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.

#

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