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Friday, November 30, 2012

Chapter 30 - The Capture

Chapter  30
The Capture

     “Welcome to my world Officer de la Rosa and party!” the little youngster beamed arms outstretched then folding them before they could swim back where they left off.   But no way as another iron bars sealed anew the  underground entry sending chills on his spine. On the background were rebels with their shoulder  firearms cock-ready to open fire anytime from the instruction of  young leader that would sealed their fate as hapless captive visitors. Some were amazonas.
         “This must be it!” the captive Major exclaimed in resignation realizing the result of his miscalculation of the capability of the rebels.
         War of the Flea, Protracted War, Filipino Hostility . . . . now dawned to him loud and clear as sunny day. That confirm that there’s no way the military can engage in fighting head on collision against the peoples’ military arm specially right there on their camp.   
         “The people are the best resource, right Taklin?” he recalled familiar maxim.  
What a big surprise of his life undeniably! Big fish caught big-time by mere youngster as adult rebels hogtied each one of his still surprised men.
         “Congratulation gentlemen. Why not. It seems a feast is in order here you  having reached this far,” the young man further said while surveying his brave hearted  captured guests.
“Isn’t it Maj. de la Cruz Sir?” he said addressing Taklin looking straight  into his eyes stooping and back.
         No response. How could he say a word or two when the presence of these innocent young armed combatants so overwhelmed him for the first time with fear and trembling recalling known incident when military men and officials were overran by rebels. The young combatants would take their turn later giving coup ‘d grace among the captors doing unimaginable barbarity they could think of. Familiar display of treachery among Muslim terrorists  like cutting off of fingers, hands and  heads, chopping them off behind while handcuffed, gorging their eyes out from their sockets.
         Defeaning silence to the Major as he could not afford returning back the compliment of addressing Sir the kid before him. It is simply a disgrace to his solemn profession as military. Having said this, he was resolved holding on the institution he represents face to face experiencing now that it is indeed a bridesmaid of death.
         “No Sir  vowing to you in surrender . . . “ he talked back with reservation apparently subdued speech mustering enough courage to cooperate realizing how dear and sacred those words of respect were before and now is in order  whose  importance far outweigh what he meant back then  mechanically  addressing his senior officers in the military.
          “My oh my, young teens already involved in armed struggle! How could this be possible?” the question coming into his mind seeing many others young rebels keeping guard on them.
“What if one or two of these young men were featured among those who gorged out eyeballs from their sockets of those hapless soldiers captured leaving them dead before they were given coup ‘d grace . . . “ the thought creeping slowly in his mind sending chills down his spine giving goose bumps.
         “And who knows some of the adults are merely pretenders to be in armed struggles though in reality were only drawn to it because of necessity like joining for survival of the fittest staging raid to get service arms for money. Who knows. Just who knows given the creativity and free enterprise of Filipinos.”
         First things first. Their weapons, sidearm and rug pack were confiscated. Second, they were stripped off of their shoes and seven colors uniform. Suited with pajama, and yellow shirt with huge  “POW” acronym for ‘Prisoner of War’, letters printed on it. They were soon formed into column Major de la Rosa leading the pack. Herded with his men like any sacrificial lambs eyes blindfolded, feet tied and hands hogtied at the back dragging each other towards slaughterhouse was the feeling seen all over the faces of the captured military as they were taken towards a makeshift People’s Court.
         The shrill collective voices of “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas” repeatedly uttered reverberated in the air  they  dragging each other marching in towards the Peoples’ Court..
         “What say u comrades on the fate of these enemies?” blared the voice in megaphone.
         “Kill them, kill them, kill them . . .  .” said in unison unceasingly gathering decibels the longer recited.
         “Paid mercenaries, wolves,  murderers killing innocent people, what say u?” another kibitzer recited.
         “Kill ‘em, kill ‘em, kill ‘em. . . . “ thunderous respond anew.
         “Their lives not enough to compensate those among our comrades they killed.”
         “Kill them, kill them, kill them . . ..” chorused as clenched fist were raised into the air while                 “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas” echoing too  in the air.
         Fidgeting to observe silence in the Court, the Presiding officer banged  the gavel indicating the formal opening of the proceeding of litigation..
          “Did you hear your verdict from the people . . . ?” the Chairman of the arraignment addressed each other captured soldier.
         “This must be it,” echoed wretched Major feeling the heat of the situation with resignation.
         “Now we are paying the crimes against the people,” the thought coming at the back of his mind learning the reality  the hard way paying finally the price of the system he was part not out of his own making.
         The Presiding Officer’s words were few and calculated  his voice sincere no feeling there of ill will, trabaho lang  in Tagalog.
         “You heard them straight from their hearts gentlemen. I can’t do no less. Sorry but we have been in war and have you held captive pending the final punishment meted on you from the verdict of this Court,” the Chairman clarified.
         “Pray then for the good of your soul and hope God up there could salvaged you through a miracle from your predicament whatever I mean here,”
         “Pray indeed for the couple of days as each one of you would  account how far did you go harassing our people you vowed to protect in an ensuing official investigation,”
         “If you see that one comes back after an  investigation, then that’s your gauge that he believes in miracle and that God up there does it saving him.”
         “If he doesn’t, that means he just paid dearly his own life for the lives of those he arrogated upon himself taking it. . . . ”
           “From all indications and frankly, that is injustice not even enough compensation for collateral damage such atrocity committed against the blameless people.”
         “People who supposed we are to serve are sacrificed in the altar of dictatorship, of greed of power; same race, same blood, same color but you consigned to dustbin of history as you ran after them mercilessly, holding them captive and later rendered them faceless statistics to this war against the people who in the first place feed you, elected you and put you in power . . . .”
For the first time, the declaration was heart rending but Major dela Rosa just kept his cool or once carried away by it might suffer identity crisis.
         From  where they were standing  in rows, the Chairman’s message was clear. No need to ask question no one dared. All they have to do is cooperate and indeed time to pray for miracle to happen . . . .  that is if it still happens roughly two centuries after the first ever recorded miracle in the bible.
         “Most unlikely, but why not?”Major dela Rosa’s unwavering faith  soared. That seems to be subject yet to validation as only few almost half of his men returned back to their common prison cell.
         Few more days as all eight finished facing an interrogator, Major dela Rosa’s turn came face  to face his ill-fated brush with the Judge-Executioner, his life hanging in balance, his fate relying heavily on the merit of his case..  The result would definitely decides where the fulcrum would favor. It could be either life or death as the case maybe the way  some of his men just experienced..
. . . . . . . . . .

