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As the night progressed, Benny was increasingly growing anxious. “You’ve got to get some sleep,” Julia reminded him.
But he could not!
In between this, he sat in the dark thinking of appropriate countermeasures that he could implement.
He had to act swiftly or everything would be lost forever.
Surrender was not taken well by the higher-ups and Benny had now realized fully, that the real agenda of the top leaders were totally different from his own.
They wanted absolute and total control of the country. The military aid from foreign countries had started trickling in as evidenced by the new ammunitions arriving from foreign shores and this did not bode well with Benny.
Importing more guns and war ammunition denoted that the leaders had no plans of ending the “war”.
He wanted it to end. He wanted to believe that “his” government was sincere in its peace offering . He would rather be under a struggling government run by his own people than a prosperous one run by foreigners. All he wanted was justice for the poor and peace and quiet for his countrymen.
They have to leave camp as soon as possible! Tomorrow it was imperative that he establish anew the lines of communication between him and the General.
General Aman knew the danger that Benny was exposed to, so he camped not far from them and scouted the area for unusual activities.
For sure – that night – the media would be reporting the failed attempt of Ka Benny to surrender. He was now a marked man in the rebel organization.
The following day, General Aman was informed through the radio that there was a group of bandits who owned up the responsibility of disrupting the earlier attempt of Ka Benny’s surrender.
Although, it was more practical to communicate directly with Ka Benny, General Aman still sought the assistance of Fr. Belucci. He knew Benny trusted the priest absolutely.
The undercover, personal emissary of Fr. Belucci scurried from Talococ to Benny’s camp at least several times that day before a final arrangement was made.
The second surrender date was finally set the following morning.
There were no stones left unturned to ensure that the second attempt would proceed without snags.
At exactly 9:47, both groups finally converged.
Ka Anton did not leave the responsibility to the army alone for making sure there were no instruders.
There were none because outside the perimeter of the two groups, there was still another group of soldiers patrolling the area.
When General Aman and Kumander Benny finally shook hands, a loud cheer erupted from both camps.
Julia’s cheeks were wet and she kept blinking the trickle of warm rivulets from her eyes.
General Aman personally escorted them to the army camp and had never left their side until he was certain they were safe and sound.
It was a big , glorious victory for the government and they made sure this good news was aired in all Primtime TV programs and in the Late News. In the morning the event was in print in all newspapers around the country.
After several days, when the government stayed true to their word, several small rebel units, followed suit after Benny’s surrender.
Except for the one-week debriefing of Benny’s unit in the army camp – they were set free afterwards, and were even given suitable livelihood projects to start their life anew.
The whole village of Taloctoc, was happy to have their most outstanding son back to their fold.
The families of the ex-rebels were the happiest of all, they held a celebration in honor of those who were finally in their midst.
Benny’s parents cried with joy when they finally embraced their son and daughter in law. Julia’s mother was a dotting grandmother soon-to-be, as she never left Julia’s side.
The festivity was like Benny and Julia’s nuptials all over again, except that this time, both army and former rebels stood shoulder to shoulder as comrades.
Even the circle of lookout guards outside the barrio’s perimeter was composed of both uniformed and plain-clothed men.
There was tight security because they were still wary of any possible retaliation from the NPA’s higher echelon of leaders.
The first thing Benny did as a freeman was to visit Fr. Belucci.
There were three army men assigned momentarily as bodyguards to ensure Benny’s safety, but Anton was the best friend Benny never had in school.
Fr. Belucci had aged a lot the last time he had seen him. But he still had the same spunk and gay spirit that he so admired in him. Benny hugged the priest and he was speechless from emotion. Fr. Belucci had been a father, a confidante, a friend, a teacher and everything Benny could ask for. He remembered when he was still a young boy and how the priest had painstakingly taught him the moral values that a good person should possess.
” Back to school for you, Benny,” Fr. Belucci’s voice quivered when he finally spoke.
“I’ve got a family now to feed, Father” Benny gently reminded the good priest.
” I’ll take care of that. You can pay me up to the last centavo after you have graduated and have landed a decent job.”
“But….” Benny started to protest.
The priest lay a gnarled hand on Benny’s arm, “This is what your people want. Each has already contributed a share. They know you have the needed qualifications to pursue a higher degree. I would have gladly shouldered all your expenses but they insisted and wanted to be part of your education. Don’t let them down.”
(TO BE CONTINUED)
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