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Monday, November 12, 2012

Chapter 22 - Exodus

Chapter 22

     M/V Sta. Ana carrying Fr. Driarco, Ka Mario  and Roger from Iloilo to Cagayan de Oro city has been adrift to the sea for the past six hours. From afar the glittering neon lights flicker like colored constellation dotting the skies. Blowing its horn, the luxury liner glided swiftly towards the seaport breaking the dawn and still asleep city of Golden Friendship. From atop the boat, Fr. Driarco could see hundreds of well-wishers including stevedores in their yellow uniform out positioning each other on the concrete pavement. Soon hundreds of people came rushing into the boat as the gangplank was hoisted kissing the concrete seawall. All passengers were already on their feet, the rest queuing up downstairs wanting to set their foot of their destination. Ka Mario led the group followed by Roger, Fr. Driarco and another companion. A van with one way mirror took them in.
            “Welcome to Mindanao. It’s good to have you around Reverend Fr. . . .”
            “I’m Driarco Valderama dela Cruz from Sta. Rita,  Romblon.” the visitor quipped taking out the wig and mustache.
            “Welcome to the group father. Ka Mario radioed me of your predicament and thought that we should come to your rescue.”
            “Many thanks and I really owe my life to your group.”
“Our group from now on Father. What you meet is practically what everybody else in our movement experienced. There are too many others you know like you in the movement you would later learn suffered worst than you had. These gentlemen and concerned ladies would have been additional forces that could have possibly stifle Marcos’ voice. Unfortunately, the muzzle of the gun is such terrifying instrument that could silence their voices forever. Hence, the change of loyalty from the dictatorial Marcos’ run government to people nationalists’ struggle for liberation. It’s their choice. We do follow suit. The rest still caught in the quandary what to do. But we’ve got to move. Time is running out. Marcos men have been on the run rampaging the innocent lives of civilians shooting at will they could see crossing against their path. It’s not the way any civilized nation behave you know. Precisely we have the bill of rights to protect each Filipino his security and freedom unfortunately no less than the president of the country transgressed and abused.”
            Driarco and the rest of the group seated on the backseat remained composed listening Ka Lino’s food for thought while he expertly negotiated difficult road passing through scenic beaches and panoramic towering mountains covered with green forests. Ka Mario once in a while would look back if there are some suspecting vehicles tailing them. But so far none.
            “How  long would  it take us to get there?” Driarco asked.
            “About three hours straight travel,” Ka Lino holding the steering wheel answered.
That means we have still roughly an hour to go, Driarco thought looking on his wristwatch.
            “We’ll be there at exactly seven o’clock in the morning. And another one or two hours would take us to our destination. You need not ask us ‘where?’ Just come and see. Ka Aris would be very glad seeing you joining us in liberating this country from the shackles of tyranny.”
            “Our pleasure,” Fr. Driarco uttered wondering if it is the right answer for the occasion.
Suddenly, the van careened off the road as hail of bullets rained the vehicle.
            Ka Mario’s shout of hapon was late not even able to fire back his M-16. Fr. Driarco was quick to reach for the steering wheel putting the van back on the road speeding off hurriedly.
            “Move fast,” he said realizing Ka Lino was badly hit on his broad sinewy arm blood gushing out profusely.
            “Shit,” Ka Mario blared seeing two Nissan patrol with heavily armed military inside out to finish them off.
            Instinctively, Fr. Driarco gathered enough strength and engages the two vehicles to daredevil fast and furious drive. But the Nissan patrol speeding off  swiftly and by all indications could overtake the blue van.
            “Some more nearer, nearer, nearer,” Ka Mario on the back seat uttered aiming his bazooka towards the speeding military vehicle. They were jolted as the military started raining them with armalites. Ka Mario fired back once in a while reserving his bazooka for the final showdown.
            “Just continue zigzagging your route Father and wait for my words to drive straightway to lure them into coming nearer. That time my bazooka would be ready,” Ka Mario said.
            “We’re on. This is a surprise attack. Be sure to hit them first before they could blow us into oblivion partner,” the priest replied in jest.
            “Now,” Ka Mario shouted learning that they would be trap once they would reach the military post about a kilometer away. Correct timing should be observed to sustain if ever they have to make their last ditch effort  of keeping hope alive.
            Instantly, the good priest drive straightway allowing the first chasing vehicle gather enough speed. Unfortunately, it turn upside down before it could ever gets nearer Fr. Driarco’s van. Ka Mario’s bazooka was no doubt fatal as it hit its mark right exploding the Nissan patrol on the concrete road pavement. Undaunted, the second military vehicle give a chase. Fr. Driarco maneuvered anew his van zigzagging as hails of bullets were sprayed to them.
