Little good deeds

Chapter 10: Little Good Deeds

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As Mayor, Boy Deo leads and performs. He serves his constituents with competence, courage, and integrity. As an individual, he preaches by example, doing little good deeds. The only blight on his professional record was a personal one. His identify is in question and cannot show any proof except the photocopy of a birth certificate. Father Revo offers him a lead, which prompts him to think that finding his biological mother is the only way he can address his identity crisis. Fortunately, with Sir Dikomo’s and Reg Makatigbas’ help, Boy Deo is able to track down his mother, who is confined in a mental hospital with no relatives on record. It turns out Boy Deo’s parents are activists; the mother, in particular, is hunted down by authorities. A few days after she gives birth to Boy Deo, the police arrested her. She hastily leaves the infant under the care of Meldie, her live-in partner, with the message that the latter finds a way to bring the baby to his biological father at the Quiapo Church. Later before break of dawn, Meldie drops the unnamed baby—later called by various names like Anding, Franco, Boy Deo, etc.—on top of a pile of garbage at Watkasing Street in Quiapo.    

Boy Deo’s accidental rise to the top of local politics shocked many observers. The combination of media mileage he got from the senate investigation, the shocking ambush in which Junie, along with his security aides, were killed, accompanied by old stories of him either as an orphan or an abandoned child, and then as one of Quiapo’s homeless children who demonstrated grit and resourcefulness to overcome adversity, and later on as a community organizer and champion of the urban poor, had edified his legend as the new Cinderella of Philippine politics.

His popularity hit its peak just in time—on the last two weeks leading to election day.

It soon became a little testy, however, a few days after he assumed office.

It started with a newspaper blind item that said a popular mayor had no birth registry records.

Boy Deo did not need new enemies to find his boat rocking from all sides. His competitors for the mayoralty contest filed falsification of documents charges with respect to the circumstances surrounding his identity. Unless defended to the satisfaction of the court, he risked jail time and, of greater consequence, losing his electoral mandate. The ramifications could be far-reaching: people losing faith in him on account of a lie meant his fall from popular approval could be as sharp as his rise from relative obscurity. His budding political career was under threat and in doubt.

Fortunately for him, the bad press he was getting stirred a nest. Like a hen defending her chicks with all her might from predator attacks, Teresa sprang to action. She sought Judge Vida for advice, who also sought Sylvia Monir. All three, along with Father Andoy, had gathered Boy Deo under their wings at various points in his life. The story pertaining to Boy Deo’s identity was now almost complete. Connecting the dots, they concluded that Leandro Deo Renato “Anding” Moscavida, Francisco “Franco” De Gracia, and Deodatu “Boy Deo” Biradayon were one and the same.

The only detail that remained unknown was the identity of his biological parents.

The publicity generated by Mayor Biradayon’s problematic identity sent newshounds in a frenzy. The internet and the so-called mainstream media tried to trip each other for the distinction of having churned out one exclusive inside scoop after another. A reporter quoted Father Andoy that only one remaining piece was needed to solve the puzzle. And this was for the biological parents to come out and positively identify themselves as the ones who dropped the infant that Sylvia Monir found and picked up just outside of the merchandise store she worked for as attendant in Quiapo. 

The next day, at least eleven women, some of whom called from overseas, had admitted having been either the mother or the one who left the child in Quiapo. For Boy Deo, and probably for his true parents, the saga had zigzagged from tragedy to comedy. Father Revo felt Boy Deo’s pain. From his hospital room, he messaged Father Andoy to ask if the latter could arrange a visit from the mayor.

Father Andoy told Mayor Biradayon that he was representing Father Revo, whom he described as too sick to call on the mayor himself. Father Andoy relayed Father Revo’s request for Boy Deo to visit him whenever the mayor was relatively free. It was a wish that Boy Deo could not ignore.

On his way to Father Revo’s hospital room, Boy Deo tried to anticipate the aging priest’s reason, or reasons, for reaching out to him. While Father Andoy said Father Revo was seriously sick, Guimo had told him earlier that Father Revo was terminally ill. The question that percolated in his mind: “Is he going to die?” And, in his newfound jovial mood: “Is he going to pass on to me some magic Latin before he dies?”

He tried to process in his memory the twenty-plus years that he lived in Quiapo. He had been to many places—mostly in the gates of hell—in his youth, but Father Revo did not figure much in any of his low or high moments. Or, at least in those times that he did show up, Boy Deo could not remember anything dramatic in any of those encounters with him.

The Quiapo days! He was young and carefree, wretched, and often feeling alone. He tried again to run through the events he shared with him. Conceding now that maybe because of the wow effect of his “healing exploits,” he must have forgotten about the less dramatic ways of Father Revo.

However, on hard and long recollection, Boy Deo could now admit that Father Revo had saved him at least three times: one time from his fellow criminals, a second time from the police, and a third time from his arrogance at being a celebrity with supposedly healing powers.

“Mayor, I am extremely honored to deserve your visit, knowing how busy you must be,” Father Revo greeted Boy Deo as the latter closed the door of the hospital room. “I am not really sure if this has something to do with you, but I thought you need to hear my story.”

Having anticipated that everything ought to add something positive, Boy Deo was ready with repartees. “I also have stories,” he greeted Father Revo back. He pulled a chair and seated himself next to Father Revo’s bed. “Just recently I learned that Quiapo Catholic School had decided to expel me before I graduated from Grade 6. And you were the one who influenced the reversal of that decision. Is that true?”

Father Revo smiled but said nothing.