         “So you are a military officer . . . ,” the interrogator  probed.
         “From Marble County yet . . . ,”
         “Yap,”  nodded  Taklin while still blindfolded.
         “You seem to have started your life right,”
         “Lots of talents hmmm on top of being super active in church eventually entered the Seminary before proceeding to PMA for military science,” the interrogator revealed elated learning big fish among several small fishes captured.  
         “ Nice to know . . . . “
         “And what prompted you executing that 360 sweeping  degrees change of career?”
         Major dela Rosa narrated all the incident and surprised receiving cold response from the interrogator. It was long but the Interrogator didn’t mind.
         “Seems tragic indeed . . . .”
         “More than that as not only my beloved were gone after the other . . . ,“
         “It’s as if there’s unforeseen hand directing all of these events  . .. , “
         “You’re in a military and you appear naïve here. You should know. . . ,“
         “It’s been there. And let’s accept  mistake.”
         “What do you mean?” the captor quickly queried.
         “You’re just too credulous!”
         Major de la Rosa thought for a moment whatever implication is there.
         “Accept when power is held, decided and controlled in utter secrecy by an exclusive group – you have problem there” the host declared.
         “Ever wonder why assassinations here and all over are not solved?”
         The captor nodded.
         “That’s it. Like US. You can’t just trust this people. Who killed Che Guevarra? Who instigated world events for their own good. In other words who are the most powerful people on earth? One that’s playing around with other people influencing world events all over the globe.”
         “Yap,” Major Taklin nodded.
         “They should and they must. They are.”
         “CIA, FBI, Bilderberg over there in US, . . . “
         “And NBI, Brown Shirts, RSM and all that, their counterparts right here,” he added.
         “Need to say more!”
         Taklin choked.
         “And you’re bonafide officer Major. The wolf tattooed with RSM logo on your back tells it all  . . . .”
         The captive officer remained speechless relegated captive audience.
         “And the bottom line of it all officer is – truth ending as first casualty and subsequently; people, the most important economic resource sacrificed in the process. We, the people, the government vowed to serve and protect .. . .”
         “Your dreaded organization, well organized are spread around in the country.”
         “The farther you’re spread the merrier isn’t it?”
         The captive military officer felt cold anticipating  the next question.
         “Can afford even disturbing innocent people and leaders in our Plenum . . . .”
         “Killing them at will. Either salvaging those not here or wiping them out from the face of  the earth through extra-judicial delivery of injustice.”
         “Unfortunately you either win some and lose some in war. Isn’t it Major?”
         Long pause. There was deafening silence as two men held Major Taklin’s arm. Let him stand.
          “And now your prize for having been an enemy of the people would be delivered later together with your men. Nothing personal here gentlemen,” the interrogator ended.
            “That’s what you get gentlemen when you are against your own people,” he addressed the remaining captured  military men stunned! You must be as intelligent  and brave as your  Major. Whatever happened to you  guys can even afford disrupting our Plenum killing as many people even innocent ones in attendance here. “
         “What a disservice you are giving to ordinary people  . . . .“
         The arrested visitors were all still  speechless their eyes remained blindfolded but restored sanity when Maj. De la Rosa was rejoined back to them.
         “Sorry . . . .” was all they heard from the Major.
         “I’m done questioning the Major earlier. That applies to all of you too. Same my verdict to him for you!” They were stunned.
         It’s was the last words they heard before the rebels herded them to a prison cell.  Begging and supplication  from some of the captors were heard  all over. But not for long  however as staccato sounds of  armalites filled the air forever clipping their  wailing and crying.
         The cross-examination was loud and clear. The final verdict swift and tells it all...
. . . . . . . . .

         Reunited with Liza outside, he was met with staccato sounds of M-16 all over and the shrill noise of “hapon, hapon, hapon” from their embattled comrades. There was little time left for cover. As each helicopter swarm like bee all over  the area hail of bullets  unleashed  everywhere, they were susceptible easy  turkey shot  like practice target.. Their nipa hut was easily consumed by fire as soon as they jumped for cover and safety. In few more minutes, the area turned into a raging inferno leaving them unaided from the swift air attack by the government troopers. 
         And no way they could contain the fire.  It’s only by land they could give a run against marauding peace breakers. The sloping terrain didn’t  hamper Ka Emir bringing Liza and the rest to safety. Ka Emir could probably managed the enemies coming in through the thick foliage taking care one or two of their strikers.  Coming back carrying his top prize bazooka recovered from one of his encounter against the military, he secured himself by the base of huge acacia tree.
         Throwing first a spit to the ground invoking good luck and uttering “Ave Maria Purisima, consecado con si vida, he geared himself one big battle in his life.  Suddenly a Sikorsky came hovering closer to the ground, pressing the pin off the big bang exploded into the air sending a huge artillery zooming directly hitting the helicopter. It exploded throwing its main trunk into the air. The propeller scattered into bits and pieces dropping straight to the grass flat.
         It was a costly attack, the two other pilots thought seeing one of them beaten to death by the rebels. Ka Aris remain glued on the acacia tree not shaken by the threat of the two others.  He has to go for broke if need be having seen the damage done to his people.
         “All is either winning  or losing in war depending on luck. Fortunately, the charm is with us today as we are the willing host you guys disturbed, ”he uttered.
         He can’t take chances. He doesn’t care if he would die, the struggle would still continue anyway ad infinitum until National struggle for Democracy is achieved.
         Meanwhile, the second helicopter was flying swiftly and was coming seemingly to inflict some more damage. Swooping down coming from behind it blew makeshift nipa huts into pieces. Dead bodies of casualties littering all over .The sight was nasty.
         It unleashed rains of bullets anew against the brave warrior hitting Ka Emir’s left arm blood oozing profusely.  Ka Liza came to the rescue banding the injured portion.  The pilot laugh at the top of his lungs seeing Ka Aris coming out in the open dropped to the ground shirt drenched red with blood. But it proved to be his last laugh as it exploded into the thin air from the succeeding sniping of Ka Aris. He whistled seeing the second helicopter dropping flat to the ground like marshmallow its spade disintegrating, fuselage thrown in other direction, the rest of the parts breaking into bits and pieces.
         The third finally defied code of conduct in war abandoning the attack  without any official advice from his superior. Must be what his instinct dictated him or suffer similar fate.  It’s the most prudent act he could decide on or he would be turned into ashes the way his two-pilots suffered from the hands of rebels.
. . . . . . . . . . .

         All was silence in the battlefield. Common graves were teeming with dead bodies in their tattered uniforms. Burial ground of fatalities of their comrades were separated with huge cross planted on top soil  as sign of respect to their fallen warriors. The military casualties were many. Among them were those of Major Taklin men who were held captive earlier. Included among those  buried was Major dela Rosa himself face completely bloody mess, military uniform drenched with blood. His body bore  many shrapnels piercing just everywhere. Who would survive given that fate. Ka Emir and his men must have been too angry that they poured in bullets what with the devastation and atrocities committed against  his people by the military men. Sad indeed.
         It was such terrible fate   Maj. De la Rosa  suffered  at Mt. Sungcal or so people might have thought.

. . . . . . . . .

         The incident was tough and  infernal. But what could he do the country is at war against rebels. His chosen career shoved him into that hellish predicament realizing now that  death is undeniably  bridesmaid of any military in the field. This as the man gathered  thoughts reclaiming his identity. Except  his unusual face, he felt  light  all over. This as bulletproof vest was dislodged from his chest.