            “While the four wheels are still complete and air intact we could give a run of their lives, he said setting the tone of their next target. Battle of wits, that what probably the driver of the military vehicle thought as he also zigzag its route. Aiming for the second shot, Ka Mario unleashed the fury of his bazooka but it did not hit the target felling a coconut trees instead.
            “Good heavens,” Fr. Driarco thought seeing from afar the road barrier set by the military. Hid heart further sank seeing too from the front mirror the second military vehicle fast approaching muzzle of their armalites protruding from the window out for the retaliation and the final application of their brutal force against them who earlier killed their friends in the profession. Suddenly, a counter ambush staged by the rebels turned the trend of the occasion anew the other way around caught the second chasing military vehicle practically off-guard blowing away its front tires all passengers killed inside as it leaped through deep ravine. Taking the cue, Fr. Driarco swiftly executed a U-turn speeding away back the pursuing counter offensive attack occur from those guarding the military outpost. Reaching the ambushers location, they hurriedly leaped from the van to the ground. Ka Lino limping taking the needed cover. Roger, Fr. Driarco and Ka Mario followed a man who later they learned as Ka Aris, the leader of the group. The ground attack continues as Fr. Driarco and company started withdrawing from the area.
            A registered nurse applied the first aid on Ka Lino and as soon as bandaging of his destroyed right arm was over and dextrose properly installed followed Fr. Driarco’s group catching them half way towards the rebel’s camp. No fatalities featured from the rebels camp except some injured from the counter attack by the military enforcement group. But it proved to be their last hurrah and did not show any semblance of good planning or was Fr. Driarco and company were merely given second chance to make up their mind that fighting against duly instituted authority like the government  is just like courting suicide.
            “Good we reached this place Father alive. I thought it was the end when the first military vehicles almost overran us. How bad our luck would have been have we passed out. Imagine leaving Sta. Rita alive only to be dead and buried here in Mindanao. Seem to be this is not an Island of Promise as has been drummed up in my history class but island of fear,” Roger shared while taking breakfast.
            “Dead yes. Buried, no. It’s not the practice of the military of burying their enemies. Throwing them into the sea. Maybe.”
            “And torching them to death the way Nero used the early Christians as torches or most likely as additional fertilizer to communal cemetery.”
            “Tomb of the unknown you mean. What a pity.”
            “That was history,  unprecedented. . ..”
            “Unlike today’s military always abiding the protocol of war  with no less than this country signatory of that Geneva Convention.”
             “No, you don’t. If you die defending your country. Is that not an honorable death. I think it’s worth the price. Never mind if nobody would claim your dead body. God will.”
            “Excuse me but I hope you’re fine now. I’m Ka Aris,” said the leader of the group.
            “Glad to meet you and thanks for the necessary lift otherwise we would have been six feet below the ground,” Fr. Driarco intoned gripping tightly Ka Aris left hand extended to him.
            “If you’re ready now to join us in our struggle against Marcos dictatorship I could formally request the group to gather around and formally accept you giving you a new sobriquet we require for anybody who would be joining us. It is a name you could forever be proud of while you are in the movement.
            “My pleasure,”
            Momentarily, the members together and waited for the words of Ka Aris.
            “Good morning our comrade in arms. We have today a new friends coming all the way from far away marble country blown away by wind of change in this part of the country where great number of our forces are concentrated. He’s a priest but not any ordinary priest who preaches liberation in the pulpit. He is the priest of the people having joined them in their struggle against all forms of injustices. Unfortunately, as averred by your good self and everybody else who joined this movement for a lasting cause there’s no way to break Marcos dictatorship by any individual. Marcos forces are too strong. Think of how he institutionalized the military institution paving the way of militarization of different department of the government leaving not enough breathing space for Juan de la Cruz and worst of willful killing of lives whose voices could have helped silenced the fascist ruler. He and his family has been persecuted. See how ruthless the president is that even a man in sultana is not spared. There are too many of them and I bet you guess where they are now. Either they were dead and or have joined us in the movement. We regret to Fr. Driarco that we have to pluck you out from your parish our hierarchy tells us to come to your rescue. We did at the risk of our own lives. We hope by now you realized that we need each other if we are to free ourselves from this endless web of treachery and fascist rule of Mr. Marcos. We have nothing to lost except the chains of slavery for many years since Martial Law was handed to us. Who says that Filipinos are coward with you and now Fr. Driarco joining us in the movement? My dear friends let’s welcome him the committee decided to address him Kasamang Emir in memory of our brother in arms who zealously fought and died for the freedom of this country.”
