were answered by other marchers, pouring out of the Muslim district, singing their praises to Allah and Mohammed his Prophet.

The demonstrators looked on in wonder at the sight, of Christian and Muslim devotees congregating, standing side by side, bringing their articles of faith and calling on the military and police to respect Quiapo, the holy place. The riot police wavered at the sight, uncertain which human wave to face, those of the demonstrators or the devotees of Quiapo.

Suddenly, shots were fired. People screamed as bodies sprawled to the ground. The rally leaders shouted, calling on the demonstrators to march forward and charge into the police line.

"Mga hayop! Mga mamamatay-tao!"

The demonstrators slammed against the wall of riot police, and the law enforcers began hitting them with truncheons. More shots rang out, felling demonstrators and devotees. The Christian and Muslim defenders of Quiapo also charged into the fray, smashing into the ranks of the riot police, APA and Marines. The APA operatives on top of the fire trucks kept firing. Someone hurled a grenade at the fire trucks, blowing up the vehicles and sending the bodies of APA operatives flying into the air.

The demonstrators had turned into an angry mob, attacking the riot police with placards and bare fists. Some of them were able to wrest away truncheons from the fallen police, making use of their newfound weapons. The APA and Marines tried to keep the demonstrators and devotees at bay with steady fire, but their hearts sank at the sound of even more people marching toward the area. They could see the torches being held aloft by the oncoming forces, and saw that some of the new arrivals bore weapons -- not the makeshift weapons of the ragtag band of vendors they had faced this morning, but carbines and rifles. They could also see squads of men armed with kris swords -- not the masked figures they had fought but the masses of Quiapo armed with the deadly weapon.

The APA ground commander radioed headquarters, desperately asking for reinforcements in the face of the thousands ranged against them. He was told that the forces in Malacañang were already on their way, but before he could reply, a masked figure appeared in front of him and plunged his kris into the ground commander’s chest.

Once more, the masked figures wreaked havoc on the APA operatives and Marines with their swords and sticks. With a bloodcurdling yell, the juramentados also charged into the ranks of the law enforcers, chopping heads and lopping off limbs with wild abandon. Some of these berserkers were hit several times with bullets, yet kept on attacking, killing more enemies before they finally collapsed and died.

The demonstrators had also overrun the riot police, who were now fighting desperately in hand-to-hand combat against the rallyists and the defenders of Quiapo. The defenders armed with carbines and rifles called upon the rallyists to retreat, and as the demonstrators ran for safety, they fired upon the police.

#

When the masked figure suddenly appeared inside the room, Fortunato said a prayer to the Señor and prepared himself for death. It has been a good life, he told himself, all things considered. He took a deep breath and knelt on his good knee, looking at his executioner with a defiant expression on his face, saying, "I’m ready. You can kill me if you want."

The masked figure shook his head.

"No, Fortunato, I am not here to bring death, but to bring you new life. Outside, Quiapo burns and people are dying, but this shall be your haven until the appointed hour, when those who have been forgotten finally reclaim what is rightfully theirs."

"Who are you?"

"If I give you my name, you would not know it, but you would know the master I serve, the lord who has claimed this place you call Quiapo as your own. I am a humble servant of the Señor, the same master you served in the past, but have forgotten as many have. He is the Señor, who has watched over this holy place for centuries, suffering as his adopted children have suffered, patiently bearing all the sorrow that man has inflicted upon his fellow man, giving hope to the hopeless, salvation to the damned. For too long, the people of Quiapo have been trampled upon, but that ends tonight. Tonight is the feast of the Señor, and he who arrived here as a lamb shall return as a lion, to devour the enemies of his people and cast the oppressors into the lake of fire. The usurpers who dwell in the palace of Malacañang have brought enough suffering upon this land, and now their time has come to an end."

Fortunato shuddered at his words, sensing something palpable, something being given birth by the very sound of his voice.

He wanted to believe that this was all a fever-induced delirium, that he was safely back home with his wife, telling her what happened throughout the day. She had given meaning to his life, the new role he had adopted after running away from the Center for Psychic Research, where he had been one of the initial batch of Filipinos involved in the Psychic User Interface project for the creation of a new man/machine interface and a new form of artificial intelligence. The Rizal Virus had put an end to the project, and had left many of his fellow guinea pigs mindless husks. Fortunato, however, escaped their fate, yet the Rizal Virus had not left him unchanged.

Fortunato found his thoughts turning to the revelations of that moment when he and the Rizal Virus were one, when he saw the events that had gone unrecorded in the history most people knew. The most poignant tale of all was the Banahaw Incident, when the followers of Rizal performed a rite that was to summon the ancient god Bathala back to his homeland, only to end up destroying themselves and blanketing the sacred mountain under a perpetual cloud of darkness.

Throughout the land, memories of the ancient ones still stirred faint echoes in the minds and hearts of those who now dwell in this sacred place, waiting patiently for someone to awaken them again from their dreamless sleep.

#

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

chapter 4, part 3

It is a breathtaking sight, the Golden Mosque of Quiapo, whose golden dome towers over Globo de Oro street, serving as the heart of the Muslim district in the heart of Manila, the capital of this archipelago conquered by the Spaniards centuries ago in the name of Christendom.

The mosque can accommodate up to 3, 000 worshippers, and the Muslim district of Quiapo can lay claim to being one of the most densely populated areas in the whole metropolis, where roughly 80, 000 followers of the Prophet live in an area that barely covers 1.5 hectares. Surrounded by a sea of Christians in one of the most uncompromising bastions of Roman Catholic power, they are the invisible people, careful not to attract undue attention, which can only bode ill for them when many inhabitants of the metropolis fear or hate them, for no other reason than the faith they profess and the actions of extremists in other parts of the country and in other places throughout the world.

They are tolerated, as the Chinese of the Parian once were and of Binondo up to today, for the services that they render, yet mostly with suspicion, condescension or neglect that is far from benign. They have been demonized for centuries, the Tsino and the Moro, used to put fear in the hearts of unruly Christian children, ridiculed for being different, reviled because it is easier to hate what you do not know.

