You may want to read Chapter 5 first.
It was a standoff!
“Sir, they won’t budge an inch,” the scrawny private reported to Major Abunda and Lieutenant Antonio.
They have been there for almost an hour and no prodding nor cajoling could convince the throng of men, women, and children of Tindayan to leave the road. Tindayan was the nearest village from where they were.
Major Abunda spoke through his handy loudspeaker, ” Please disperse, we are not here to harm you or drive you away from your homes. Just let us pass through.”
There was irritation in his voice. “They had traveled through the treacherous, winding road of Kalinga for 12 hours and they could not just turn around now,” Major Abunda thought to himself. They had to deliver the dam’s construction materials or their arduous trip would be in vain. The task would have been simpler if their air support was sufficient and capable of accomplishing the enormous assignment. He cursed inwardly.
A hundred yards away from where Major Abunda stood, the women in their ginamat(woven clothing) – their bare feet and arms still caked with mud from the fields – had linked their arms to each other.
In front of them were the children – they were sweating profusely amidst the searing heat of the noonday sun. Most of the children were crying. Perhaps their keen child-like perception had sensed the gravity of the situation.
Photo by: toOliver2
The unarmed men , on the other hand, stood stubbornly – shoulder to shoulder – at the middle of the narrow road.
It was a “human” barricade!
For the army to be able to pass through, they would have to run them over.
There was no other way in. The verdant mountains towered on both sides of the narrow dilapidated opening.
Major Abunda consulted with his junior. ” We will have to fire some guns, ” he said, “just to scare them off – fire them up in the air.”
Just then there was a cheer from the other side, A man with a white flag emerged from the throng.
He was unarmed.
They could see that he was instructing the women and children to take cover behind the thick foliage at the further end of the road while the unarmed men stood unmoving. and unperturbed . Benny was in the lead, waving the white flag high up in the air.
“Sir, it’s Ka Benny,” Lt. Antonio whispered in awe, unable to conceal his emotions . “He obviously wants to negotiate.”
Major Abunda spat on the ground and cursed. “Let’s go.”
He stared balefully at Lt. Antonio when the latter indicated that he should leave his gun. He unceremoniously tossed the gun to the private, before he swaggered towards Benny. His lumbering frame leaving an unpleasant scent of cigarette and booze in his wake. Lt. Antonio followed him grudgingly, his growing disrespect for the major evident in his manner.
Benny met him halfway. ” You can’t force your way through, Major, ” Benny calmly pronounced.
” Oh, the charismatic rebel! ” the Major jeered, “perhaps not so much in his leadership abilities but because he is such a good looking man, more than anything else,” he continued sarcastically.
Benny ignored his remark. ” You have to accept defeat like a gentleman. As we speak, people from the barrio of Liba and Taloctoc are on their way,” he was thinking of Julia as he said this – his beloved Julia would soon be there.
“We will pass through by hook or by crook. Yes we will,” Major Abunda assured him condescendingly.
“All we want is to live in peace in the land that our forefathers tilled for decades even before you and I were born,” Benny continued, like he had not been interrupted. “Leave us in peace.”
Lt. Antonio, spoke for the first time, ” Ka Benny, the dam will provide the electricity that we need… ,” he was saying.
“That YOU need, Lt. Antonio. Let’s not argue about that again.”
“The government is willing to relocate them, ” the general cut in irritatedly, “now allow us to get on with our job”.
“Don’t you see Major? You obey your orders because it is your job, but these people are here because they believe in their cause. Now that the peace pact is in place, they will have peace. They have simple needs and simple wants. They are happy with what they have right now. They consider this land holy and sacred and would be willing to die for it.”
“So you won’t mediate and tell them to leave peacefully,” Major Abunda spat angrily.
“No, I came here to help avoid bloodshed. Think about it Major. You will be the first one to go down in Philippine history as the notorious officer who murdered hundreds of unarmed and innocent civilians. I am telling you now, they won’t give in. ” Benny was speaking to the Major but he was looking at Lt. Antonio.
Major Abunda’s face flashed a crimson red. “Let’s see, ” he said and turned on his heels in rage. Lt. Antonio ran to keep up with him.
“Ka Benny is a rebel, shoot him,” he commanded Lt. Antonio
Lt. Antonio looked at him agape. “We can’t do that here sir, he’s unarmed, and we have hundreds of witnesses. “
“Shoot them!” he roared the command to the soldiers behind him.
No one moved. The company of soldiers stood at attention – but no one moved.
Photo by: Department of Defense
The conversation that occurred in the middle of the road echoed a hundred fold due to the deathly quietness around them, and the soldiers had heard every point Benny raised. Most of them came from tribal minorities and they understood what Benny had firmly and uneqiuvocally stated.
One would not understand this, if one did not live in that part of the mountains.
They also trusted the judgment of Lt. Antonio and they were willing to stand behind his decision – court martial or no court martial! They have been under his direct command for years now and he had proven to be a competent and able leader.
Generals and Majors usually come and go!
“What are you waiting for, shoot them,” the Major roared.
“Sir, we can’t do that. ” Lt. Antonio’s face was incredulous.
Still no one obeyed the order.
Without warning, the Major grabbed his gun and fired several rounds at Benny. One bullet found its mark, and Benny went down with a painful groan.
Anxious cries came from the women and children, they surged forward like a herd gone berserk.
Lt. Antonio grappled for the gun from the Major, “Don’t shoot, Don’t shoot!” he shouted to the men behind them.
There was a short scuffle and the Major was finally disarmed and handcuffed.
” I place you under arrest for the attempted murder of Ka Benny,” Lt. Antonio went into the litany of the Major’s rights.
The Major was livid with anger but he stopped struggling. “You will all pay for this in a court martial, ” he screeched at them, but no one listened to him.
Lt. Antonio summoned the medic and they ran towards Benny.
Benny was trying to sit up and was reassuring everyone he was fine, “It’s just a minor wound,”
But the large amount of blood that was splattered on the dusty, dry ground told the opposite story.
Lt. Antonio knew Benny was downplaying the injury. This was to avoid inspiring the people’s wrath which would have caused a confrontation between the two groups.
He knew in his heart, Benny would give up his life for his people’s safety and happiness.
The medic, worriedly whispered something to Lt. Antonio.
Lt. Antonio tapped Benny lightly on the shoulder, ” Well , mate, it seems, I have captured one of the regional commanders of the NPA. I will have to turn you in. You need prompt and highly specialized, medical attention ,” he said nonchalantly, injecting the gaiety in his voice which he did not feel.
Lt. Antonio’s admiration for Benny, was evident. “Don’t worry, I’ll personally take charge of you”. They will have to call in the helicopter, Lt. Antonio was extremely worried.
Benny opened his eyes and smiled weakly at his former, college classmate, ” Well,. you deserve it lieutenant. Turn me in, and earn the accolade. Just leave my people alone.”
(TO BE CONTINUED)
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