         He silently prayed as soon as he reclaimed his sanity but before he could say ‘Amen!’ a feminine voice disrupted him.
         “Good morning Major. Been waiting here. Listen up you have still ten minutes before we would exit you from Mt. Sungcal. We want to be sure you’re out and freed before 4:00 AM dawn. Time check is 3:00 AM.”
         “Where are the rest of my companion?” he asked mustering enough strength and courage to stand. It’s early dawn. The valium taken must have been well timed he would arise on time just before the sun rises.
         “You’re all alone left Major. Don’t worry we buried separately your dead people,” an amazon standing by uttered while extending bunch of dogtag nameplates.
         “The injured but able ones, set free to be reunited back with their family,” said adding the pretty Amazona.
         “Thanks,” is all he could utter but full of meaning
         He was elated learning turn of event. Nothing he could do there as he was merely doing his job. He now realized how tough the job had been losing many of his men ironically buried with respect as token of courtesy by their perceived enemies.  No need to cry on spilled milk.
          “Bless their souls and make them whiter than snow,” he mumbled.
         “No more  questions please. Just do as commanded. Don’t take off prosthetic on your face until you reach the destination. But you can saw yourself on the mirror if you wish.”
         “Ka Aris!”, the man was stunned seeing  his reflection from the mirror.
         “That’s your identity you should not dropped until you’re out,” the lady Amazon cleared.
         “What a journey it has been!” he uttered  learning the great loss suffered.  Praying for forgiveness whatever happened was all he could muster for the moment. This he reminisced as if  waking up from long and deep slumber in the forest his eyes could see clearly the fresh environment around hearing sweet chirping of birds merrily singing welcoming another day. He sighed deep bated breath learning he was alive. In his chest was a folded Manila brown envelop. Inside  were two items – a cellphone, flashlight and a small receptacle with    needles inside.
 “This is it!” The note wrote. “You can have one Needle; the other mine. Give to me back when able ASAP  with its leather jacket please. 443 “ he read the number coded signature  corresponding to first letter initial of the sender of an alphabet revealed  who the sender was.
         Playing back on cue the footage of the cellphone he saw very familiar flashback of the past. Two women  bandana  hiding their identity were seen drawing out the coffin of his father. The procedure was fast and Major de la Rosa played it back all over again and as slowmo revealed their bandana taken out – the two women were that of Illa Crispe and Manang Elsa, her mother showing a customized needle taken out from the cranium of his father in their family’s mausoleum in  cemetery.
Hurriedly comparing it with those in his possession, they were not only similar but identical. Who must be it to determine the owner, he took one from the vial and inserted to the leather jacket he had.
         “Perfect!” he enthused giving him benefits of doubt.
         “But who could have done it?” the question remaining in his mind.
         Seeing her mother and Mang Illa Crispe convinced him all the more that battle line had been drawn only he was on the other side. Must be the reason why both mothers did not drag him into the issue.
         “Your done! Let’s go,” the guide commanded.
         “This way,” the two others directed him to an opening of a cave that would carry them to the other side of the mountain.
         They moved fast no talking except with the lady amazon continuing her instruction.
         “Different men would take from the mouth of Mt. Sungcal,” the captive was taken aback.
         “Whistle. No flashlight please unless you invite suspicion along the trails.”
         “Leave your red scarf on your neck. That’s your gate pass to freedom. And when all is done you can catch up a plane for Manila. Your plane ticket is in your jacket with your new name, IDs and other identification cards and documents. You can take off your wig by then. Save your prosthetic when your finally home.”
         “Goodbye and good luck Major,” the familiar young guy told thought Taklin would not recognized him.
         “And save my regards to him . . . friend!” the lady last word to him.
         The Major  nodded. glancing back at Mt. Sungcal for the last time heading towards back to Cagayan de Oro for Manila before finally  home at long last.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Chapter 29 - Attack Mode

Chapter 29
Attack Mode

     As if every second was connected to his heartbeat, Major Taklin moved very fast but calculated each and every steps of the way. The nearer they go, the faster the beating. Taking a deep bated breath, he briefly paused and took cover with his two remaining men under thick foliage through which they could see the panoramic view of an imposing Mt. Sungcal.
           “Waterfalls, waterfalls, waterfalls ” he uttered to himself while reviewing the perimeter of the target through his telescope.
          “There,” he said, seeing the gentle waterfalls gliding swiftly down into deep bushes underneath whose natural beauty evoke feeling of awe and enchantment. Guarding the façade are four armed rebels wearing camouflaged seven colors military uniform carrying telescopic carbine. And below along the slope were several others; two were playing chess and all the rest on lookout for possible intruders around.
          “That’s where we intend to zero in,” he said to Sgts. Robles and Marquez who took their turn viewing the dangerous target.
           Recalling what the ten year old boy said earlier, “Now you can make my day,” Taklin declared. He was damn right of the focus unless the computation of perimeter was wrong. Maybe, the first serving of the menu would be remiss of the target but definitely, not the second let alone, the third.
          “This is the day to destroy  and drive unwelcome visitors of  the mountain away. Never mind if we would disturb the spirits of anitos’ dwelling and protecting that sacred mountain. We would  probably be disturbing their silence. The anitos would understand us why not we helping restored their domicile back to them away from the grip of unwanted and dangerous temporary boarders,” he said in jest.
          “Give me three fried chicken twenty four by twenty nine degrees heat,” he radioed Lieutenant Benjamin in-charge of the field artillery battalion ten kilometers away from enemy line. Soon, three huge deafening  explosion with Boybaracks manning the artillery came rushing by in sweeping cycles flying cutting the skylines felling trees as they hit the ground revealing great damage of rebels camp sending hapless rebels  scampering for cover from the unrelenting succeeding outburst of 105 millimeter diameter Howitzer artillery mortar.
          “There,” the first shot finally unleashed hitting the mark, Maj. Taklin might have exclaimed seeing the rebels helplessly in panic running wild berserk like ants looking for cover from the blitzkrieg attack downstream. Seeing the rebels dropping to the ground dead perks him up wasting no  time inflicting some more damage.
          “Planting rice,” he commanded his artillery men through his radio. Soon again combined artillery attack from 89 mm and 91 mm in diameter mortars dropped all over the target hitting seemingly one after the other resulting to numerous casualties. No way the rebels could retaliate given the far distance of the field artillery battalion from their location. The attack was indeed very costly and lopsided causing severe damage among the hapless rebels. One was overheard griping in vernacular ‘Walay canyonan, walay bazookahay’ desperately running away from the target saving his dear life.
          While they were on the big kill, Major de la Rosa knew that they were just barely scratching the surface starting their offensive and anything can happen depending on whose cause is lucky.
Conquering Mt. Sungcal would be an icing of the cake. Unless they have hoisted Philippine flag over it, it’s still immaterial and inconclusive claiming they could safely bring home the bacon. For instance he is aware that those killed outside the mouth of the tunnel are merely forward observers of the rebels probably representing an excess of the rebels’ strength whose great majority were spread everywhere notably inside the bunker. That’s giving them great challenge in penetrating the controversial hideout and it would be the next thing they have to do as soon as the MG 150 would be hovering on the air providing them air cover and spearheading an air attack. The arrival of additional combatants would be the start of ground attack. By then, the simultaneous approach would facilitate their victory faster.
          “But that is probably easier said than done,” Taklin thought.
          “The ground attack is most likely more of the advantage for the reds being hoss and in complete control of the terrain of the area.”
           He was right. Penetrating the enemy location even after the smoke cleared is just like going into the proverbial eye of the needle.
          “But if this is the bridge we have to cross now,  then be as it may.” As tacitly agreed between him and Commanding Officer, the four routes towards the bunker would be exploited from the northeast to southwest, western portion to southern practically swarming the tunnel as planned. Unfortunately, as has been averred in the past, guerilla warfare played on the ground would in the end be on the rebels’ favor the way Vietcong overwhelmed the Americans last Vietnam War.
          Reaching the base of the cave, Major de la Rosa heaved a sigh of deep bated breath anyway. For the first time, he got nosebleeds feeling the heat and thinking of his family back home.
          “What if he would be brought home in casket too,” the thought playing on his mind.
“Good,” he answered himself.
“But what if only it is his dog tag left, his body maybe  charred  beyond recognition or left rotting in the forest,” an ugly sight further pops out.
. . . . . . . . . . .