In 1976, the wife of the Maharlika had overseen the construction of this massive structure, whose opening was to coincide with the strongman of Libya, whom the now Immortal Widow had charmed into agreeing to broker peace between the government of her husband and the Muslim rebels in war-torn Mindanao. Surely, she must have thought, such a grand gesture would win the favor of this great chief. And so the workers labored to make her vision a reality, not resting until the Golden Mosque was built. How great her consternation must have been, when the strongman in the end decided to cancel his visit.

Cast aside by its mistress, now rendered useless as an object of vanity, the Muslims of Quiapo had embraced this gift, accepting as a fact the creation of the biggest house of the faithful in all of Manila, though knowing that the intent of the gift-giver might have been different. What is written, is written, the faithful told themselves.

When the two towers in the land of America were destroyed in 2001 and thousands died as a result of the terrorist attacks carried out by extremists in the name of Islam, life became even harder for the followers of the Prophet in Quiapo. Now, more than ever, they were convenient targets. Almost daily, they complained of harassment from the police, who arrested left and right Muslims suspected of being members of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf or having ties to terrorist cells. Over the years, the youth had grown to resent the suspicion, and while only a small minority were advocating militant action, it was easy for authorities to once more gloss over differences. Some terrorists were Muslims, therefore all Muslims were terrorists, so the logic of the law seemingly went.

The police, however, claimed that they were only preserving peace and order and protecting the citizenry of Manila from possible terrorist attacks. They complained that their colleagues were losing their lives and that they were the victims if violence and abuse, yet they were being branded as the villains.

It is a conflict between Christians and Muslims that has been raging for centuries, that has written the history of this archipelago in blood. It was in 1578 that the servants of the King of Spain first attempted to conquer the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu, led by Governor-General Francisco de Sande, who had succeeded Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, he who had defeated Rajah Sulayman to conquer the Muslim kingdom of Maynilad in Luzon, in whose place the conquistador founded the Catholic city of Manila.

Determined to similarly bring the worship of the Christian god to the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu, De Sande first sailed to the Muslim kingdom of Borneo with a fleet of forty ships, manned by several hundred soldiers and over a thousand Visayan allies. The Spaniards proved successful in this first encounter with the Moros of the South, and history tells us that the Spanish expedition succeeded in capturing the city of Brunei and destroying several pirate ships. Though they conquered, however, they could not convert, and the Moros successfully placed a cordon around the invaders that, faced with sickness and starvation, the Spanish forces were forced to withdraw.

To a captain named Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa did Governador-General De Sande entrust the sacred duty of forcing the Moros of Sulu to submit to the sword of the Spanish king and embrace the Cross of Christianity. And so Figueroa attacked in 1578 Jolo, the capital of Sulu and considered the hereditary seat of Mohammedan rulers in these lands. The brave Figueroa was said to have found most of the inhabitants of the city away, as they had set sail on pirate raids, and in possible disappointment over being deprived of the great battle that he might have imagined burned the rows of nipa huts.

While the Spanish city of Manila greeted the expedition of De Sande with the Te deums and praises befitting a conquering hero, the Moros were in no mood to allow the governador-general to celebrate. Seething with rage over the sack of their capital and these series of attacks on their settlements, the Muslims harried the Spaniards time and again with pirate raids to punish the invaders and prevent them from ever contemplating another expedition against the Mohammedans.

Confident in their belief of the superiority of their race and their faith, as well as their images as the conquistadores who had destroyed the empires of the Inca and the Aztec in the New World, the Spaniards refused to accept that they could not conquer Sulu and Mindanao. After all, had they not also conquered the islands of Luzon and Visayas, laying waste to the kingdoms of the Tagalogs and the Visayans? Would not the Moro too fall before the might of the Empire?

And so over the centuries, the governador-generals of imperial Manila launched attack after attack against the Moros, killing, destroying and capturing, yet always being forced to retreat to their strongholds in Visayas and Luzon. Finally, when the Spaniards gave way to a new conqueror from the New World, they sold their holdings in this part of the world for the sum of forty million Mexican pesos. Yet even as they surrendered to the Americans in the mock battle of Manila, when in truth the revolutionaries of the Katipunan had already proclaimed their independence, the wily Spaniards still managed to deceive the Americans, selling them not only the lands of the Indio in Luzon and Visayas, but also making them believe that they owned Sulu and Mindanao and had also turned these over to the Yankees. Thus were the cowboys of America in for a rude awakening as they began the Benevolent Assimilation of Sulu and Mindanao, just as they had throughout the other islands of this archipelago, only to find that the Moros unfairly had other ideas about who owned the lands the new colonizers had supposedly bought.

It is a history of injustice that many Muslims in these islands know by heart, and it is a war that even now Manila wages against the South, centuries after the first failed attempt. The Muslims of Quiapo want peace, an escape from the endless war that has destroyed their beloved homeland of Mindanao, a chance at a better life here in the lands of their traditional enemy.

Yet even here they cannot find peace. Instead, tonight the Muslims of Quiapo prepare for the coming of war.

#

chapter 4, part 2

Father Constantino turned to him as they were watching the President announce on TV that the government had crushed earlier this morning an attempt by a terrorist group to lead an armed assault on Malacañang. The terrorist group was responsible for destroying the Plaza Miranda monument and inciting misguided elements among the poor masses of Quiapo to take up arms against the government, she said in her televised speech.

"So, do you think she will finally have the guts to finally go through with it?" Father Constantino asked him.

"I’m sorry -- to go through with what, Father?"

"Why, what she has always wanted to become. A great and strong leader like your grandfather." He chuckled. "Not that she could ever really be one, but doesn’t she enjoy playing the role of Iron Butterfly?"

"We will not be merciful to those who have not shown compassion to the poor vendors that these terrorists have led to their deaths for their own selfish ends. And we will not hesitate to punish with the full force of the law those who would take advantage of fear and uncertainty in pushing their own agenda and seeking to destabilize the duly-elected government and trample upon our sacred Constitution. We call on those who are planning mass actions against the government to examine their motives and consider the consequences of their acts," the President proclaimed in her speech that was being broadcast live across the nation and to Filipino communities in different parts of the world.

