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."

#

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