          “The ten year old boy seemingly was damn right,” Taklin recalled. It’s just like scaling two more additional Mt. Sungcal wiping out the reds on the road, trees and along the slope. This he felt as the heat of the war was on.
          True enough, the snipers had their day full hitting the military combatants one after the other in the counter-attack that ensued. Aggravating their entry were numerous traps, landmines buried in many strategic places killing sizeable armies, maiming some and worst, blowing many others into bits and pieces beyond recognition rendering their dead bodies bloody mess. The unfortunate ones died eating poisonous fruits, tropical ones like mangoes, guavas injected with poison same for those who were unable to control their thirst sipping water laced with poison by the spring. Good that reinforcement just arrived on time providing the necessary cover and support. What would have been a winning rally by the reds gradually turned to the armies’ favor. How could they sustain their strength anyway when they were practically at the mercy of military gunship inflicting severe damage through its violent offensive spree downstream?
          By Taklin’s rough count, more than hundred reds were probably dead some  their bodies littered on the ground. Fine, but this was made possible from military attack down low. Giving the coup ‘d grace is what he is sent for, the notion now occupying his mind.
          “Where are the rest?”
          “They are definitely holed in the bunker,” he thought after the firing halted giving them fleeting glimpse of the devastated surroundings.
          “Now go . . . .” the command from the base Camp said on his handset giving him the signal.
Wearing gasmasks, Major de la Rosa heaving sigh of deep bated breath threw poisonous hand grenade inside the bunker as if announcing their entry and business of going there  He waited for any reds coughing to death but there was none. After the smoke cleared, what meets them were Immovable Feast on their eyes: ammunition laboratories, sophisticated facilities, software, laptop and all that, conference room complete with audio visuals, a big generator, library and makeshift war room. On the left wing was a huge storage on which ‘Department of Health’  was posted revealing tons of rice, canned goods, medicine supplies and kitchen utensils and other stuff.
          “Excellent camp here with all facilities,” the Major noted. But what stand out was there was no exit except for the window overlooking pasture land down below where hundreds of heads of cows thriving on feedlot securely fenced by barbed wires was seen. Farther down on the distant horizon were nipa huts and an artillery range where field artillery battalion unleashed earlier their fury. This what Major de la Rosa and his men  passed through earlier towards  their entry to Mt. Sungcal. No indication of life there. No semblance of trade and industry as usual nothing resembling life whatsoever.
          The area was familiar with Taklin. It was the same territory he  entered twice, in both cases managed to come back alive. This time not sure though depending if  chance is on his side what with their entrance sealed with iron bars.
          Taking this cue from Lt. Colonel Lim in the War Room, Sgts. Robles, Marquez and him leading the pack of the advanced troopers finally made their move lest might  suffer reversal of fortune. Walking further, they reached a subterranean blue lagoon and feels that it’s their only way out for freedom in so far as the main entrance was sealed already with iron bars.
          As if facing the blind wall, Major de la Rosa fidgeted two of his men to prepare swimming across the underground river and to find out what they got inside. As there are no sunlight silhouetting the bunker, the water dark only the splash and their echo heard frolicking in the foam.
          “That fast!”
          Setting the tone of his offensive, Major de la Rosa sent two of his men swimming across the underground river to find out what they got inside. As they are in a bunker with no sunlight, the water only flickered from the reflection of waterproof flashlight used by the divers.
          “We’ll manage. Wait we’ll be right back as soon as we would be in,” Sgt. Robles uttered before diving into the water from the instruction of Major dela Rosa. Those left were  stupefied catching their breath waiting for the feedback. But none.
          Three, five, ten and thirty minutes passed there were no indication whatsoever of life from them.
          “Whatever happened to them that they were not able to send words back to us!” Major Taklin noted unease.
          “Must have been hooked on treasures they might have discovered inside,” he said in jest obviously covering up the reality – real danger – over  there.
          “But that’s what not they were sent for rather to see the area and ferret out whatever vital information there is.”
          The other story far real seeped into his consciousness and this one made him sick.
          “Must have been also held captive by rebels.. . . Quiet a possibility considering their hideout they are in,” the vicious cycle of insecurity feeding the group’s impatience growing and courage cankering but whatever confidence left on their hearts. To give him benefits of his doubt he sends anew third serving three of his men for follow-up mission.  As in the first, nothing was heard from the second and now third. All is left was himself and his few remaining men. And there’s no other choice but to join the fun.
           Whatever happens indeed why in the world not one  returned? There were even no gunshots heard only silence they way they left earlier. The answer was seen as their flashlights spotted fresh  blood mixing with water all over coming out from the other side of the bunker! Major dela Rosa almost vomited what he saw.
          Wanting to probe whatever is inside on the other end; he fidgeted his remaining men to prepare. And the only way is swimming on the blue lagoon as it is the only way going there. The rest were strategically on the ground their arms cock-ready for any eventualities.
          “Negative,” Sgt. Robles promptly answered back to Major de la Rosa reaching the other side. But it was the last word he heard as the receiver went off.
           “Seems to me we’re heading on to  the big surprise of our lives,” he said to himself.
          “Bring it on baby, ” he said in jest.
          “This is it!” he uttered in disbelief..
          The heat is on as Maj. Taklin knows they’re caught in ”No Exit!” dilemma. And now the last straw – he and his few men remaining.
          “No way a person survives after three minutes breathing or their lungs exploded while underwater,” his conservative synthesis. Half men of his company were on guard this time and ready to return firing when provoked and upon slightest instruction.
          But “Negative,” he reported to his superior.
          As advised, the MG 150 would be in stationary hovering before the gaping hole directly facing the waterfalls covering the entrance of the tunnel. Bad luck. The red’s retaliation was on time. The Sikorsky military gunship was blown away anew its fragments easily disintegrating into the air, its main trunk and propeller dropped straight to the ground washed away by strong currents of waterfalls down into the circuitous del Carmen river noted of pythons and deadly man-eating crocodiles. And before his two eyes could close for prayer lo the two lifeless bodies of Sgts. Robles and Marquez gradually sliding down carried by flowing waterfalls. On their forehead were marks of  identical holes most likely complimented by the rebels sending home the message specifically their fate how far they would go proceeding with their intrusion on the other end of the bunker. Soon the dead bodies blood protruding from the forehead followed the current of water one after the other down swiftly catching the destroyed MG 150 barred by huge lumber by the river.
          Instantly, his radio sent a signal. “Congratulation Officer you just made my day. Welcome aboard!”
          “You are probably requesting us to do our favor like what we did to the fate of your two sergeants and some members of your platoon.”
          “But if you wish, again you still have enough time to make up your mind. . . . . to save your own soul.”
          “As your resilience might dictate you, go ahead further. You might be even able to get us as you already did with our  fallen comrades. Thanks for the compliment of shedding their blood of this our hallowed ground.  By all means, let us continue this hostility and let’s see who make it at the end of day. . . .” said the voice more resolved defending the cause of the movement.
          “If you think you can conquer this camp and leaving this place alive Major. Think again! You can, why not. That if you’re too good outsmarting us. But no way, you and all of your men are now caught in fix.... in a trap no less!”. Voice off. And then it came back.
          “How hard-headed you pigs are and what a show of arrogance . How short is your memory that no way you could annihilate us. But no way given our impending victory awaiting us. We’ve been there for many decades making our struggle the longest in the world.”
          “And there’s no let up here. That for us long evil persists. You may kill us. That’s fine and no problem there as we are most willing to sacrifice our lives for our cause.”
          “Unfortunately, you can’t unless you could afford to kill many others who would come after us. You could of course by offering better idea. Incidentally, ours is better than yours, don’t you think so? Now if we can’t meet on common ground, let our atrocities continues,” said the familiar voice .
          “Yap, bring them on. All rhetoric here. . . .” Major de la Rosa uttered before the line was off short of saying ‘I’ll be right back!”
          Setting the tone of his offensive, Major de la Rosa all the way decided to sending five of his men swimming across the underground river and find out what they got inside. As they are in a bunker with no sunlight, the water was very dark so waterproof flashlight were given to each advancing party.
          “We’ll just manage. Wait we’ll be right back as soon as we would be in,” Corporal Donasco quipped before plunging themselves into the water leaving Major de la Rosa and the rest catching their breath.
          Three, five, ten and thirty minutes passed there were no indication whatsoever of life from them.
          “Whatever happened to them that they were not able to send words back. Must have been hooked on treasures they might have discovered inside. But that’s what they were sent for rather to clean the area and ferret out whatever vital information there is.
          “Must have been also held captive by the rebels. Quiet a possibility considering that it’s their hideout they are in,” the vicious cycle of insecurity feeding the group’s impatience growing and courage cankering but whatever confidence left of their hearts. To give him benefits of his doubt he sends the second serving  new set of three men for follow-up mission.      
          “Whatever happened indeed why in the world not one  returned?”
          “There were even no gunshots heard only silence they way they left earlier.” The answer was seen as their flashlights spotted fresh  blood mixing with water all over coming out from the other side of the bunker! Major dela Rosa almost vomited what he saw. But there’s no time to lose heart.
          “This is it,” he said to himself fidgeting his remaining men preparing themselves for the final show of force.
          The succeeding event gives the cue what in store for them next.
          From the top of the bunker, the door of iron bars dropped to the ground one after the other sealing their exit. Windows too was locked No use shouting challenging them to go out from their hideout. It would still be their voices re-echoing back to   them. Their only way out - to swim across the channel for freedom . The big catch however is it’s the same route Sgts. Robles and Marquez went in earlier. That if they could manage coming out from the water alive. 