#

gma 2 dclare martial law 2nyt. tel evry1 join rally @ edsa shrine. lets dfnd dmocracy agn w ppl pwr pls pas

#

Throughout the meeting, Felice Andion had kept a smile in place on her face, trying her best to soothe the rattled nerves of the President and the other high and mighty of the land. The scenario she and Intellectual Property Council Director General David Harris had previously discussed had been laid down carefully. She had created the scenario and run several rigorous checks on it, weaving a consistent version of events that they were now masterfully leading the President and her Cabinet to accept as the true one.

When all this is over, I want to take a long vacation. Maybe in New Zealand.

At the same time, she was trying to figure out the lone hand that Harris was playing. She knew that the murder of Roman had stunned him. She knew that he had long wanted to lay siege on the underground network of Quiapo, but she was not certain what role this supposed terrorist group played in his plans. Part of her wondered if this new KKK was a brainchild of Harris, or of the acting director of the Anti-Piracy Agency, who may have used it to kill off his superior, Director Gener Roman.

Wheels within wheels. Whose game are we playing now?

When the meeting was over, Felice made a call on her mobile phone.

"Yes. So the meeting will push through tomorrow? I’ll tell her. I know, Father. I’ll be praying myself tonight."

She sighed as she sat on the bed, lit a cigarette and considered what she would tell Arianna. On many occasions in the past few years that they had known each other, Felice had asked herself what she really thought of the beautiful young online journalist. She was fond of Arianna and genuinely enjoyed her company, and Felice had wondered how important that friendship was to her, because she knew that in this line of work, sometimes you would need to sacrifice even your loved ones and your dearest friends. She supposed that time was coming soon, and Arianna would hate her and never forgive her.

I’m a bitch. But I’m the one who can save you all. You can hate me, but you still need me.

#

The attack came without warning, as the masked figures suddenly materialized behind the squad of Philippine Marines guarding the ruins of the Plaza Miranda monument, which had been cordoned off by the police.

One Marine screamed as the sinuous blade of the kris sliced through flesh and bone, chopping off his right hand. His buddy was able to fire his Armalite at the attacker, but he gasped in horror as the masked swordsman remained unfazed and impaled him with the blade.

Then, as suddenly as the attack had begun, the masked figures disappeared. Some of the squad members were still firing at the area where they had been standing scant moments ago.

The squad leader took out his walkie talkie.

"Man down! Our attackers are gone, but we have one dead and several injured here."

A strange silence had filled the air. The Marines, the riot police and the operatives of the Anti-Piracy Agency looked up at the sky, which had turned darker and now threatened the coming of heavy rain. The law enforcers looked at each other. Some of the younger operatives made the sign of the cross.

Shots were fired. Screams filled the air, as the masked figures once appeared, this time attacking the squad of anti-riot police guarding the fire trucks. Someone yelled.

"Granada!"

One fire truck blew up, and people screamed as the fireball engulfed them and shrapnel flew everywhere.

APA operatives rushed to the area to assist the riot police. Someone lobbed a grenade at them, forcing them to scatter and hit the dirt.

"Sir, we’re being attacked here! The attackers are using hit-and-run tactics and you won’t believe it but they seem to be materializing and disappearing into thin air. They’ve blown up some of the fire trucks. We are…" the APA ground commander was telling the acting APA director on his walkie talkie when he stopped at a sight that chilled his heart.

It was the head of the late APA Director Gener Roman being held by the hair on the left hand of a masked figure who had suddenly appeared in front of the shocked APA ground commander. Before he could even cry out, the masked attacker had sliced off his right arm with cold precision using his kris.

The APA leader screamed in agony as the blood gushed out. He fell to his knees.

"You will live. Tell them what you have seen. And pray tonight to whichever gods you worship, for many of you will no longer see the dawn."

And then he disappeared.

#

Thousands of demonstrators had already gathered at the EDSA Shrine, snarling traffic as the rallyists chanted, waved placards and carried streamers condemning the government’s plan to once more declare Martial Law.

They came from all over the metropolis: students, teachers, office workers, youth leaders, NGOs, labor groups, militants, cause-oriented groups, people’s organizations, businessmen, temps, secretaries, salesmen and employees of every stripe.

Civil society leaders had also arrived, some of them already on stage. Many of them were familiar faces, among them the same members of civil society that helped oust the President’s predecessor and install her in his place over seven years ago.

In the financial district of Makati, another big group of demonstrators had occupied the stretch of Ayala in front of the Anti-Piracy Agency headquarters, demanding the dismantling of the APA for rampant violation of human rights and the massacre of the vendors in Quiapo.

From España, E. Rodriguez and Quezon Boulevard, rallyists had already converged at the Welcome Rotonda, led by the militant groups representing laborers, farmers and fisherfolk. The militants had announced that they would proceed to Mendiola and attempt to march to Malacañang tonight, to prevent the President from declaring Martial Law and demand her resignation.

"Hanggang kailan tayo magbubulag-bulagan sa mga katiwalian ng pamahalaang ito?" one of the militant leaders shouted over the megaphone, as the rallyists cheered and clapped their hands.

Meanwhile, along Quezon Memorial Circle, the students that had gathered at the University and who were now marching to EDSA were enthusiastically calling on stranded motorists to join the rally.

"Sumama na kayo! Sumama na kayo!"

#

"At ‘yan po ang kasalukuyang tanawin ngayon sa kahabaan ng Epifanio de los Santos Avenue. Makikita ninyo kasamang Albert na dumarami na ang mga nagpi-People Power sa EDSA Shrine. May nasagap din tayong balita na ilang mga senador at kongresista na kasapi ng oposisyon ang dadalo maya-maya ditto sa EDSA," the voice-over announced as the camera showed the long line of marchers and the traffic that had crawled to a halt along EDSA.

The solon was on the phone, arguing with her public relations officer.

"I know, I know. But I’m still weighing my options. Of course, I know that this might all fizzle out and then there would be consequences. And I’m not stupid; I know if I throw my support to this so-called People Power, I would just alienate some of its supporters and put its success in jeopardy. Many of these rallyists hate me more than her -- God knows why."

