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.

#

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