Chapter 28 - Reconnaissance

Chapter 28

     “The Major should never take any chances. Capture the enemies without firing a single shoot if need be,” recalled Taklin as he leads his men in conducting his first reconnaissance work on thick foliage of Mt. Sungcal thought to be haven of rebels. But what he did know was, the 13th Plenum would be held there..
            “Truth or consequence? Nothing there unless you underestimate intelligence network,” he revealed.
            “But that  is in San Tzu’s The Art of War only and might be irrelevant in this initial major mission in the field,” he checked himself while leading his pact of elite forces of scout rangers tasked in clearing Mt. Sungcal and ferreting out whatever vital information from the much-ballyhooed hideout this mountain purports to have.
            The slope itself is winding, its perimeter covered by thick and green forest exactly an apt cover-up of the opening of the bunker. To aggravate the problem, thousand of land mines have been buried deep into the ground manned by hundred of snipers who are cock-ready to press  their trigger to any slightest provocation from any unwanted visitors in the area. Briefing Charlie, his contact and con artist of the group, mine expert rolled into one, he finally paused from the base of the camp roughly five hundred meters away from the enemy location preparing and thinking aloud possible offensive assault later to capture the dreaded Mt. Sungcal.
            “Penetrating and pushing beyond enemy lines into their stronghold would be inviting trouble,” was his valid conclusion. It would definitely come handily having secured  vital information of the area.
            “Have a closer look on the opening, it’s half their way in towards the bunker,” he said offering the telescope to Charlie to gaze. The rest took their turn one after the other relishing on their cherished discovery of the target.
            Delineating the area then plotting and checking with compass of the exact location, he finally called it a day after putting back the binocular securely inside  an encased plastic container hanging by his neck.
            “It’s all what we need men. The rest would follow suit as soon as everything are taken into account in the war room.” Looking on his wrist watch, it’s exactly 1:45 a.m. Leaving them roughly two hours to go out from the enemy’s dangerous lair and save their lives. At least they have to beat the time while luck is still on their side. Arriving Campo Uno, their way out from Esperanza after 3:00 AM would already be the cause of suspicion among the spies along the road planted by the rebels. They did. At exactly 5 AM they were back exactly in the barracks.
. . . . . . . . . . .