It’s good I’m here in Laoag, she thought to herself when she put the phone down, though who would have thought this would happen so soon? Whatever happens, we have to secure Ilocos.

#

"Tonight, my brothers and sisters, we pray for the Philippine president and the future of our country," Father Constantino said to his congregation. "We pray that we shall have a peaceful solution to this crisis, and that the President and will be enlightened, that she shall choose the right path and think of the good of the country.

"The Maharlika taught us that there is no victory without sacrifice, that we must be willing to look beyond ourselves and think of the good of the many. Individually, we can do nothing. Even he, the greatest leader this country and the world has ever known, recognized that without the people, there is precious little any hero can do to change a nation.

"Now, in this time of great uncertainty, we pray that the country will be united, and that every Filipino will listen to our words and see the wisdom of the teacher that they unjustly accused and rejected, just as every great prophet is a stranger in his own country.

"All these things shall pass, and we shall emerge a stronger nation, committed to the salvation of every Filipino, and the restoration of the greatness that is our birthright

"We ask this in the name of God the Father, who brought the Cross to this land, and the Apo his son, who is the Father of us all."

#

Monday, November 15, 2004

chapter 4, part 1

When he was asked years later how he regained his faith in the Señor Nazareno, Fortunato could only shake his head and say that he had never lost it in the first place. He said that if you closed your eyes, you would not see the sun shining brightly in the sky, but that does not mean that it has disappeared or that you think it is no longer there -- only that you are not looking.

He awoke to find himself alone on a wooden bed, with a banig in lieu of a mattress. His wounds had been bandaged and the bleeding had stood, but he still felt a fever raging within him. He wondered where he was, and if the masked figures he dimly remembered had all been part of a strange dream.

The room was almost bare, its walls painted gray, a solitary narra chair in one corner. He could not see any windows, and only saw a crucifix that looked to be a small replica of the Black Nazarene. A small table stood to the right of the bed, and Fortunato’s eyes fell upon the thick book that lay on top of it.

Gingerly, he experimented with sitting up, wincing and getting teary-eyed as he felt a sudden sharp pain in his left arm, where a bullet had pierced him in his strange dream. Only now he knew that he had not been dreaming, as the creaking of his bones and the pounding in his head were now affirming.

The book he saw was an antique one, bound in what looked to be black leather. He touched the book and carefully lifted the cover, and saw that it was a Bible, though written in the Spanish language that Fortunato had been required to learn in college by taking 12 units and had promptly forgotten before he had even graduated. He slowly turned the musty-smelling pages that felt like old skin, recognizing words and phrases here and there, when he saw a piece of folded paper that bore his name.

Shocked, wondering if the fever had made him delirious, Fortunato stared at the piece of paper he held in his trembling hands, telling himself that he did not want to open it. His name had been written in black ink, most likely using a fountain pen, he thought. He took a deep breath and unfolded the note, and saw that only one sentence had been written.

For their feet are made of clay.

#

"I assure you, Madame President, the situation here in Quiapo is under control," the Anti-Piracy Agency ground commander said via videoconferencing using his satellite phone. "We are coordinating with the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Marines, and you can have full confidence that we shall be able to deal with any threat to the stability of the situation, and execute whatever you deem will be the next phase of this mission."

"That’s good to hear, commander. We will keep you updated," the President said. "Director General Harris?"

The head of the Intellectual Property Council had arrived a few minutes ago and though his face would not betray any of his emotions, inwardly he was already wondering whether the situation was fast slipping away from his control. He nodded to the image of the APA ground commander on the vidscreen.

"Thank you, commander. That will be all for now."

As the President and her officials looked at the Director General expectantly, he smiled and asked the technical assistant to connect them to Version Control managing director Felice Andion in Ilocos Norte and the acting APA director at his mobile headquarters.

As the video link was being established, the Press Secretary received a message on his cell phone from one of his staff members.

Trying to keep his face impassive, he announced to the President and his fellow officials, "Madame President, students and militant groups are organizing a text and e-mail brigade, and are gathering in Makati, the Diliman area, the Edsa Shrine and Welcome Rotonda. They’re planning a two-pronged protest, with one group organizing a rally in front of the APA headquarters while another will march to Malacañang to denounce the Quiapo massacre."

The President’s eyes blazed with anger. "What, do they think they can have another People Power? Connect me to General Samson. I want a report on the situation in Camp Aguinaldo and Cramp Crame, and I want to know if there has been any unusual troop movement throughout the country."

The Defense Secretary nodded and said that he would expedite the situation report.

"Madame President, what’s your decision on the emergency broadcast?" the Press Secretary asked.

"We’ll push through with it. I need the speech in 15 minutes. We want the public to remain calm and I will tell these troublemakers that they should not proceed with their mass actions because we will view them as possible moves to destabilize the government, and deal with these actions with the appropriate response to such threats to national security," the President said. "I want to assure the public that the government is united and that the military and police will protect them, and that the bombing in Quiapo was just the work of a few misguided individuals and that we are now working to bring these perpetrators to justice."

The government officials nodded, with some even giving tentative smiles.

"Well said, Madame President," the Press Secretary said. "I’ll have the staff work on it immediately."

The Palace technical assistant coughed and told the IPC Director General, "We’ve established the link. Should we put them through?"

"Madame President?" Harris said, and she nodded.

The images of the Version Control chief and the acting APA director appeared on separate portions of the vidscreen. They each greeted the President and her Cabinet members.

"In light of the current situation, Director General Harris, I think it’s best that you let everyone know the circumstances that led to your operation in Quiapo and the unfortunate death of Director Gener Roman," the President said.

Even as he nodded, Harris was swiftly weighing his options, deciding what part of the truth he could divulge to salvage the situation and continue the mission.

The operation Roman died for, poor bastard.

"Madame President, we have reason to believe that the group that killed five operatives of the APA last week is the same one behind the bombing of Plaza Miranda this morning. The APA operation in Quiapo was intended to flush out this terrorist cell, which we believe is taking advantage of the raids against pirates to stir up resentment against the government and recruit more members. The information APA Director Roman had gathered indicated that this group is already supplying arms to the pirates and smugglers, and has begun training them to carry out terrorist activities throughout the metropolis," Harris said.