            Sustained applause followed until Ka Emir said few words holding on not to go far declaring his commitment to the group he is yet to confirm his loyalty with action while in the movement. If I may die while in the movement so be it, he stressed strengthening the bond of camaraderie ship of the people around. Their help extended to him at the cost of their lives had they were blown away was something he could not forget. This is the kind of commitment we need, a commitment that could definitely destroyed Marcos Martial Law, he went on to emphasize. He beg however that he is yet to keep pace with the blistering step they have undertaken and hope that Abel and Roger could also be in the movement and if not ready should be given their choice until such time they could make their own decision. Soon each one welcome Ka Emir extending their left arm one at a time others embracing him tightly. Women too have shown happiness and quiet elated that a man like Ka Emir empathized with their struggle. Accepting their handshakes so moved him deeply and recalls that true enough there are many other Gabriela Silang in the country. What prompted these creations to have been in the movement much earlier than him enthralled him convincing him that if women in their early twenties and thirties have consecrated their heart for the struggle why and how long would it take for men like him to follow suit. Indeed so much suffering has been experienced by Juan de la Cruz. When would they come to the rescue when they too are persecuted like him. But not all men have that privilege of being persecuted. Not all men in other words are that brave that unlike him that they have to declare willingness to put their lives next on line. Ka Eliza, the pretty nurse, was one among those who offered him good cheer and hope he would have his fulfillment in the movement. The people right here need better your services than those in many parishes. They died without even hearing confession. A movement like this Ka Emir deserves your services, he was told.
            Life in the movement has taken Fr. Driarco’s life behind the scenes. He soon learns how to handle and fire a gun to save his own self and protect the lives of those in the movement specially the women and children. He too has learned to live in utmost simplicity thriving on root crops and corn, vegetables and wild animals.
            One, two, three more years past Ka Emir catapulted to become a commander manning his own brigade in lieu of Ka Lino who after several skirmishes against the military paid his own life. Since then Ka Aris elevated Ka Emir to take the vacant post the former did not mind. Here’s chance to make it even against the WOLVES and the abusive military and defending the oppressed at all cost, an action indirectly challenging the Mighty Apo and his men. Here’s the ultimate chance of liberating Esperanza and of clearing his name. Suddenly he recalls whatever happens to the needle he dearly protected. To whose possession did it rest secure today. Was it turned into ashes after his convent was blazed with fire? And whoever killed the Mayor on that fateful night when he was resting on the convent?
            As armed combatant, he too shares the travails and hardships of climbing rugged terrain, bad weather, sleeping on top of trees like bats and of engaging the military to several war of the flee employing the rudest guerilla tactics. And like all if not many of those in the movement he too felled down by bullets, legs, arms and the severest of all, his chest, just below his heart. It would have been a fatal shot. God must have wanted me to carry on the struggle. He so wish. So be it, he would affirmed.
            It is in such many occasions he was recuperating when strong affectionate attachment to Ka Eliza grows and developed. It’s her duty to attend the wounded but somehow Ka Emir feels that there was personal touch Ka Eliza exudes every time she visited him. Someone special is praying for your fast recovery here that every time you’re in operation she’s saying the rosary and praying your safety so you could be back safe and alive.
            “You would know it later who’s she when time comes,” she would whisper gently to Ka Emir. In his mind, he knows only a woman in love could say those words
            “She must be that woman. Who else?” he would tell himself.
            There had been many gentlemen who have shown affection to her  - flowers, poetry and special attention – but none of them have so far smitten her heart. Not until Ka Emir came around. He’s an embodiment of her ideals, tall, strong, reserved and above all intelligent. Since then her days seem to be rosy and complete. The only hitch is that Ka Emir was an ordained priest and that he could not possibly compromise his vocation. But isn’t it that ‘all in love is fair,’ her heart tells her. Love is never love until you give it away and returns back to you, she would recall an inspiring dictum. Whatever happens to her that Ka Emir preoccupied her mind while delivering her daily activities. Sometimes, she would be running out of her mind finding herself in solitude staring on the horizon by the spring humming a tune or two and in the evening keeping herself refreshed by the cold breeze of wind.
            “If this is not that special feeling called love, what is this?” she must be asking.
That bold feeling unfortunately have that temerity holding her affection back just maybe  waiting the right time to show it.
            Many more weeks and months passed, the stronger her feeling towards Ka Emir making her nuts driving all the more crazier as days and nights passed. Love conquers all, why not for those who really mean it. It was in this height of madness when she finally decided of letting her feelings go. Sneaking out one night from her quarter, she perfunctorily tiptoed her way towards Ka Emir’s hut. Alerted by the slightest movement, Ka Emir reached for his pistol underneath the pillow and put his index finger on the trigger until Ka Liza push slowly the door and let herself in  her night suit. Ka Emir choked seeing his unexpected friendly guest.

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