            “Good. Just fine for having plotted the right target. I do hope it’s what we’re really after,” Col. Lim, the commanding officer of Alpha Battalion said to Major Taklin de la Rosa and his men recognizing their effort.
            Everybody nodded anticipating for the next move the Major would command.
            “I’d like to make this clear again to everybody. No shooting unless an order is given by me from the headquarter. I want to be sure that we are declaring this war not on empty bunker precisely I sent you all as forward observers.  Now many thanks for bringing the desired statistics – distance and degree of enemy location and all that stuff. You know what I mean. This guerilla warfare, protracted, unconventional war  whatever terms they describe for our struggle, should be an all-out war against the commies. It is indeed quiet intriguing you see learning that there exist sophisticated armory and telecommunication facilities manned by experts inside. Now it’s the time to blow them away into bits and pieces including all commies and their armed combatants in the area.
            The group just listen waiting for the ultimate command when to start the operation. Taklin is on the other hand briefed further the Commanding officer the support his men need in the operation. The dog tags and logistics for issuance their respective families would get in the event they would passed out becoming additional statistics of civil strife. They’re all essentials and like a song sang all over again echoes in the four walls of the war room.
            “Why is there anybody afraid here to die?”
            Long silence.
            “Great at least there are no cowards in our rank. Remember folks in case you forget, death is the bride of any soldier. And we will all pass on that stage. Time will only tell. I’d like to make this clear to avoid anybody being roasted and hanged by the military commission in military tribunal later. No one is allowed to withdraw without a word from the commanding officer. Remember the code of conduct we required you to religiously observe and practice? Mt. Sungcal is definitely an acid test for everybody. Don’t you worry boys Major de la Rosa is always with you. He has been through the rigors of training coupled by an actual test in much military operation. All you have to do is listen to his instructions and mind you we can conquer that critical mountain. Now are there any question?”
            Silence ensued.
            “Good at least I’m happy that there are young men like you willing to protect and die for democracy in this country. God bless you and your family.”
            Bidding adieu goodbye, Taklin and his men hurriedly went out heading towards the barracks. Whatever would happen, God only knows. The psychology of it all alone – killing a fellow Filipino is not peanuts sending shiver down his spine. What could he do, the country is caught in civil strife. Natural activity once you’re used to it, he was told.
            “Killing a fellow Filipino is just like eating rice you know. The hotter the tastier,” he recalls Nong Bal, a retired military officer telling him.
            “No, you’re not killing a Pinoy my dear but a commie, an insect actually. Better dead than red,” he recalled Sgt. Morales, another veteran validating the need to kill and the legality of killing.
            “Just as the commies consider military as Jap or an alien to them so too they are to us. Commies not Filipinos,” the brave Sgt. repeated.
            “You can never trust commies. They’re termites feasting on your living bodies. They deserved to be terminated by all means. That’s precisely our job. What are we in service for paid by Filipinos taxpayers if we cannot fire a single shot to them,” Lt. David’s familiar pick up lines recalled, his buddy in the PMA.
            “Isn’t it that we were sent to PMA in four years what they could   fix things up for others may for the country in a lifetime?” the thought coming back in his mind.
            Nothing indeed is worthwhile than really offering oneself for the country, he thought. Reviewing the details of his war plan, he’s optimistic that he could make it to the target that is; swarm Mt. Sungcal after the smoke cleared from the bombing by field artillery battalion from as far as sixteen kilometers away range. How could the commies survive anyway from the 80 or 91 millimeter mortar or from 185 mm diameter Howitzer artillery bore? Most unlikely, he thought. That excludes the help of military gunship 520 which could practically wipe out those that could be seen from any air attack.
            True enough, after the work well done by Staff 2 Intelligence plan of S3 and S1 Operation order and master list of personnel respectively were completed and would be enforced in due time.
Meanwhile, the rebel’s camp thrives with business as usual industry included. To a mere layman, it is the most unlikely place of the rebels but not when you come closer. Definitely, not to Lt. de la Rosa’s team of seven who cleared the area for military attack.
            His elite team of scout rangers included the lead scout, team leader, radio man, assistant radioman, contact man or an artist of the group and telescout, the eraser of footprints. The contact man does the dirtiest work of all being in charge of penetrating the target area.
            “You can even see people from all walks of life passing to and fro. Everybody is welcome whether you are a military or not as long as you don’t tucked in any side arms. When you do, you would not ever reach your destination. That would be the end of the road for you,” Ka Roy would later share to government representative visiting the area.
            Unfortunately, demarcation line is set by the rebels and no one is allowed to further encroach inside lest you would be blown to pieces away by landmines planted along the road. The area actually used to be a Resettlement area during Magsaysay’s time. Ironically, many of those resettled were members of Hukbalahaps who having seen Magsaysay’s sincerity abandoned their armed struggle and volunteered as new partners in restoring peace and order that part of the country. That was way back then characterizing the pioneer settlers who first inhabited the area. But their contemporaries proved to be different, ruthless forcing majority of settlers away from the periphery of Mt. Sungcal leaving the area for fear of being squeezed in the crossfire. Thus what once a thriving special community project with multipurpose buildings and other amenities like infrastructure projects were transformed into white elephants wasting away millions of pesos invested in the end.
            How and why it was overtaken by rebels and converted into their camp was understandable to any settler. Among others, it nestled in a very strategic place between Surigao del Sur and Bukidnon. Misamis Oriental is on the West. To the East,  is the shortest route for Davao. At the center of this is Mt. Sungcal. It is in effect, the best and strategic place they could give a run to any military attacking the area. It’s no ordinary mountain. Short of fifty feet to become 6,000 feet above sea level, it is one of the tallest mountain in the area. Words circulated around that the tunnel is so big that it could store  eight hundred tons of rice and hundred variety of supplies for yearlong consumption. In sum,  it’s a mountain any true-blooded romantic rebel could not afford to give away to any  government forces.
How could the government sustain anyway the special project  when all properties were lost to the rebels. Tractors, bulldozers, graders and other heavy equipment facilities were either razed to the ground or cannibalized. The chapel was not spared. It was converted into a farm house the rebels would use as venue for forum or negotiation when there are visiting civilians or government representatives around. It’s quiet scary but not when you learn that all these are being ob served to spare civilians from crossfire as you found unknowingly that you are within the rebels camp zone. Once or twice, surveyors from the Department of Natural Resources were all hogtied and treated to sunburns after they were caught surveying the area without any official or tacit approval from the group barring thereafter similar activity.
            “If you’re not with us you are not one with the people.  When you are a government employee chances are you are either an undercover agent sent to this place or an ordinary employee radiating dishing out social services. Therefore, you have to see us first to give you clearance of movement, a rule enforced to any visitors by the rebels,” people would learn the basic rule of the forest.
            How about the local officials? Naturally, they abide and respect the law of the rebels. Some would say they constitute  mass base. It’s either you are with us or not, he would later learn from Ka Roy. The other alternative of course is when you would entertain them during special occasion when you would force yourself to dance to the tune of staccato and rattling armalites hitting your feet, a barangay captain would later complain in jest. It’s what a media man would call as shadow revolutionary government implying among others that either all or majority of local officials are rebels or have left-leaning tendencies. Those who don’t identify their cause with them either stay away from the barrio leaving the command of responsibility to the rebels. As a result, many barangays covered by them become idle and abandoned. But the most uncomfortable of all experience is when you sleep with door and window open until daylight. What for? To allow the host to come over anytime in the evening to talk with you of your reason  visiting the area, a common practice to their held territories and a revelation to unsuspecting visitors.
            There are only few people doing business in the morning noticeably all members of the underground movement. Where are the rest? They are either in far away mountains or hills on duty and normally come back before sundown. It’s what Marcos would later claim as armed combatants in the evening and farmers in the morning. Those staying at the base of the mountain do familiar house chores. Surprisingly, the children are sporting long armed barrel and would be quick in asking credentials from the visitors. And when cleared would either ushered in or take them for a horse ride to an undisclosed places.
            To Major de la Rosa’s knowledge they go inside the bunker like a comet swallowed away by    vast universe unperceived to one’s naked eyes.
            “Others maintain their presence in any strategic houses like any ordinary dwellers only their tucking in sophisticated firearms like telescopic Armalite. So when they find you suspicious, it’s practically very easy to freeze.”
            “ From the access road along towards the base of the camp, no one passes by undetected. Thus, the best way you could do safely is negotiate the area walking without firearms. If the purpose is deliberate like wanting to have an audience with the big boss, the best remedy is to bring along anything bearing white color. A chicken or a dove brought means you are coming for peace.”
“But not coming full packed and in military uniform yet. Go and you’ll never see again daylights,” the Major ended his briefing.
              Such is the first base Taklin and company would go. It would be definitely very bad business. But what could he do. The country is on fire. To aggravate the problem, you’re waging war against an unknown enemy.
            “How could you win when you’re even fighting almost your own shadow, a veteran of military operation complained? It’s worst than the second world war because we really saw the Japanese. But not now in the hinterlands conquering the enemies seem to be shrouded in mystery,”  he would add. Unfortunately, he remains undaunted as ever.
            “That’s only true to people not really committed in eliminating the commies much less those who just enlisted themselves out of the heck of it without sufficient background in military operation such as those high school or college graduates who for economic reasons volunteered to serve the military but could not fire a single shot. Worst still, these are the same people who could easily leapfrogged to higher position at the expense of those better qualified with credible credentials,” thought Taklin.
            The more he is challenged by this development. “If there are no people in uniform like the Reform the Old Society Movement willing to take the challenge, who would care? Then, who suffers most, not the opportunist but the country,”  the head of the initiating team now makes sense to him. Such has been this sentiment and maybe would remain till he dies.
            Vividly recalling his entry in the PMA “I’ll just cross the bridge when I’m already there,” is not put in an acid test.
            True to his calling, finding himself in war zone seems to be the fulfillment of his vision only each minute appears an ordeal. Reviewing his reconnaissance work the other week, the task before him is undoubtedly tall order to accomplish invoking almost a miracle. Praxis of theory learned right now is how he puts it.
            “By foot,” he thought the best way to reach the first base. The access road is definitely passable but not when you are already negotiating the ascent of Mt. Sungcal. Once he remembers a six by six military vehicle turned upside down after passing over hundreds of raw tomatoes spread on the road. The driver unable to read between the lines just passed through only all ten tires were flat from the nails safely encased inside several tomatoes. What follows was the coup ‘d grace of those armies haplessly sandwiched inside. Not leaving any stone unturned, the rebels even burned the vehicle after killing all the armies inside.
            “At least by foot, the probability of reaching the base is great only they have to contend with hundreds of land mines buried into the ground,” his  valid contention.
Recalling Mc Arthur mines killing Capt. Estrada’s friends instantly induced him to sweat.
            “What if one among those buried is similar land mine ending the tragedy of Capt. Estrada’s exploit. And worst still, what if all buried landmines were as big or even bigger than Mc Arthur’s tank.
            “What an end it would be for his budding military career.”
            Reviewing one by one required precautions, he convinced himself they could reach the base by all means. By then he could contact Maj. Lim for both air and ground attack later from behind.
            “Don’t fire a single shot,” he remembers again the Major’s advice.
            “No short-cutting of trailers and access road, don’t chase a decoy. Don’t sit on a makeshift chairs and stalls. Don’t cook on anybody’s dirty kitchen and many other similar ‘Thou shall not precautions’ linger at the back of his mind as they were halfway of the target. And yes watch your steps on vines lying across the road, they could caught you off guard and easily hook you to death. Don’t forget too tall trees covered with shrubs, they’re homes of snipers. Every precaution was considered as if on the tip of his fingers. Now the final question is what if any of his man blunders? Then plan B follows by safely covering and fire when under attack. Survival in other words. Again even if provoked, no chasing of enemies. That’s the easiest way to fall into their trap and needs a miracle to save your neck getting out from.
            So far Taklin has no question on the conduct of the operation. They’re all basic need and indispensable. Save for one, waiting for the Commanding Officer’s advice when to fire the first shot. This is not in other words war of two different nations but rather of people of the same race, creed and color living in the same nation. Maybe the Major is kidding leaving him any initiative to exploit. What if the rebels intercept or cut their communication lines and or if fired upon by the rebels. It’s still the first shot only coming from the other party. That’s the problem with military institution, there not much room for elbowing as if the civil strife going on is theatrical presentation where the director always calls the shot.
            “That’s why I would forever stay with the RSM to help clear this nagging issue,” he kept repeating himself. For the first time, his commitment to the movement grows by leaps and bounds and declared that he would wholeheartedly submit his loyalty and commitment to the cause of the group – help wiping out the commies from the face of the country.
            “That’s why you’re in, a bonafide Wolf!” reminded himself.
            Major de la Rosa was practically engrossed in his reflection before an alert from Charlie brought him back to reality.
            “See the smoke that is visible  over there,” said Charlie to Taklin nodding.
            “Seems very suspecting from the looks of it.”
            “Wait!” Taklin commanded his men to drop on the ground as he swiftly went towards the house nearby. Getting nearer, silence was deafening save for chickens loitering around. In spur of a moment two dogs suddenly came out running towards him. He was about to shot remembering the rule given by Major. He was right, it might invite suspicion from nearby residents. Taking out his hunting knife, he lashed the bigger one slitting its neck. The thrust was fatal as the hapless canine dropped to the ground tail wagging gasping for his last breath. The other went back to the house his tail folded down in between his legs. From the window stood an old man his gray hair solidly hanging touching the back of his tattered white shirt unperturbed of the sight of his dog lying dead on the ground its blood spurting out to the hallowed ground. Taklin could only managed to swallow his saliva seeing Mang Tomas looking at him realizing the gravity of offense he committed against the old man.
            “Sorry . . . . Are you the only one in here,” Taklin said wiping the blooded hunting knife with cogon grass.
            “Yes. You must be a military,” said an old man in fine hoarse voice his receding hairline becoming pronounced.
            “Any business doing in this very remote place from the town?”
            “I’ve been farming for the past twenty long years. My wife been dead and buried here. I’ve got five children. The four living with their respective families in lowlands. The youngest Ador, in the movement. That’s what he likes. I haven’t seen him since he joined the rebels five years ago. And I don’t know either if he’s still alive or dead. I don’t care it’s his business.”
            “Are you not informed that civilians are required to leave this place for the military operation going on.”
            “You’re right. Unfortunately, I don’t care being switched by the on-going war. You can do what you want. But I don’t want to leave this place. It’s been my forefathers ancestral land and I will continue protecting this till I die. Leaving this place is already tantamount to betrayal accruing us a curse from them.”
            After asking pardon, he hurriedly withdraws with his men back to their feet negotiating Mt. Sungcal.
            “Careful. The road over there is dangerous,” Mang Tomas blared.
            “You’re one of your kind and sorry for killing your dog again,” Taklin thought of Mang Tomas representing the voices of majority hungering for peace in the country.
            “You might not understand the moral persuasion of our mission but I know your children’s children will in the end. We have you see to kill to stop the killing to set peace free,” Taklin thought as he and his men swiftly moved towards their target.
             And before they knew it, hail of bullets were sprayed towards them coming from both directions of an access road killing two of his men instantly.
            “Take cover!” he shouted.
             “My God why did I not learn that Mang Tomas dogs’ bark was a potent of doom,” he realized reminding himself not to commit the same mistake again.
            “No wonder that an old man didn’t mind him killing the other dog.”
            Exchange of gunshots ensued unfortunately, the rebels already retreated from the area before Taklin and his men could consume half of their ammunitions. After the flames of smoke cleared Taklin could only whistle from the tragedy they met. From his count four were dead leaving him two supportive men – assistant radioman and telescout. It was no doubt a costly mistake specially the land mines blowing right before their faces. The time was short barely fifteen minutes but it was almost hell, a harrowing experience to boot.
            “Where did we blunder?” he said groping for an answer in the dark. Bingo, his mouth agape recalling Mang Tomas.
            “Treat every civilian as your enemy,” he uttered to himself making sure that it becomes a permanent law of his military operation from now on.
            Calling his Superior  back in the barracks he was told to proceed as planned. He would take care the casualties right away by that time they would have probably reached the base of their target.
            “By all means Major  de la Rosa proceed,” he was advised.
            “Yes I will only after I save the four fallen men carried on the stretcher back to an appropriate place their respective families would recover later. At least their families would see that their husbands really died in combat and that we have enough courtesy of bringing them home even inside their caskets for decent burial,” his subconscious was telling him.
            The ascent continued charting the unknown world of Mt. Sungcal this time doubly cautious of every move.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