The Defense Secretary raised an eyebrow. "You and Director Roman had this information, Mr. Harris? Yet this is the first time I’ve heard of this alleged group and its base in Quiapo. Do you have a name for this terrorist cell?"

The IPC chief nodded, briefly looking in the direction of Felice and the acting APA director, who said, "Director Roman was killed in the same manner as one of the operatives who was slain during that first encounter with this group. We recovered some sort of medallion that was placed on the chest of Director Roman."

The acting APA director touched the panel in front of him, and a magnified image of the object appeared on his side of the vidscreen in Malacañang.

"As you can see, it appears to be some sort of talisman. We have sent a copy of the image to the History Institute to compare it with existing symbols, but as you can see, it does not seem to be related to the Katipunan as we know it."

The President and the individuals who held the fate of the country in their hands stared silently at the image that now seemed to consume the entire screen, a medallion that depicted a wavy sword and kali or arnis sticks.

Above were written three letters familiar to every Filipino: KKK.

#

Saturday, November 13, 2004

chapter 3, part 4

He was staring at the picture of Tanya, his mouth a thin line, his eyes hidden behind shades of black. He had argued with himself while he was driving all the way here. He hadn’t wanted to go, but he felt he owed it to his old man to make an appearance.

The diorama was almost complete. Part of him marveled at the artistry that was making this exhibit possible, while another part cringed at the sight of the relics of that dark age in Philippine history. He almost had to force himself to look at the memorial to his father, wondering if it was only a trick of the light that made his father’s statue look alive in this altar to the dead heroes that had fought hard against the coming of the long, dark night. The sight of his father had filled him with so much unexpected emotion that he had turned around and was about to walk out of the exhibit, when he saw the mementos of one of his good friends.

I hope you’re happy wherever you are now, Tanya. You deserved so much more than this senseless death.

He’d had a schoolboy crush on her when they were classmates at the University. Their families had known each other, since his father and hers were brothers in the same fraternity. Only her father had opposed her activities as a student activity, while his had gained fame as one of the leading lights of the opposition before going underground.

His mother was also one of the luminaries at the University as one of the advocates of the feminist movement in the country and one of the professors who served as an adviser of the short-lived Diliman Commune. The Metrocom had also arrested his mother, and she languished at Fort Bonifacio for almost a decade.

His father, however, was captured during an encounter two years after his wife’s arrest, and was later found dead in his prison cell. He remembered stoically listening to his uncle break the news of his father’s death. The truth was that he had long thought of his father as dead, even before he had embraced the communist movement, even before he had joined the opposition. Once, he told Arianna that, most of the time, he and his father had acted embarrassed by each other’s presence, as if they really had nothing to say to each other, going on their separate ways as strangers who just happened to be father and son by an accident of nature.

He had wept when he learned that Tanya had died. Try as he did to deny it to himself, he had loved this fiery activist, this brilliant writer whose only sin was to question the right of the government to terrorize its own people.

He remembered Tanya’s laughter that one time when she showed off her sneakers, saying that she had taken to wearing them all the time so she could run fast during rallies and the eventual violent dispersal conducted by the police.

I’m still running too, Tanya.

Beatrice had walked up over to him and coughed slightly to alert him to her presence. He turned to look at her and gave a shy smile.

"Hi, hope you like the exhibit," she said. "We haven’t finished everything yet, but we’ll have everything ready for the opening tonight. May I help you?"

Ian shook his head. He took off his sunglasses.

"No, thanks, it’s OK. I was just looking… was in the area and thought I’d drop by. I’m Ian," he said, extending his hand.

"I’m Beatrice," she said, shaking his hand. "I’m one of the coordinators of Task Force Katarungan."

"Nice to meet you. You’ve done a great job here."

Beatrice smiled. "Thanks. I’m sorry, was she a relative of yours," she asked, looking at Tanya’s photograph.

"Ah, no, but she was a friend of mine." Ian started scratching his left arm, looking embarrassed. "Actually, that’s my father over there," he said, looking in the direction of his statue. "I… well, it’s just too painful to look at him."

A white lie, he told himself. But was it really? Didn’t he always feel that he had disappointed his father, that even in death, he looked at his son with disapproval, that Ian had been weighed and still found wanting?

"The truth is, I hate my father, Beatrice," he found himself telling this woman he had just met. "I know it’s not right, but I’ve never been able to make him proud of me. And now he’s dead and I still feel that he’s judging me."

Let go of the past, Arianna had told him. Just think of what we have now. We’ve been blessed and we should be grateful for that.

"I’m sorry. I really shouldn’t have said that. I should be going…"

Beatrice was looking into his eyes, seeing the despair reflected on them and hearing the pain that surrounded every word. Looked at him with dawning recognition.

Oh my God, he’s the one. The one in my dreams. Him and her, the lovers at the fountain.

Beatrice had gone pale and had started shaking. She stared at him, but his face seemed to be slowly melting away. He was talking to her, but the voice was coming from far away, and she heard the echoes of other voices calling out to her, demanding that she set things right and take the right path.

"Miss, are you all right? Beatrice?"

She collapsed on the floor. She heard him calling out for help, heard the sound of footsteps, familiar voices calling out her name, asking what had happened.

And Beatrice began to dream…

#

The Presidential Security Group had beefed up the defenses at the Palace, including several armored personnel carriers and tanks that now ringed Malacañang. Rumors of a coup had hit the airwaves following what the media was now calling the Battle of Quiapo. The presidential spokesperson advised the networks that the Commander-in-Chief was going to broadcast a statement within the hour.

Inside the conference room, the President, Cabinet members and advisers were listening to the Defense Secretary give a situation report. They were still waiting for the arrival of the Director General of the Intellectual Property Council.

The news of Anti-Piracy Agency Director Gener Roman’s murder had shaken the President. The acting APA director had assured the Palace that the troublemakers in Quiapo had been routed and that the APA strike force had consolidated its position, awaiting orders that would depend on the results of the emergency meeting in Malacañang.

