Saturday, November 13, 2004

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."

#

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