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."

#

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."

#

chapter 3, part 2

"No matter how strong and dedicated a leader may be, he must find root and strength amongst the people. He alone cannot save a nation. He may guide, he may set the tone, he may dedicate himself and risk his life, but only the people may save themselves."--Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, address at the launching of the Mabuhay Ang Pilipino Movement in Malacañang on November 30, 1972

Beatrice felt tears welling in her eyes as she watched the scene unfolding on TV. Quiapo was burning again. She heard someone shouting angrily at the cameraman, and then the video focused on a member of the Anti-Piracy Agency, telling the TV news crew to stop filming. Then, realizing that his cursing was being aired live, the APA operative muttered and hurriedly ran in the direction of his companions.

"Grabe, parang giyera na ‘yan, a!" Aida said as sat next to Beatrice and viewed the carnage. It was another raid against the pirate dens, but both Beatrice and Aida felt something ominous in the air. Many vendors were fighting back, hurling stones and bottles at the law enforcers, and Beatrice and Aida both cried out when they saw one vendor being gunned down, his body riddled with bullets as he was about to throw a makeshift missile at the policemen.

"Diyos ko," Aida said as she made the sign of the cross. The other members of Task Force Katarungan had stopped what they were doing and had congregated in front of the TV set, the preparation for the Martial Law diorama at the University’s Bahay Kalinaw.

"Nangyayari na naman," a young student observed. "Sinabi na nga ni Professor Timoteo, matagal nang martial law ang Pilipinas, nagkukunwari lang tayo."

"E nasa denial stage pa rin tayo, Miguel," one of the TFK officers observed. "Talaga namang nung pumutok ‘yung 9-11 e balik-Cold War na tayo, tapos ang mga gagong Kano, na-re-elect pa ang Koboy na utak unggoy. E talagang wala na nga tayong patutunguhan kung di martial law ulit."

Aida smiled bitterly. "E hindi lang naman yung mga Kano ang bobo. Tingnan mo kung sino ang naghahari dito."

"History repeats itself. History is doomed to repeat itself if we do not learn from the past, if we do not learn its lessons," another TFK officer solemnly intoned.

The sound of gunfire and frenzied screaming had filled the room. They could hear the TV reporter’s blow-by-blow account. "At yan nga po nakikita ninyo na patuloy pa rin ang pag-wasak dito sa mga tindahan ng mga pirata. Makikita ninyo na nakahanda na ang mga hose ng firetrucks at naka-porma na ang mga riot police."

"Kasamang Markie, hindi ba medyo overkill naman yata ‘yang ginagawa ng APA? Hindi naman rallyista ang mga pirata na ‘yan, bakit may mga riot police pa at napakarami na ng mga APA diyan, e magpapadala pa sila ng reinforcements? O balak na ba talaga nilang lusubin ang mismong mga warehouse at tuluyan nang durugin ang mga tinamaan ng lintik na mga pirata na yan?"

"Well, kasamang Albert, ‘yan na nga ang nagiging spekulasyon sa ngayon. At kung maaalala ninyo, may exklusibong report tayo noong isang araw kung saan nakapanayam natin ang isang eyewitness daw sa isang massacre na naganap, na kung saan ilang APA ang natagpuang patay diyan sa may harap ng simbahan. Ito naman ay idineny ni APA Director Gener Roman at ng Chief of Police, ngunit positibo ang eyewitness. Kaya kung totoo ang kanyang kini-claim, hindi malayong isa nga itong malaking opensibo laban sa mga pirata at pagganti ng APA sa mga pumaslang sa kanilang mga kasamahan. War on piracy na ito, kasamang Albert, at animo warzone nga sa kasalukuyan itong Quiapo," the reporter said.

He had barely finished his sentence when they heard an explosion. People screamed as hundreds of panicked uziseros ran in all directions.

"Mark! Mark. Ano ang nangyari?"

Beatrice and the others tensely waited as the TV reporter struggled to make his voice heard amid the shouting and the sound of gunfire. Yet Beatrice already knew what his answer would be. She had seen this. When she was dreaming. It was happening again.

"Kasamang Albert, may nagpasabog dun sa memorial ng mga Plaza Miranda victims! Kinukumpirma pa namin kung ano ang sanhi ng…"

"Ano ang nangyari?"

"Diyos ko! Plaza Miranda?"

"Martial Law! Sinabi ko na sa inyo. Martial Law!"

Beatrice stood up. She walked as one who was sleeping, her mind dreaming of other places, her eyes barely registering the images of the exhibit surrounding her. She saw the statues of the Martial Law victims, one diorama representing two jailers electrocuting a prisoner by attaching jumper cables to his testicles, another woman whose face was frozen in terror as her torturer stubbed out a cigarette on her face, another whose face had been kicked in, battered and bruised, by a man wearing army boots. She saw the victims that had been shot, stabbed, strangled, raped, strung up, torched, electrocuted, decapitated, chopped, run over, crushed, impaled. One torturer was said to have enjoyed carving drawings on his victim’s chest using a Swiss knife. Another had chopped off his prisoner’s fingers, one for each day, then started on his toes. Many had forced the detainees to drink their own urine. Others had beaten their victims with rifles, two-by-fours, baseball bats, bamboo sticks, canes, nightsticks, chair legs, steel pipes. They wanted their victims to confess their crimes, name their accomplices, reveal their hideouts, share their documents, renounce the revolution, embrace the New Society that promised a new brotherhood of man.

Beatrice stopped as she saw the photographs of a young woman in one of the exhibits. It was a memorial to Tanya Sandoval, an editor of a student newspaper who had been abducted during a protest rally at Mendiola during the first year after the declaration Martial Law. Tanya was an honor student and a gifted young writer, who had written scathing editorials that called for the lifting of Martial Law and an end to warrantless arrests, illegal checkpoints and the imposition of the curfew. She had backed her fearless words with actions, giving up middle-class comfort to join the student demonstrations at her school and the protest marches in the streets of Manila.

"From the designer clothes she had once loved, Tanya chose to wear the uniform of the revolution, dressing in T-shirts, jeans and tubao, which was more than a fashion accessory as it provided some protection for rallyists from the tear gas that was a constant weapon used against these young children," Tanya’s sister Aileen narrated in one of the newspaper clipping that formed part of the memorial.

Aileen was only ten at the time, and would cry whenever she would see the bruises Tanya had sustained, the scratches that sometimes marred her pretty face, and the angry arguments the activist had with her mother and father.

"My parents were afraid for Ate’s life, and they wanted her to stop joining the rallies and to resign as editor of her paper. My mom even told her that we would just leave the country and that she would just continue her studies in the US, just as she had always dreamed.

"I remember praying at night that God would make Ate listen to my parents. I begged him to convince Ate to accept my mom’s offer, because I didn’t want them fighting anymore and I was afraid that I might lose my sister. I remember once telling Ate this, and she hugged me. She was crying, but she told me to be brave and that one day, I would understand what she was doing. She said that she was not happy that she made this choice, but that it was something she had to do, for all our sakes. She said she dreamt of a better world. She said she loved me and always will, that no matter what happened she will always love our family and do her best to be a good Ate to me."

Tanya Sandoval died after three days in custody. She had been raped repeatedly and beaten to death. The authorities claimed she killed herself.

#