The President had already spoken to the IPC Director General on the phone, and the head of Version Control would also join the meeting via a video patch from Ilocos Norte.

"Is there any update on the Plaza Miranda bombing? Do we already what kind of bomb was used and who planted it," the President asked the Defense Secretary.

"Well, Madame President, it seems that the perpetrators used C4, but we don’t have any suspects yet and no group has claimed responsibility."

"But the area has been secured?"

"Yes, Madame President. We have dispatched a contingent of Marines to guard the area in addition to the APA and riot police who are already in place."

"So gentlemen, before we have the formal meeting with Director General Harris and Felice, any suggestions as to our response to this situation?"

"I believe we should follow the advice of the Director General, especially in light of the heinous murder of Director Roman. I don’t think anyone can anymore reasonably that all this is just the work of a ragtag band of pirates."

"But Mr. Secretary, I have to protest," the Chief of Staff said. "I don’t think we should escalate this conflict any further and give our enemies the ammunition they want. Right now, we don’t have any evidence that the opposition or any military faction is behind these incidents."

The Defense Secretary shrugged. "The C4 explosive used to destroy the Plaza Miranda monument is already a string indication that whoever is involved has access to military ammunition and possibly military training. But at any rate, we’ll hear a more detailed report from the APA during the meeting."

#

Arianna had her eyes glued to the TV set, nervously puffing on a cigarette as she watched the video of the explosion that, repeating history, rocked Plaza Miranda. She had seen the live broadcast, but had been obsessing over watching the news since the networks began their coverage.

Felice is in deep shit now. How the hell is she going to handle this crisis?

She recognized the calm before the storm. The vendors who had resisted the raid had melted away in the face of the superior firepower of the data cops and riot police, but Arianna knew they were only regrouping, even as the law enforcers were apparently preparing for a full-scale assault.

Someone was knocking on the door. Arianna opened it and Felice entered, said hello and sat on the armchair.

"I see you’ve been busy watching the news," she said.

"What’s going to happen, Felice? What’s happening in Manila?"

"Honestly, girl, I don’t know. I think those idiots at APA and IPC opened a huge can of worms, and guess who now has to eat them and save the asses of these gung-ho cavemen? It’s hopeless. Off the record, I have an emergency videocon in thirty minutes and off the record, I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m supposed to say," Felice said.

Felice took out a cigarette from her pack and lit it, breathing in deeply.

"I think I’m royally screwed. Harris is practically foaming at the mouth at the thought of finally getting support for his crusade. He’d love a war. Maybe the US government will give him a medal after all this over, but in the meantime I have to think of some lies to feed to the public while his army goes postal killing vendors, pirates and smugglers left and right. Hell, maybe I should just resign and have someone else handle this mess."

"You’re no quitter."

"Nope, but I’m not a miracle worker, either."

#

chapter 3, part 3

"What the hell happened in Plaza Miranda?"

The staff members had rarely seen the Director General of the Intellectual Property Council this emotional.

"We’re not sure yet, sir. Director Roman has promised a situation report within the hour," his secretary ventured to say.

The Director General scowled and stormed inside his office. The TV was still on, and the reporter was saying that the explosion had destroyed the memorial to the Plaza Miranda victims but that it was unclear yet what type of bomb had been used. The APA reinforcements had already arrived and the riot police was preparing to aim the high-pressure hoses at the resisting vendors and move in, even as the APA operatives had already taken combat positions.

Suddenly, screams fill the air as another explosion occurs, this time much closer to the cameras. He hears the strained voice of the TV reporter, "Granada, kasamang Albert! May naghagis ng granada dito sa mga riot police…"

The Director General stared in disbelief at the TV screen. My God, do these people really want a war?

He took out his cell phone and made a call.

#

Jon-Jon was nervously crouching under one of the stalls, where he had sought refuge after the huge explosion that came from the direction of Quiapo Church. He had been caught in the middle of things in raids before, but none had escalated into violence like this one. He could not understand what was happening, and he muttered the Lord’s Prayer over and over while clutching the plastic bag filled with pirated discs to his chest, as if it were a talisman that could ward off death.

He had never seen so many APA operatives in one place, or so many members of the riot police. He had never seen so many vendors resisting the operatives, though isolated incidents had occurred in the past. But not like this. This was something Jon-Jon had only seen in movies.

"Gago ka Piolo, ano’ng ginagawa mo riyan? Dito ka at baka ikaw ang masabugan!"

One of the vendors was calling out to him. Jon-Jon nodded nervously and sprinted to safety beside the small group of pirates.

Jon-Jon gasped when he saw that the vendor who had called out to him was armed with the home-made gun that was called a paltik. The other pirates held makeshift weapons, from steel pipes, two-by-fours with nails protruding, balisongs and bows and arrows.

"O, Piolo, eto, gamitin mo na ito," one of the pirates said, handing Jon-Jon a two-by-four.

Shocked, Jon-Jon clutched his plastic bag even more tightly. "Ayaw ko p’re. Salamat na lang. Gusto ko lang umuwi."

His benefactor laughed. The others grinned.

"Sige, ikaw rin, mahirap ang walang armas. Giyera na ito, Piolo, patay kung patay."

Jon-Jon shook his head.

"Paano ninyo lalabanan ang mga iyan, e puro may baril at Armalite ang mga kalaban ninyo?"

"Bibigyan din kami ng mga baril, p’re. Hinhintay lang namin ‘yung mga kasama namin. Kung ako sa iyo, sumonod ka na lang sa amin dahil yayariin ka rin ng mga hayup na parak na ‘yan."

They all hit the dirt when another explosion rocked the ground. Jon-Jon closed his eyes and covered his ears. He felt like weeping hysterically. Hindi ito nangyayari, he told himself. Bangungot lang ito. Bangungot.

Opening his eyes, he saw the bodies of several riot police that had been caught in the explosion. One of them had lost a leg. Blood was everywhere. The riot police were screaming and reforming their lines, even as the APA operatives fired in the direction of the group of vendors that had apparently hurled a grenade.

