You may want to read CHAPTER 10 first.
“Anyone who does not want to surrender, may leave now,” Benny said as he scanned the unsmiling and anxious faces around him.
” Those who have decided to come with me, I assure you that I’ll do whatever that needs to be done to ensure your safety. We can’t stay here in the mountains forever. I know how you would want to go home to your families too.”
There was a general murmur of agreement. Not all had their families with them, especially those with very young children. The clean mountain air and natural environment would be an ideal place for growing children, but the constant movement of the rebel troops would be too much for them to handle.
” We don’t trust anyone but you Kumander. So if you say it would be fine, then we’ll be coming with you.” Ka Anton, Benny’s most trusted aide, expressed the sentiments of those who were present.
And so the group of more than a hundred men commenced their arduous trek downhill. General Aman was to meet them halfway.
Benny thought about the NPA’s higher echelon of officers. What would be the reaction of the Supreme Kumander? As of that moment, it had been kept a secret but it wouldn’t be long before they would come to know about it and there would be hell to pay. He shook his head to banish the morbid misgivings.
Benny was more concerned about Julia, his unborn child, and the lives and future of the men under his command. He felt he was personally responsible for each of them.
The agreement of Benny’s surrender to General Aman was made through Fr. Belucci and selected emissaries from Taloctoc.
Fr. Belucci personally requested for General Aman as he trusted him. He had known the man since he was a lanky kid in high school. Just like Benny, Henry Aman was honest, trustworthy and responsible.
The plan was that Benny and his unit would be escorted by General Aman’s army from the point of convergence to the military camp, where the rebels were to surrender their arms.
Benny requested that the local media be present to record the proceedings. He did not fancy hugging the limelight, but he knew that any vital, government player who may plan to sabotage the event would think twice, because of the presence of the media. Most traditional policitians were meticulous about their public image and they took great pains in maintaining their impeccable self esteem.
The media were allowed- now and then – to broadcast events which the government considered newsworthy. The surrender of Kumander Benny – one of the most respected and revered rebel leader – would be an astounding success for the government and would be a tremendous blow to the insurgency movement in the country.
Of course, inevitable questions would soon arise as to why Benny was surrendering when he was supposedly incarcerated already by the military.
Strategists in the government knew that the whole story of Benny’s escape would have to be revealed eventually, but only after his surrender.
That way the government still had the “victory”.
A few miles away from Benny’s camp, Ka Lito with 5 other men were changing into army clothes.
“A job well done, Ka Dencio,” Ka Lito was smiling as he donned the pilfered military uniform.
“Look how this perfectly fits me,” and he guffawed with laughter. “I’m now a Major in the Army.”
“Major, Captain Cerrudo, reporting for duty, sir.” the smallest man said.
“You look like a chipmunk,” Ka Lito roared with laughter , and the other five followed suit.
“Let’s get back to business, ” Ka Lito assumed his serious air of arrogance.
“Are you sure of the route they’ll be taking?” he asked Ka Dencio.
“Yes, I got it from a reliable source, from the mouth of babes, comes forth the truth… ” Ka Dencio’s source was a naive, barrio kid whom he had sweet talked. Ka Dencio was an intelligent, misguided man who rejoiced in the misfortunes of other people. He had never met Kummander Benny up close, but he despised the popularity of the young man. Probabaly because, he should have been also a respected Kummander if he hadn’t been too self-absorbed with his own ulterior motives.
“We’ll have to ambush them before they reach Mangga, that way, they’ll think they have been betrayed by the army.”
Then they danced around in circles and stomped their feet with glee for their wicked machinations .
“I would like to see the expression on Benny’s smug face, after this. Remember, we must be swift. We will just create the smoke, then leave them fighting off the fire.”
General Aman was giving instructions to his staff.
“Captain Abasolo, be in charge of the lead group, Lt. Carreon – the rear . At no time at all will you be using your guns. No one is to fire his gun until I personally order it. Is that clear?”
” Sir, yes sir,” the men chorused.
The two media personnel were assigned three escorts and were instructed to stay behind the lead soldiers.
And so they began their silent march into the deep, unwelcoming forest.
(TO BE CONTINUED)