Thursday, November 18, 2004

chapter 4, part 4

In the days following the events of that night, people would have their own stories of what really happened and who was telling the truth about the second Battle of Quiapo.

As darkness fell upon the land, the rallyists decided to proceed to Quiapo Church and attempt to hold a vigil at Plaza Miranda, which they said presaged the proclamation of Martial Law once in this company’s history, but would now be witness to the people’s struggle to prevent its second coming.

With torches and electric lamps they came, chanting, singing, shouting, calling upon the people of Quiapo to join them and stand fast in protecting the country from those who would trample upon their rights.

The rallyists were met by a barricade of riot police, truncheons ready, shields linked to repel the human wave. On top of the fire trucks were positioned Marines and Anti-Piracy Agency operatives. At the sight of the firearms, the demonstrators began shouting, calling upon the soldiers and law enforcers to abandon their aggressive stance.

"Ito po ay isang mapayapang protesta," one rally leader called out using his megaphone. "Huwag po nating tutukan nang armas ang mga kabataan at mga anak-pawis na nais lamang iparating an gaming mensahe sa Malacañang. Ang Quiapo ay para sa mga tao, para sa masang Pilipino."

The chants began in earnest, as thousands of rallyists called on the law enforcers to allow them to proceed to Plaza Miranda.

The soldiers and law enforcers were tensely keeping watch, aware that at any moment the mysterious masked figures might launch another hit-and-run attack.

The APA ground commander wiped the sweat from his brow.

This is bullshit! How do we fight this enemy? And now we have all these civilians…

The orders from Malacañang had been simple: to hold fast and secure the area. This also meant preventing the demonstrators from marching to Plaza Miranda.

More people were converging in front of the soldiers and law enforcers, as the residents of Quiapo came out of their houses and left their stalls. And then they heard it. The chants, the songs, the praises shouted in Spanish and Filipino.

"Viva El Señor! Mabuhay ang patron ng Quiapo!"

They came in the hundreds, devotees carrying a life-size image of the Black Nazarene, a twin to the one that was crucified in Quiapo Church. Their cries were answered by other marchers, pouring out of the Muslim district, singing their praises to Allah and Mohammed his Prophet.

The demonstrators looked on in wonder at the sight, of Christian and Muslim devotees congregating, standing side by side, bringing their articles of faith and calling on the military and police to respect Quiapo, the holy place. The riot police wavered at the sight, uncertain which human wave to face, those of the demonstrators or the devotees of Quiapo.

Suddenly, shots were fired. People screamed as bodies sprawled to the ground. The rally leaders shouted, calling on the demonstrators to march forward and charge into the police line.

"Mga hayop! Mga mamamatay-tao!"

The demonstrators slammed against the wall of riot police, and the law enforcers began hitting them with truncheons. More shots rang out, felling demonstrators and devotees. The Christian and Muslim defenders of Quiapo also charged into the fray, smashing into the ranks of the riot police, APA and Marines. The APA operatives on top of the fire trucks kept firing. Someone hurled a grenade at the fire trucks, blowing up the vehicles and sending the bodies of APA operatives flying into the air.

The demonstrators had turned into an angry mob, attacking the riot police with placards and bare fists. Some of them were able to wrest away truncheons from the fallen police, making use of their newfound weapons. The APA and Marines tried to keep the demonstrators and devotees at bay with steady fire, but their hearts sank at the sound of even more people marching toward the area. They could see the torches being held aloft by the oncoming forces, and saw that some of the new arrivals bore weapons -- not the makeshift weapons of the ragtag band of vendors they had faced this morning, but carbines and rifles. They could also see squads of men armed with kris swords -- not the masked figures they had fought but the masses of Quiapo armed with the deadly weapon.

The APA ground commander radioed headquarters, desperately asking for reinforcements in the face of the thousands ranged against them. He was told that the forces in Malacañang were already on their way, but before he could reply, a masked figure appeared in front of him and plunged his kris into the ground commander’s chest.

Once more, the masked figures wreaked havoc on the APA operatives and Marines with their swords and sticks. With a bloodcurdling yell, the juramentados also charged into the ranks of the law enforcers, chopping heads and lopping off limbs with wild abandon. Some of these berserkers were hit several times with bullets, yet kept on attacking, killing more enemies before they finally collapsed and died.

The demonstrators had also overrun the riot police, who were now fighting desperately in hand-to-hand combat against the rallyists and the defenders of Quiapo. The defenders armed with carbines and rifles called upon the rallyists to retreat, and as the demonstrators ran for safety, they fired upon the police.

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When the masked figure suddenly appeared inside the room, Fortunato said a prayer to the Señor and prepared himself for death. It has been a good life, he told himself, all things considered. He took a deep breath and knelt on his good knee, looking at his executioner with a defiant expression on his face, saying, "I’m ready. You can kill me if you want."

The masked figure shook his head.

"No, Fortunato, I am not here to bring death, but to bring you new life. Outside, Quiapo burns and people are dying, but this shall be your haven until the appointed hour, when those who have been forgotten finally reclaim what is rightfully theirs."

"Who are you?"

"If I give you my name, you would not know it, but you would know the master I serve, the lord who has claimed this place you call Quiapo as your own. I am a humble servant of the Señor, the same master you served in the past, but have forgotten as many have. He is the Señor, who has watched over this holy place for centuries, suffering as his adopted children have suffered, patiently bearing all the sorrow that man has inflicted upon his fellow man, giving hope to the hopeless, salvation to the damned. For too long, the people of Quiapo have been trampled upon, but that ends tonight. Tonight is the feast of the Señor, and he who arrived here as a lamb shall return as a lion, to devour the enemies of his people and cast the oppressors into the lake of fire. The usurpers who dwell in the palace of Malacañang have brought enough suffering upon this land, and now their time has come to an end."

Fortunato shuddered at his words, sensing something palpable, something being given birth by the very sound of his voice.

He wanted to believe that this was all a fever-induced delirium, that he was safely back home with his wife, telling her what happened throughout the day. She had given meaning to his life, the new role he had adopted after running away from the Center for Psychic Research, where he had been one of the initial batch of Filipinos involved in the Psychic User Interface project for the creation of a new man/machine interface and a new form of artificial intelligence. The Rizal Virus had put an end to the project, and had left many of his fellow guinea pigs mindless husks. Fortunato, however, escaped their fate, yet the Rizal Virus had not left him unchanged.

Fortunato found his thoughts turning to the revelations of that moment when he and the Rizal Virus were one, when he saw the events that had gone unrecorded in the history most people knew. The most poignant tale of all was the Banahaw Incident, when the followers of Rizal performed a rite that was to summon the ancient god Bathala back to his homeland, only to end up destroying themselves and blanketing the sacred mountain under a perpetual cloud of darkness.

Throughout the land, memories of the ancient ones still stirred faint echoes in the minds and hearts of those who now dwell in this sacred place, waiting patiently for someone to awaken them again from their dreamless sleep.

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