The pirate who had offered Jon-Jon a weapon laughed. "O, kita mo, di ba sabi ko sa iyo? May resbak kami. Umpisa pa lang ‘yan."

Jon-Jon prayed as he had never before, begging God to spare his life.

#

"Yes, sir, we’re in position. The riot police have already suffered a few casualties. It’s safe to assume that the pirates might have more grenades and other weapons," the APA ground commander told Director Gener Roman on his walkie-talkie. "The cops are ready to hose down the pirates and their stalls, and then we’ll launch a full-scale assault."

Even as he spoke, the riot police, who had already donned gas masks, turned on the high-pressure hoses and the resisting vendors screamed as the water slammed into them. The APA ground commander and all his operatives had also worn their gas masks, and with a signal, the police and APA started lobbing tear gas canisters in the direction of the stalls.

The APA strike force moved in and began firing their assault rifles, methodically mowing down the pirates who were screaming and clutching at their faces. A few had tied wet rags and handkerchiefs around their face to protect their nose and mouth, and some fired at the APA operatives with their homemade guns. One APA member screamed in agony when an arrow pierced his left arm, but his buddy quickly finished off his attacker with a burst of gunfire.

Panicking, the defenders of Quiapo abandoned their stalls and started to run away.

#

Jon-Jon stared at the dead body of the pirate who had wounded the APA operative with the arrow he shot. His face and body were covered with blood, and Jon-Jon struggled not to throw up while looking at the gaping holes on the dying man’s chest.

"Piolo… takbo ka na… Iniwan… ka na…" the pirate managed to rasp before he died.

Jon-Jon stood up and ran. He was running and screaming, but his shouts were cut short as the APA operatives shot him from behind. He feel face-first to the ground. He tried to get up, but his chest was on fire and his mouth was bleeding. He fell on his back and stared at the blue cloudless sky. I’ve broken my nose, he thought wildly, then laughed hysterically as he realized that his next thought was where his DVDs were.

He could still hear the screams and gunfire, but he could see less and less through the haze that had seemingly clouded his eyes. He thought of his old mother and his five sisters, of his barkada and the girlfriend he had loved for six years but who eventually left him for another man, of his dead father whom he barely remembered because he was only seven years old when he fell off a building he was helping construct in Makati, of the popular Filipino actor that he claimed was his younger brother and the vendor who had punched him in the face and dislodged a few more of his teeth -- the luckiest man in the world, having left Quiapo because of Jon-Jon, who was now dying in his place.

Through the haze he saw a masked figure looking down at him, as someone kneeled and examined him.

"Buhay pa ito," the APA operative said, then he stood up and aimed the assault rifle at Jon-Jon’s head.

Jon-Jon heard the gunfire and felt the pain for an instant, and then there was nothing as the darkness embraced him.

#

The Director General was in his limousine, on his way to the Palace for the emergency meeting that the President had called after the IPC head’s brief conversation with the presidential spokesperson. He had been busy making a number of calls, and was in the middle of one right now.

"Yes, the situation is becoming intolerable. I don’t know how you’ll do it, but it’s your job to find the right spin for this story. They’ve made Quiapo a war zone. I can’t even get in touch with Roman. Fix things from your end, Felice. OK, thanks."

He sighed as he switched his attention to the car TV, fascinated despite himself at the scenes being broadcast from the said war zone. The resisting pirates had broken and run, but the cost in human lives had been staggering. The APA ground commander had placed the unofficial body count at five members of the riot police and 15 vendors or bystanders. Scores more were injured. The Plaza Miranda memorial was no more.

The Director General, however, knew that this was only the first round. The real war was just beginning, because despite the countless raids in the past, even before the formation of the Anti-Piracy Agency, no one had dared do what must be done, which was to destroy the many warehouses of the pirates. To enter the very lion’s den. Easy enough to raid the stalls and arrest the vendors. But who was brave enough to enter the underworld and strike at the belly of the beast?

He had to convince the President that now was the time. He was grateful for the carnage, because the destruction and loss of lives, while appalling, might just be enough to convince these spineless government officials to muster the political will to carry the war to the pirates themselves.

The IPC chief smiled as he thought of how to sell this idea to the President and the Philippine leader’s court of sycophants. They admired strength, didn’t they? The mailed fist.

The IPC chief had waged similar battles in the past in Malaysia and Thailand, though their governments had been less willing to lend full support. Then came the US declaration of the war on piracy, which the Philippines had been one of the first to endorse. Now the IPC had a chance to win an important victory that could tip the balance in other countries. The Philippines could be a test bed for the new tactics in the global war on piracy.

The Director General was lost in thought when his reverie was interrupted by a high-priority call on his mobile phone. It was his secretary.

"Yes?"

"I’m sorry to disturb you, sir, but we have an emergency."

"We’re already in an emergency, Lisa," the IPC chief noted drily.

"Sir, we’ve received a report from APA headquarters. Director Roman is dead. He’s been murdered."

The Director General stared blankly ahead, his mind refusing to believe what he was hearing.

"Sir, they haven’t found his head."

#

chapter 3, part 2

"No matter how strong and dedicated a leader may be, he must find root and strength amongst the people. He alone cannot save a nation. He may guide, he may set the tone, he may dedicate himself and risk his life, but only the people may save themselves."--Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, address at the launching of the Mabuhay Ang Pilipino Movement in Malacañang on November 30, 1972

Beatrice felt tears welling in her eyes as she watched the scene unfolding on TV. Quiapo was burning again. She heard someone shouting angrily at the cameraman, and then the video focused on a member of the Anti-Piracy Agency, telling the TV news crew to stop filming. Then, realizing that his cursing was being aired live, the APA operative muttered and hurriedly ran in the direction of his companions.

"Grabe, parang giyera na ‘yan, a!" Aida said as sat next to Beatrice and viewed the carnage. It was another raid against the pirate dens, but both Beatrice and Aida felt something ominous in the air. Many vendors were fighting back, hurling stones and bottles at the law enforcers, and Beatrice and Aida both cried out when they saw one vendor being gunned down, his body riddled with bullets as he was about to throw a makeshift missile at the policemen.

