Wednesday, November 10, 2004

chapter 2, part 4

Fortunato was running, overturning several stalls as he weaved his way across the grand bazaar that was Quiapo.

People were shouting. The pirates had hurriedly carted away their bootleg discs by simply folding the large pieces of cloth on which they lay when displayed on their stalls.

"Raid! Raid! Ayan na ang mga parak!"

"Ito po ang Anti-Piracy Agency. ‘Wag na po kayong manlaban. Kami’y nandirito lamang para kumpiskahin ang mga illegal ninyong CD, VCD at DVD. Do not resist or we will have to use force," the booming voice on the loudspeaker urged the vendors.

Just like the old days, Fortunato thought to himself, his mind absurdly recalling at this awkward moment his old running battles with the riot police as a militant student during his days in the University. He was one of the few who had not given up on the old dream of the Republic of the Proletariat, who still believed that all these rallies could effect changes in society. The students had also taken up a new cause, even as they still railed against soaring oil prices, the military dictatorship and US meddling in Philippine affairs. FOSSA was the rallying point of these children of the digital age, these militant students who had been weaned on the legends of the First Quarter Storm, the Diliman Commune and the heroes of Mendiola.

"Information wants to be free!"

Señor, please save me, Fortunato silently prayed as he reached Plaza Miranda, where the bombing of an opposition rally a long time ago had been one of portents of the coming of the dark age in the Philippines. Five APA operatives -- the data police, he reminded himself -- were hot on his trail, firing warning shots.

"Halt! We’ll shoot you if you don’t stop!"

Fortunato smiled bitterly as he ran. He knew that the raid was just a diversion. They were after him. He must have sent them after him. They needed him as part of the project again.

One bullet hit him like a sledgehammer on his left arm while another buried itself in his right leg, making him cry out and stumble in front of the home of his beloved Señor Nazareno. Blood spurted out from the hole on his flesh the bullet had made, and Fortunato found himself kneeling on his left knee as he struggled to stand while pressing the wound on his arm with his right hand.

The APA had closed in to surround him, their assault rifles ready. The team leader walked up to Fortunato and grabbed a handful of hair as he peered at the face of the fallen pirate.

"You’re lucky the orders weren’t shoot to kill," the data cop said as he cuffed Fortunato. "Medic! Take care of this shithead’s wounds."

The APA team leader had turned to look at his operatives when a figure suddenly materialized behind him, holding a sword with a long, wavy blade. Before he or his fellow data cops could even cry out, the masked executioner raised the sword high and plunged it down the team leader’s collar bone, slicing through flesh to puncture the lungs and penetrate the heart. The APA team leader, his face frozen in surprise, mouth wide open, stumbled forward, gurgled and collapsed, dead in an instant.

Fortunato stared in horror at the dead body in front of him. Other masked figures had also mysteriously appeared, seemingly out of thin air. One of them was wielding kali sticks and had smashed an operative’s face in with the force of the blows. Another had sliced off the right arm of an APA cop, the operative screaming in pain and horror as the blood erupted in a fountain from the stump, before the masked figure mercifully slit his throat with a dagger. One by one, the APA operatives died, screaming and begging for mercy, unable to comprehend the nature of the unexpected attack and easily falling prey to the unrelenting assault.

Fortunato braced himself as the masked figure that had slain the APA team leader approached him. He found himself praying for forgiveness from the Señor as he stared at the crucified statue inside Quiapo Church, begging the Black Nazarene to take care of his loved ones.

The masked figured had sheathed his sword. He helped Fortunato up to his feet, then unlocked the handcuffs with a touch of his finger on the metal surface.

"You have nothing to fear from us, vendor."

Fortunato was holding on to his left arm, trying to stop the flow of blood from his wound. He felt lightheaded. He knew that he was losing too much blood.

"Thank you. I… who are you? Forgive me, I feel dizzy…"

"Do not worry. We will take you with us to be healed." The masked figure looked at his companions, and one of them went to Fortunato and silently bandaged his wounds.

"Come, let us go inside," the first masked figure told Fortunato. "We have much to do, and the Señor would like to speak to you."

