Wednesday, November 03, 2004

chapter 1, part 4

"And my scientists tell me that these forces are so powerful that we can use them to protect you, our American friends, against Soviet missiles." -- Imelda Marcos, talking about a hole in the sky that allows the entry of cosmic forces into the Philippines, during a lecture to 20 American scientists in January 1982, as cited in Raymond Bonner's Waltzing with a Dictator, as cited in the WilyFilipino.com’s The Wit and Wisdom of Imelda

He had witnessed the ritual several times over the years, yet he still felt shaken every time he saw it.

Hundreds of men and women, all dressed in flowing white robes, were now gathered inside this chapel on top of a mountain, lost in rapt prayer, chanting his grandfather's name over and over. Each month the faithful gathered at this mountain retreat, forsaking their earthbound lives in their factories, in their farms, in their offices, to honor the Father that had given birth to this land and all its bounty. The Father that had been betrayed, driven to exile and to ignominious death in a faraway land, but a Father who still found it in his heart to love and forgive all his children, even those who had lost their way.

"For his is a loving heart, and his mercy knows no bounds. He was betrayed, yet he forgives us. He was laughed at, yet he comforts us in our sorrow and rejoices in our triumph. For he is the Apo, the Father of us all."

"For he is the Apo, the Father of us all."

Hundreds of voices, all singing his praise, the sound echoing in this manmade cavern, expectant, exultant, confident in the belief in his triumphant return.

He was a child when the faithful and their ritual had first been explained to him, and he remembered his incredulous reaction: "They think Lolo is a god?"

His mother had shook her head when he first approached her and demanded an answer.

"It’s not that simple, you see. They… well, they have a different kind of faith. But it’s good that they believe he has been misunderstood, that we have all been misunderstood. They can see the good that we have done, and we need more people to also open their eyes to the truth."

"Do you believe it, Mom?"

His mother bit her lip, a pained expression appearing on her face. He could see conflicting emotions warring briefly, before she smiled and said in a soothing voice, "Don’t worry yourself over this. You’re still too young. Someday, you’ll understand things better."

"But what about Lola? Does she think Lolo is a god?"

His mother sighed.

"Who really knows what your Lola thinks?"

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It had been several years, but he had to admit to himself that he still did not understand. The sight of the altar -- which bore a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, only the face of the Redeemer had been replaced with that of his grandfather -- filled him with an almost overwhelming fear, as if at any moment the walls would collapse and bury them all in rubble for what God must surely see as blasphemy.

Yet he had grown to know many of the worshippers over the years, and most of them were ordinary people -- decent God-fearing people -- who simply believed that the Apo was the savior that Filipinos had been praying for year after year. They believed that a great destiny awaited the Philippines if every citizen would stop clinging to the past and blaming the Maharlika and his family for the sins that the people themselves had committed.

"Did he not create a New Society? Did not our Father, in his wisdom, declare Martial Law that he might protect his children from the forces of darkness that threatened our great nation, the plague of communists and Muslim rebels and drug lords and whores and criminals and atheists? For I tell you, brothers and sisters, these are the evils that still walk our beloved land, these are the maggots that feast upon the corpse of the Philippines -- dead because so many of our brethren have forsaken the truth and chosen to hate when they could love instead.

"Dead because our leaders have forsaken human decency and have refused burial to the dead, for which our country has been cursed and punished with every calamity as a sign of God’s displeasure. For what are these tremors, what are these trials of fire and water, what are these coups and upheavals, what is this grinding poverty, what is this diaspora, this exodus of our mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, but the wrath of God over the sins we have committed?

"They have eyes, but they refuse to see. They have ears, but they refuse to hear. But we, my brothers and sisters, we shall not be afraid to speak the truth. We shall shout it to the high heavens. We shall never tire of singing his praises, until the day shall come when the lies will be no more and the Father will be restored to us all!"

He could not help but be swayed by the powerful voice of Father Constantino, by the passionate sermons that were also stirring calls to action. He told himself that it was all emotion, yet what else could inspire individuals and unite a people?

He recalled the old newscasts that had been shown to him, the documentaries that recorded his grandfather’s speeches. Listening to the voice of the Maharlika never failed to give him goosebumps, never failed to awe him with the power of his oratory. In the presence of that voice, he could almost believe anything was possible.

I miss you, Lolo. I never really thought I would. I don’t really remember you. I just remember a sick old man, hoping he could live long enough to see his hometown again. They say you’re the biggest criminal the Philippines has ever known. They say you killed and tortured so many people. I don’t know you. I don’t know why some people hate me so much for what I didn’t do.

He wondered if Father Constantino was at peace with himself in this role he had taken upon himself. He had given up his priesthood in the Catholic Church when its leaders had given him an ultimatum and told him to stop the blasphemy. Father Constantino decided to stay with his new flock. He had chosen to serve the Apo.

How many more people would make the same choice, and what price would they have to pay?

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