Tuesday, November 16, 2004

chapter 4, part 3

It is a breathtaking sight, the Golden Mosque of Quiapo, whose golden dome towers over Globo de Oro street, serving as the heart of the Muslim district in the heart of Manila, the capital of this archipelago conquered by the Spaniards centuries ago in the name of Christendom.

The mosque can accommodate up to 3, 000 worshippers, and the Muslim district of Quiapo can lay claim to being one of the most densely populated areas in the whole metropolis, where roughly 80, 000 followers of the Prophet live in an area that barely covers 1.5 hectares. Surrounded by a sea of Christians in one of the most uncompromising bastions of Roman Catholic power, they are the invisible people, careful not to attract undue attention, which can only bode ill for them when many inhabitants of the metropolis fear or hate them, for no other reason than the faith they profess and the actions of extremists in other parts of the country and in other places throughout the world.

They are tolerated, as the Chinese of the Parian once were and of Binondo up to today, for the services that they render, yet mostly with suspicion, condescension or neglect that is far from benign. They have been demonized for centuries, the Tsino and the Moro, used to put fear in the hearts of unruly Christian children, ridiculed for being different, reviled because it is easier to hate what you do not know.

In 1976, the wife of the Maharlika had overseen the construction of this massive structure, whose opening was to coincide with the strongman of Libya, whom the now Immortal Widow had charmed into agreeing to broker peace between the government of her husband and the Muslim rebels in war-torn Mindanao. Surely, she must have thought, such a grand gesture would win the favor of this great chief. And so the workers labored to make her vision a reality, not resting until the Golden Mosque was built. How great her consternation must have been, when the strongman in the end decided to cancel his visit.

Cast aside by its mistress, now rendered useless as an object of vanity, the Muslims of Quiapo had embraced this gift, accepting as a fact the creation of the biggest house of the faithful in all of Manila, though knowing that the intent of the gift-giver might have been different. What is written, is written, the faithful told themselves.

When the two towers in the land of America were destroyed in 2001 and thousands died as a result of the terrorist attacks carried out by extremists in the name of Islam, life became even harder for the followers of the Prophet in Quiapo. Now, more than ever, they were convenient targets. Almost daily, they complained of harassment from the police, who arrested left and right Muslims suspected of being members of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf or having ties to terrorist cells. Over the years, the youth had grown to resent the suspicion, and while only a small minority were advocating militant action, it was easy for authorities to once more gloss over differences. Some terrorists were Muslims, therefore all Muslims were terrorists, so the logic of the law seemingly went.

The police, however, claimed that they were only preserving peace and order and protecting the citizenry of Manila from possible terrorist attacks. They complained that their colleagues were losing their lives and that they were the victims if violence and abuse, yet they were being branded as the villains.

It is a conflict between Christians and Muslims that has been raging for centuries, that has written the history of this archipelago in blood. It was in 1578 that the servants of the King of Spain first attempted to conquer the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu, led by Governor-General Francisco de Sande, who had succeeded Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, he who had defeated Rajah Sulayman to conquer the Muslim kingdom of Maynilad in Luzon, in whose place the conquistador founded the Catholic city of Manila.

Determined to similarly bring the worship of the Christian god to the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu, De Sande first sailed to the Muslim kingdom of Borneo with a fleet of forty ships, manned by several hundred soldiers and over a thousand Visayan allies. The Spaniards proved successful in this first encounter with the Moros of the South, and history tells us that the Spanish expedition succeeded in capturing the city of Brunei and destroying several pirate ships. Though they conquered, however, they could not convert, and the Moros successfully placed a cordon around the invaders that, faced with sickness and starvation, the Spanish forces were forced to withdraw.

To a captain named Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa did Governador-General De Sande entrust the sacred duty of forcing the Moros of Sulu to submit to the sword of the Spanish king and embrace the Cross of Christianity. And so Figueroa attacked in 1578 Jolo, the capital of Sulu and considered the hereditary seat of Mohammedan rulers in these lands. The brave Figueroa was said to have found most of the inhabitants of the city away, as they had set sail on pirate raids, and in possible disappointment over being deprived of the great battle that he might have imagined burned the rows of nipa huts.

While the Spanish city of Manila greeted the expedition of De Sande with the Te deums and praises befitting a conquering hero, the Moros were in no mood to allow the governador-general to celebrate. Seething with rage over the sack of their capital and these series of attacks on their settlements, the Muslims harried the Spaniards time and again with pirate raids to punish the invaders and prevent them from ever contemplating another expedition against the Mohammedans.

Confident in their belief of the superiority of their race and their faith, as well as their images as the conquistadores who had destroyed the empires of the Inca and the Aztec in the New World, the Spaniards refused to accept that they could not conquer Sulu and Mindanao. After all, had they not also conquered the islands of Luzon and Visayas, laying waste to the kingdoms of the Tagalogs and the Visayans? Would not the Moro too fall before the might of the Empire?