            Meanwhile, in the barracks Major de la Rosa prepared everything he needs for the final assault and capture of Sta. Maria. Taklin has been through several skirmishes delivering desired blows engaging in killing spree against the rebels but this one he is yet to show that he’s got another remaining ace down inside his sleeve.
            “Everybody should not leave any stones unturned. Kill all the termites. They deserve to get the necessary cure for their disease. But don’t overkill. Remember Protocol II of the Geneva Convention. We have to fight but see to it things are delivered clean. If not at least there’s semblance of order,” he would recall the final briefing of Lt. Col. Lim tasked by Malacañang to call the shots.
            In his roughly nine years in military operation, there were not much damage he could recall that did not encourage him all the more to strive just like basketball he would remember. An instance was when they were overran by battalion-size NPAs patrolling the area. It was a very gross mistake and probably luck was not on their side. So much bloodshed, too many casualties on their side in a very brutal manner yet. An NPA even shout out loud in jubilation after stabbing the face of the Commanding Officer held captive piercing repeatedly. The rebels must have been really gaining members as he was told that young boys and girls in their early teens were joining the group earlier staging that midday ambush. The rest of this experience was blurred by the excessive sufferings his men experienced. 
            “Sometimes you lose, sometimes we win. That’s all there is in war like Chinese philosophy of yin-yang.”
            “ We must win this big war this time,” he thought.
            And why not considering all the basic support extended to them from logistics to personnel and related basic needs. What could they ask for more. There is altogether reserve plane for airlifting any casualties and to deliver ammunition in the event they would run out of bullets.
. . . . . . . . .

