You may want to read Chapter 3 first.
” I call this meeting to order”, there was a hush inside the stuffy room, and everyone fell silent.
” The authorities have already threatened imprisonment should we refuse to give in to their demands.” the presider was a stern, swarthy man in his early forties.
We have enlisted the support of our University students to create public awareness of what the government is trying to do.” he motioned to Benny.
” Our plan is to campaign among our peers in the University to support our cause. Progress should be permitted but not at the expense of our families and homes. The Dam will be obliterating parts of Tindayan and Sakyan and the entire municipality of Mangala , Liba and Taloctoc… ” as Benny was saying these, there was a lump forming in his throat.
” Apparently, we don’t get the benefits of this enormous project,” a female voice continued. ” We need to join forces, forget about our thirst for vengeance and make a concerted effort to fight for what we hold dear – our ancestral homes.”
Benny was staring dumbfounded at the young woman, standing a few feet away from him. It was Julia! So timely of her to butt in, because the lump finally congealed into a malignant mass that threatened to block his speech.
“Let’s forget about past transgressions, tribal wars won’t allow us to retain our lands. There will be no lands to own, once we grant permission for the dam’s construction. Our barrio folks should be aware of this fact.” Julia continued grimly.
” We don’t have any document to show we own the land,” a voice chimed in.
” Nobody owns the land – not even the government. It is an ancestral land where our fathers and our forefathers have lived for hundreds of years. If ownership is to be established, the land belongs to us because we nurtured and cultivated it.”
There was a hubbub of conversation as everyone discussed and accepted this new concept from Julia. Benny took that chance to approach her.
“So you’re in this too” his heart was doing a double flip, but his voice was calm.
” I forgot to tell you I am from Liba” she flashed that sparkling smile that Benny have dreamed of for nights on end. “I was afraid, you would not talk to me if you would come to know.”
They belong to two warring tribes, who believed in the edict – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
Benny was thinking of a witty answer but further conversation was rudely interrupted by a loud, deafening crash.
“Clear the area, clear the area,” frenzied voices were shouting commands. “This way, hurry up.”
Benny and Julia were carried along with the tide of almost 50 people, scrambling for the secret passageway. Chairs were haphazardly strewn around in people’s haste to leave the room.
“What’s up?” Julia was asking him.
Benny remembered the lonely, fearful nights in Taloctoc, when he was 10 yrs, old and had stood guard against the “enemies ” from Liba – (Julia was one of them then).
Obey orders and ask your questions later. That was how it was done when safety was the priority.
“Let’s get out of here,” he pushed her -not so gently – into the opened door.”
“Stay in the shadows, we have been marked! Martial law has been declared,” the man was anxiously shouting.
There was no time to react nor to protest – not even time to ask .
They ran for several interminable minutes, staying away from the brightly lit streets. The city seemed to have transformed itself instantly into a war zone. No one had any inkling that martial law would be declared.
There was a hastily set up checkpoint where uniformed soldiers were inspecting every vehicle that happened to pass by. If Benny would have described it , it would be similar in some aspects to a “blitzkrieg” – swift, unexpected and simultaneous.
He would learn later that, the ” attack” on persons who were considered as political enemies were done simultaneously and swiftly to catch the “enemies” unaware.
Thousands of suspected enemies of the state were held in prisons all over the country, tortured and interrogated until they had confessed under duress – their alleged guilt.
Probably most of them were like him, students but not rebels, who just wanted to claim the rights that really belonged to them.
When they were a good distance away from the city lights , the bearded, stocky man who took the lead, raised his hand for attention. There were only twenty of them left. Benny and Julia were among them. In the hasty escape to safety, chaos reigned and there had been no orderly retreat.
“Where is Juan?” the bearded man looked around and asked no one in particular.
” They took him away, he was at the entrance when they came,” someone answered.
The bearded man hurled expletives into the dark, starless night.
Julia grasped Benny’s hand uncertain of what to do next.
“Okay, listen up, ” his raspy voice commanded attention, ” I am Ka Pepe, we were not introduced during the meeting for your own protection, but it seems, someone has betrayed us. We have been spied upon and marked, and now the whole army will be after us.”
This was not happening, Benny was shaking his head incredulously. They were all breathless, wide eyed and scared. One could almost smell the fear emanating from their sweat – drenched bodies.
The “prefix “Ka” in a name, usually denoted the person belonged to the NPA (New People’s Army) – the extreme leftist group – inspired by the likes of Mao Tse Tung and Joseph Stalin.
“We are students, we respect your ideals and what you stand for. But we would opt to fight the inequities of the government through legal means,” he could not help but voice out his screaming thoughts.
“Benny – allow me to call you that. Tomorrow, your face will be in the wanted list all over the country, You are branded now as an activist and as a supporter. You have nowhere to run but up the mountains. We are your only salvation.”
His words struck Benny like a speeding train, because they were true! Even before martial law, students were arrested for less trivial reasons and were tortured and incarcerated and accused of rebellion.
He had attended the meeting because he knew he had to assume an active role in that particular conflict; that was what Fr. Belucci would have wanted him to do.
Julia was sobbing softly beside him, her hands tightly clasped in his.
(TO BE CONTINUED)