And so over the centuries, the governador-generals of imperial Manila launched attack after attack against the Moros, killing, destroying and capturing, yet always being forced to retreat to their strongholds in Visayas and Luzon. Finally, when the Spaniards gave way to a new conqueror from the New World, they sold their holdings in this part of the world for the sum of forty million Mexican pesos. Yet even as they surrendered to the Americans in the mock battle of Manila, when in truth the revolutionaries of the Katipunan had already proclaimed their independence, the wily Spaniards still managed to deceive the Americans, selling them not only the lands of the Indio in Luzon and Visayas, but also making them believe that they owned Sulu and Mindanao and had also turned these over to the Yankees. Thus were the cowboys of America in for a rude awakening as they began the Benevolent Assimilation of Sulu and Mindanao, just as they had throughout the other islands of this archipelago, only to find that the Moros unfairly had other ideas about who owned the lands the new colonizers had supposedly bought.

It is a history of injustice that many Muslims in these islands know by heart, and it is a war that even now Manila wages against the South, centuries after the first failed attempt. The Muslims of Quiapo want peace, an escape from the endless war that has destroyed their beloved homeland of Mindanao, a chance at a better life here in the lands of their traditional enemy.

Yet even here they cannot find peace. Instead, tonight the Muslims of Quiapo prepare for the coming of war.

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chapter 4, part 2

Father Constantino turned to him as they were watching the President announce on TV that the government had crushed earlier this morning an attempt by a terrorist group to lead an armed assault on Malacañang. The terrorist group was responsible for destroying the Plaza Miranda monument and inciting misguided elements among the poor masses of Quiapo to take up arms against the government, she said in her televised speech.

"So, do you think she will finally have the guts to finally go through with it?" Father Constantino asked him.

"I’m sorry -- to go through with what, Father?"

"Why, what she has always wanted to become. A great and strong leader like your grandfather." He chuckled. "Not that she could ever really be one, but doesn’t she enjoy playing the role of Iron Butterfly?"

"We will not be merciful to those who have not shown compassion to the poor vendors that these terrorists have led to their deaths for their own selfish ends. And we will not hesitate to punish with the full force of the law those who would take advantage of fear and uncertainty in pushing their own agenda and seeking to destabilize the duly-elected government and trample upon our sacred Constitution. We call on those who are planning mass actions against the government to examine their motives and consider the consequences of their acts," the President proclaimed in her speech that was being broadcast live across the nation and to Filipino communities in different parts of the world.

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gma 2 dclare martial law 2nyt. tel evry1 join rally @ edsa shrine. lets dfnd dmocracy agn w ppl pwr pls pas

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Throughout the meeting, Felice Andion had kept a smile in place on her face, trying her best to soothe the rattled nerves of the President and the other high and mighty of the land. The scenario she and Intellectual Property Council Director General David Harris had previously discussed had been laid down carefully. She had created the scenario and run several rigorous checks on it, weaving a consistent version of events that they were now masterfully leading the President and her Cabinet to accept as the true one.

When all this is over, I want to take a long vacation. Maybe in New Zealand.

At the same time, she was trying to figure out the lone hand that Harris was playing. She knew that the murder of Roman had stunned him. She knew that he had long wanted to lay siege on the underground network of Quiapo, but she was not certain what role this supposed terrorist group played in his plans. Part of her wondered if this new KKK was a brainchild of Harris, or of the acting director of the Anti-Piracy Agency, who may have used it to kill off his superior, Director Gener Roman.

Wheels within wheels. Whose game are we playing now?

When the meeting was over, Felice made a call on her mobile phone.

"Yes. So the meeting will push through tomorrow? I’ll tell her. I know, Father. I’ll be praying myself tonight."

She sighed as she sat on the bed, lit a cigarette and considered what she would tell Arianna. On many occasions in the past few years that they had known each other, Felice had asked herself what she really thought of the beautiful young online journalist. She was fond of Arianna and genuinely enjoyed her company, and Felice had wondered how important that friendship was to her, because she knew that in this line of work, sometimes you would need to sacrifice even your loved ones and your dearest friends. She supposed that time was coming soon, and Arianna would hate her and never forgive her.

I’m a bitch. But I’m the one who can save you all. You can hate me, but you still need me.

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The attack came without warning, as the masked figures suddenly materialized behind the squad of Philippine Marines guarding the ruins of the Plaza Miranda monument, which had been cordoned off by the police.

One Marine screamed as the sinuous blade of the kris sliced through flesh and bone, chopping off his right hand. His buddy was able to fire his Armalite at the attacker, but he gasped in horror as the masked swordsman remained unfazed and impaled him with the blade.

Then, as suddenly as the attack had begun, the masked figures disappeared. Some of the squad members were still firing at the area where they had been standing scant moments ago.

The squad leader took out his walkie talkie.