            Events happened too swiftly. There was not much fun  in fact that airplanes swooped down for the final reconnaissance of Mt. Sungcal. Few days later Major de la Rosa and his men were on the footsteps of the mountain after penetrating unmolested surprising him and his men how the scaling was done without much effort and danger, and experience unexpected in making the climb.
            “Must have been wrong target,” he thought as he start mobilizing his men.
             “But no and never,” he insisted. His intelligence network do not err at least that what he learns from the past. How could they fail in clearing the area when so far they have not experienced failure.
            “Hope this assault would be completed all the way capturing this mysterious mountain without firing any single shoot. But that is easier said than one read in Art of War,” the idea playing on his mind.
            “Are you sure we’re on the right target?” Maj. de la Rosa probed on Corporal Nestor Ravelo on his side wanting to be sure about it.
            “Unless out intelligence network erred,” the Corporal readily answered.
            “Excellent. At least our feeling is mutual. But you know it’s not bad thinking aloud. Probably we’re close on the target if not we’re into it,” The Major said.
            The  surrounding is silent save for sustained sounds of crickets providing musical background as the maneuver continues.
            “Will  conquer this mysterious mountain. I do hope we would not destroy unseen creatures,” Major de la Rosa initially said oozing with confidence.
            “We would. Why not. But later when killing starts,” Major Taklin cleared anew boosting the spirit of his men.
            Soon they started scaling the dangerous and winding curves passing through several temporary staircases.
            “That’s where we might have the real trouble we could bargain for,” Major de la Rosa thought.
            “But God forbid,” he readily invoked to avert possible disaster.
            Vigilance were all written all over the faces of each one he commanded his men to get ready in penetrating the cave.. After clearing the area by three of his men, he headed his advance party to a place of wonder sending him evoking awe and enchantment. Must have been really the place of fairies and elves. The underground river barred by thick covering tell them that they’re only up there unless they have to swim to see what is really behind. Cueing his flashlight on, it dawned to Maj. de la Rosa that they were entering dangerous place.
            “What if the rebels would overran his men outside and charge them outright against the mysterious  waters,” the notion taking him aback. A tragedy indeed. And what if hundreds of rebels would swoop over them coming out from the water. Another tragedy. Or what if they would be drown to death inside the cave.
            “Who knows really if Mt.Sungcal is powered and controlled by push buttons that one push would already means their capture and death inside the cave,” an unsolicited idea giving him chilling effect.
            And while immersed in his battle plan, Sgt. Robles fidgeted him to come nearer and get the radio.
             “Major traffic here. . . “ Sgt. Robles, his surviving telescout, invited his attention fidgeting him to get the Kenwood radio handset.
            “Someone, on the line. . . . “ the Sgt. Said.
            Hurriedly, Taklin took the receiver.
            “Major de la Rosa welcome aboard! Be my guest. . . . “
            “Enjoy and have fun with your visit here!” the voice told before he could speak.
            “ But if I were you, I would rather join our nationalist struggle for democracy. We might have not all the logistics you enjoy to survive. Guns, gold and all economic resources what have you – all yours. Unfortunately, you miss one important resource whose absence left all your resources to smithereens. People – no less, the most coveted resource and prize of this struggle. Add your Armed Forces of the Philippines gradually breaking into pieces doom to disintegrate let alone killing each other as witnessed in several coup d etat . . . .”
            “That’s what you just think,” Major de la Rosa reminded himself as the voice in the radio continues.
            “That’s what you got because of greed and hungry for power you guys securing the Grand Apo ruling over us in perpetuity. A coveted prize awaits you is in order here. That if you ended as victors not victims otherwise, the trophy would still be to us. Thanks for your courtesy coming over to receive it. We’ll make your day,” off the radio before it comes back.
            “My deal to you – take it or leave. You have one move left as we have already stalemated you.”
            “Got my message! You’re already in a fix!”
            The Major remained speechless not sure his feeling if it is usual deception to reconsider his impending military operation. But no, they are right there in their camp.
            “ If you can’t, you have still time to go back to the barracks and save yourself and your men’s lives and most importantly, your family. We advertently spare your life earlier to do that favor for them. You’re still too young to die . . . . And you could be man enough.”
            The line was instantly cut off before Taklin could answer. The message to Taklin was crystal-clear only the caller was merely a ten year old boy. And kid doesn’t lie. The heat is on!