#

In an airconditioned room on one of the floors in one of the tallest towers in the financial district of Makati, the Director General of the Intellectual Property Council was viewing the videocon report with the other board members.

The IPC was an international coalition of the world’s major players in the software, music, motion picture and other industries that depended on the protection of intellectual property and the revenue generated by charging royalty. The council worked closely with the law enforcement agencies of the host government, as well as with the heads of the local office of the multinational companies that were members of the international alliance. In some countries, the government had sanctioned the use of heavy weapons and anti-terror tactics to win the war on piracy, and the Philippines, following the lead of the United States government, had been one of the first supporters of this new international crusade.

Two years ago, the Anti-Piracy Agency had been formed in the Philippines and given the mandate to eliminate piracy in the Philippines through an intense series of raids against dens of piracy and an ambitious program to clean up government agencies. Unofficially, rumors were rife that the APA had formed death squads of freelance operatives who not only salvaged pirates, but also assassinated suspected members of the syndicates, including businessmen, law enforcement agents and government officials.

"As you can see from these photos, gentlemen, my operatives died very grisly deaths," APA Director Gener Roman said. "Punctured lungs and heart in the case of the team leader. Decapitation. Slit throat. One of my men was literally beaten to death." Roman then proceeded to describe the nature of the wounds with clinical precision, remaining as unemotional as if he were reciting the list of ingredients in a recipe.

Some of the board members looked uncomfortable while watching the report, especially during the close-up of the decapitated body of one of the operatives. This American cleared his throat and said, "Pardon me, Director Roman, but I really don’t understand. The attackers used swords to do this to your men? But your men were armed with assault weapons, right? They’re SWAT members that the APA took in when it was formed."

"That is correct. Based on the nature of the wounds and the evidence of the video files recovered from the operatives, we know that they used the kris, a heavy long sword popular among the Moros in Mindanao, as well as in other Malay countries. Some variants feature a sinuous steel blade, and that is what these perpetrators wielded. The attackers also made use of kali sticks, which are more popularly known as arnis, though many schools of this Filipino martial art here and abroad prefer to use the term 'kali.'" The director coughed and noted with pride, "I myself am a black belt in kali, but what the assailant did when he beat one my operatives to death -- well, I have never encountered anything like it. The attacker must have possessed unusual strength, or was under the spell of uncontrollable rage."

The IPC Director General frowned. "This is all highly irregular, Director Roman. And I’m at a loss to think how… martial artists and swordsmen, apparently, could have done this to an elite squad of police officers."

"I cannot explain it myself, Mr. Director General. But I think it would be better if you all just viewed the evidence we recovered from the retinal video implants of the operatives. Unfortunately, the team leader was attacked from behind, but some of the operatives were also able to give us a glimpse of his attacker, apart from those who assaulted them."

The council watched in stunned silence as the video feed began, showing them the last scenes being played out in the lives of these operatives. How the masked figures suddenly appeared out of nowhere, swiftly attacking and disarming them. The attackers wore some sort of costume and masks made of black material ("Like ninjas," the American whispered). The kris swords were frightening things of beauty, slicing through the air with their wavy blades before chopping off an arm or slitting someone’s throat. Two kinds of blades were used by the attackers -- one a heavy sword that Director Roman informed them was the weapon preferred by the Moros, while the other was the type of dagger used in Indonesia that was also known as a kris. The kali sticks weaved in a deadly dance, a grisly ballet made even more surreal by the absence of sound, as the implants only recorded video.

It was a silent movie that the council watched quietly, each board member caught in the spell of the life and death struggle, though it was clear from the start that their operatives had no chance at all.

When the video files had ended, the IPC Director General was the first to recover his voice. The others looked shaken.

"Well, Director Roman, it seems we have quite a situation."

"I’m afraid we do, Mr. Director General."

The Director General paused as he slowly tapped the table with his index finger. It was the only sound in the silent room.

"Director Roman?"

"Yes?"

"I really didn’t want a repeat of the Virra Mall riots, but I want those attackers caught and punished. Do whatever it takes."

#

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