"Man down! Our attackers are gone, but we have one dead and several injured here."

A strange silence had filled the air. The Marines, the riot police and the operatives of the Anti-Piracy Agency looked up at the sky, which had turned darker and now threatened the coming of heavy rain. The law enforcers looked at each other. Some of the younger operatives made the sign of the cross.

Shots were fired. Screams filled the air, as the masked figures once appeared, this time attacking the squad of anti-riot police guarding the fire trucks. Someone yelled.

"Granada!"

One fire truck blew up, and people screamed as the fireball engulfed them and shrapnel flew everywhere.

APA operatives rushed to the area to assist the riot police. Someone lobbed a grenade at them, forcing them to scatter and hit the dirt.

"Sir, we’re being attacked here! The attackers are using hit-and-run tactics and you won’t believe it but they seem to be materializing and disappearing into thin air. They’ve blown up some of the fire trucks. We are…" the APA ground commander was telling the acting APA director on his walkie talkie when he stopped at a sight that chilled his heart.

It was the head of the late APA Director Gener Roman being held by the hair on the left hand of a masked figure who had suddenly appeared in front of the shocked APA ground commander. Before he could even cry out, the masked attacker had sliced off his right arm with cold precision using his kris.

The APA leader screamed in agony as the blood gushed out. He fell to his knees.

"You will live. Tell them what you have seen. And pray tonight to whichever gods you worship, for many of you will no longer see the dawn."

And then he disappeared.

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Thousands of demonstrators had already gathered at the EDSA Shrine, snarling traffic as the rallyists chanted, waved placards and carried streamers condemning the government’s plan to once more declare Martial Law.

They came from all over the metropolis: students, teachers, office workers, youth leaders, NGOs, labor groups, militants, cause-oriented groups, people’s organizations, businessmen, temps, secretaries, salesmen and employees of every stripe.

Civil society leaders had also arrived, some of them already on stage. Many of them were familiar faces, among them the same members of civil society that helped oust the President’s predecessor and install her in his place over seven years ago.

In the financial district of Makati, another big group of demonstrators had occupied the stretch of Ayala in front of the Anti-Piracy Agency headquarters, demanding the dismantling of the APA for rampant violation of human rights and the massacre of the vendors in Quiapo.

From España, E. Rodriguez and Quezon Boulevard, rallyists had already converged at the Welcome Rotonda, led by the militant groups representing laborers, farmers and fisherfolk. The militants had announced that they would proceed to Mendiola and attempt to march to Malacañang tonight, to prevent the President from declaring Martial Law and demand her resignation.

"Hanggang kailan tayo magbubulag-bulagan sa mga katiwalian ng pamahalaang ito?" one of the militant leaders shouted over the megaphone, as the rallyists cheered and clapped their hands.

Meanwhile, along Quezon Memorial Circle, the students that had gathered at the University and who were now marching to EDSA were enthusiastically calling on stranded motorists to join the rally.

"Sumama na kayo! Sumama na kayo!"

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"At ‘yan po ang kasalukuyang tanawin ngayon sa kahabaan ng Epifanio de los Santos Avenue. Makikita ninyo kasamang Albert na dumarami na ang mga nagpi-People Power sa EDSA Shrine. May nasagap din tayong balita na ilang mga senador at kongresista na kasapi ng oposisyon ang dadalo maya-maya ditto sa EDSA," the voice-over announced as the camera showed the long line of marchers and the traffic that had crawled to a halt along EDSA.

The solon was on the phone, arguing with her public relations officer.

"I know, I know. But I’m still weighing my options. Of course, I know that this might all fizzle out and then there would be consequences. And I’m not stupid; I know if I throw my support to this so-called People Power, I would just alienate some of its supporters and put its success in jeopardy. Many of these rallyists hate me more than her -- God knows why."

It’s good I’m here in Laoag, she thought to herself when she put the phone down, though who would have thought this would happen so soon? Whatever happens, we have to secure Ilocos.

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"Tonight, my brothers and sisters, we pray for the Philippine president and the future of our country," Father Constantino said to his congregation. "We pray that we shall have a peaceful solution to this crisis, and that the President and will be enlightened, that she shall choose the right path and think of the good of the country.

"The Maharlika taught us that there is no victory without sacrifice, that we must be willing to look beyond ourselves and think of the good of the many. Individually, we can do nothing. Even he, the greatest leader this country and the world has ever known, recognized that without the people, there is precious little any hero can do to change a nation.

"Now, in this time of great uncertainty, we pray that the country will be united, and that every Filipino will listen to our words and see the wisdom of the teacher that they unjustly accused and rejected, just as every great prophet is a stranger in his own country.

"All these things shall pass, and we shall emerge a stronger nation, committed to the salvation of every Filipino, and the restoration of the greatness that is our birthright

"We ask this in the name of God the Father, who brought the Cross to this land, and the Apo his son, who is the Father of us all."

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