"Diyos ko," Aida said as she made the sign of the cross. The other members of Task Force Katarungan had stopped what they were doing and had congregated in front of the TV set, the preparation for the Martial Law diorama at the University’s Bahay Kalinaw.

"Nangyayari na naman," a young student observed. "Sinabi na nga ni Professor Timoteo, matagal nang martial law ang Pilipinas, nagkukunwari lang tayo."

"E nasa denial stage pa rin tayo, Miguel," one of the TFK officers observed. "Talaga namang nung pumutok ‘yung 9-11 e balik-Cold War na tayo, tapos ang mga gagong Kano, na-re-elect pa ang Koboy na utak unggoy. E talagang wala na nga tayong patutunguhan kung di martial law ulit."

Aida smiled bitterly. "E hindi lang naman yung mga Kano ang bobo. Tingnan mo kung sino ang naghahari dito."

"History repeats itself. History is doomed to repeat itself if we do not learn from the past, if we do not learn its lessons," another TFK officer solemnly intoned.

The sound of gunfire and frenzied screaming had filled the room. They could hear the TV reporter’s blow-by-blow account. "At yan nga po nakikita ninyo na patuloy pa rin ang pag-wasak dito sa mga tindahan ng mga pirata. Makikita ninyo na nakahanda na ang mga hose ng firetrucks at naka-porma na ang mga riot police."

"Kasamang Markie, hindi ba medyo overkill naman yata ‘yang ginagawa ng APA? Hindi naman rallyista ang mga pirata na ‘yan, bakit may mga riot police pa at napakarami na ng mga APA diyan, e magpapadala pa sila ng reinforcements? O balak na ba talaga nilang lusubin ang mismong mga warehouse at tuluyan nang durugin ang mga tinamaan ng lintik na mga pirata na yan?"

"Well, kasamang Albert, ‘yan na nga ang nagiging spekulasyon sa ngayon. At kung maaalala ninyo, may exklusibong report tayo noong isang araw kung saan nakapanayam natin ang isang eyewitness daw sa isang massacre na naganap, na kung saan ilang APA ang natagpuang patay diyan sa may harap ng simbahan. Ito naman ay idineny ni APA Director Gener Roman at ng Chief of Police, ngunit positibo ang eyewitness. Kaya kung totoo ang kanyang kini-claim, hindi malayong isa nga itong malaking opensibo laban sa mga pirata at pagganti ng APA sa mga pumaslang sa kanilang mga kasamahan. War on piracy na ito, kasamang Albert, at animo warzone nga sa kasalukuyan itong Quiapo," the reporter said.

He had barely finished his sentence when they heard an explosion. People screamed as hundreds of panicked uziseros ran in all directions.

"Mark! Mark. Ano ang nangyari?"

Beatrice and the others tensely waited as the TV reporter struggled to make his voice heard amid the shouting and the sound of gunfire. Yet Beatrice already knew what his answer would be. She had seen this. When she was dreaming. It was happening again.

"Kasamang Albert, may nagpasabog dun sa memorial ng mga Plaza Miranda victims! Kinukumpirma pa namin kung ano ang sanhi ng…"

"Ano ang nangyari?"

"Diyos ko! Plaza Miranda?"

"Martial Law! Sinabi ko na sa inyo. Martial Law!"

Beatrice stood up. She walked as one who was sleeping, her mind dreaming of other places, her eyes barely registering the images of the exhibit surrounding her. She saw the statues of the Martial Law victims, one diorama representing two jailers electrocuting a prisoner by attaching jumper cables to his testicles, another woman whose face was frozen in terror as her torturer stubbed out a cigarette on her face, another whose face had been kicked in, battered and bruised, by a man wearing army boots. She saw the victims that had been shot, stabbed, strangled, raped, strung up, torched, electrocuted, decapitated, chopped, run over, crushed, impaled. One torturer was said to have enjoyed carving drawings on his victim’s chest using a Swiss knife. Another had chopped off his prisoner’s fingers, one for each day, then started on his toes. Many had forced the detainees to drink their own urine. Others had beaten their victims with rifles, two-by-fours, baseball bats, bamboo sticks, canes, nightsticks, chair legs, steel pipes. They wanted their victims to confess their crimes, name their accomplices, reveal their hideouts, share their documents, renounce the revolution, embrace the New Society that promised a new brotherhood of man.

Beatrice stopped as she saw the photographs of a young woman in one of the exhibits. It was a memorial to Tanya Sandoval, an editor of a student newspaper who had been abducted during a protest rally at Mendiola during the first year after the declaration Martial Law. Tanya was an honor student and a gifted young writer, who had written scathing editorials that called for the lifting of Martial Law and an end to warrantless arrests, illegal checkpoints and the imposition of the curfew. She had backed her fearless words with actions, giving up middle-class comfort to join the student demonstrations at her school and the protest marches in the streets of Manila.

"From the designer clothes she had once loved, Tanya chose to wear the uniform of the revolution, dressing in T-shirts, jeans and tubao, which was more than a fashion accessory as it provided some protection for rallyists from the tear gas that was a constant weapon used against these young children," Tanya’s sister Aileen narrated in one of the newspaper clipping that formed part of the memorial.

Aileen was only ten at the time, and would cry whenever she would see the bruises Tanya had sustained, the scratches that sometimes marred her pretty face, and the angry arguments the activist had with her mother and father.

"My parents were afraid for Ate’s life, and they wanted her to stop joining the rallies and to resign as editor of her paper. My mom even told her that we would just leave the country and that she would just continue her studies in the US, just as she had always dreamed.

"I remember praying at night that God would make Ate listen to my parents. I begged him to convince Ate to accept my mom’s offer, because I didn’t want them fighting anymore and I was afraid that I might lose my sister. I remember once telling Ate this, and she hugged me. She was crying, but she told me to be brave and that one day, I would understand what she was doing. She said that she was not happy that she made this choice, but that it was something she had to do, for all our sakes. She said she dreamt of a better world. She said she loved me and always will, that no matter what happened she will always love our family and do her best to be a good Ate to me."

Tanya Sandoval died after three days in custody. She had been raped repeatedly and beaten to death. The authorities claimed she killed herself.

#