Boy Deo thought there were more reasons to help in any way he could to lighten up Father Revo’s twilight days than for either of them to hear the other’s confessions. He was probably wrong.

“I really have little time left, hope you understand,” Father Revo said, suggesting the reason he felt the meeting was important enough for him to disturb the mayor. “I will be dying any day now, Mayor Boy Deo,” Father Revo said it in a way that it gave him license to say anything he wanted to say. “But first, my apologies for the lack of courage on my part that I asked Father Andoy to have you come here. Second, I wish to ask your forgiveness for the difficulties I may have caused you.”

The confession preceded the news.

“Somebody needs to prove this, but my theory is that I am your father, and you are my son.”

Despite being tested in a variety of life-and-death situations, Boy Deo was genuinely shocked to hear what Father Revo just said. Not because to him it came out of the blue, but because Father Revo had his entire lifetime to tell him his truth. Why did he have to wait for the time when he was about to die?

Boy Deo had been through tougher times, so it was okay. “How many among us mortals know this theory of yours?”

“Only three of us—Father Andoy included.”

“Did he know it from the very beginning?”

“No. Only yesterday.”

Father Revo recalled that Father Andoy wondered if he had staged that day when he met Anding. Father Andoy asked him if he got Boy Deo’s story from the start, starting with his phony tale of his encounter at the confessional with somebody he didn’t know. Was Sylvia complicit? Father Revo did not comment on the first charge. Regarding Sylvia, Boy Deo’s mother may have staged it, but could not say anything further.

Father Revo continued, “I have no idea where your mother is now. You can call her Katilyn, but I don’t know if that was her real name.”

“Why would she choose you?” Boy Deo seemed to have added “of all people,” but for Father Revo, Boy Deo was barely audible.

“Why me?” Father Revo replied with another question. Boy Deo could not miss seeing through the swagger in Father Revo’s eyes, as if to dismiss him as one with little faith. “I really don’t know. But let me ask you a question. You have opposite-sex admirers, don’t you?”

Boy Deo moved his head as if to nod, and replied positively although with some inhibition, not because he did not have admirers, but because he seemed unsure of what Father Revo was trying to drive at.

“And why do you think girls—or women—feel attracted to you?”

“You of little faith!” This time it was Boy Deo’s turn to put on the swagger, with a laugh. “Of course, I got good looks. Do I really need to say what is obvious?” His laughter got louder. “Are you now saying this Katilyn chose you for your good looks?”

Father Revo opted not to directly respond to the question. Instead, he remarked—smiling—to the effect that most priests went to the seminary to hide from women. Boy Deo could not tell if Father Revo was jesting or not. Father Revo smiled again, so maybe he was joking after all. “Anyway, let me tell you my story.”   

“When we met—this Katilyn and I—at the picket lines, she had what looked like to me a lesbian girlfriend, or lesbian boyfriend—I’m sorry I don’t know how these relationships are called. Her boyfriend, or girlfriend, soon emigrated to the United States. I had no way of verifying the story, but that was how best I could make out of it. After a few years, her boyfriend/girlfriend asked her to join him/her in the States, but both understood that they had to undergo a process that required a marriage contract, among other supporting documents.

“When her boyfriend/girlfriend came to the Philippines to secure the marriage contract, she asked me to officiate the ceremony. I refused, of course. I reluctantly offered them my blessings, but by no means anything close to being a matrimonial rite. I think they got one from these evangelicals.

“Anyway, a week after they got married, the couple came back to me with an unusual request. Probably surprising to many, but after having gone through lots of community work before where I heard thousands of stories about life and living, I just listened as they showed both hesitation and difficulty in trying to tell me their concern.

“They started by saying they planned to have a ‘normal’ family. I construed that to mean they were going to adopt a child. But instead of someone being randomly picked from orphanages, they hinted at some preference for someone of their own blood.

“Very normal wish, I thought, but I could hardly understand that it seemed I was making it hard for them to just tell me what exactly it was that they wanted from me. Then they said, “‘Father, can you help us by donating your sperm for artificial—’

“They found it even harder to continue. But I knew they correctly interpreted my body language as telling them I understood what they meant.

“I was like ‘Do I break the virgin vow—one that has been wantonly violated by my kind anyway—with this? Answers to questions about same-sex marriage are evolving even within the Magisterium of the Church. I think it will take years for me to fully understand its moral context. And they want me to be part of a true-to-life case study? And yet another part of the story opens up an opportunity for one soul to take an earthly life that one day may commune with saints in God’s kingdom. Aren’t souls God’s greatest treasures?’  

“‘But why me,’ I accosted them, rather sheepishly, finally breaking what had been an awkwardly prolonged silence.

“The woman explained (during which time her boyfriend/girlfriend kept nodding after she took a pause in her narration), ‘You only have a rosary in your pocket. But you confronted those guys who had pistols tucked to their sides. You are the exact opposite of a bully, because bullies choose to fight only those who are not their size. I want my child to be as brave as you are, Father Revo, or at least partake of even just a portion of your genes. Our child will need that character in a social environment that does not have a high regard for a family such as the one we plan to build.

“I think all three of us also understood the complex nature of the couple’s request that I would be justified to ask at least one year within which to ponder that over.

“‘You do not have to decide now, Father. But we will be back to solicit your hopefully positive answer.’

“‘I can tell you now that I am open to your idea,’ I said, surprising even myself.”

Father Revo looked Boy Deo in the eye. There was nothing there. Or maybe everything was in there. The whole twenty to twenty-five years of the world for him, all compressed for a minute of replays in Boy Deo’s mind.

There was nothing to say. Father Revo got up from his bed with noticeable effort so he could tap and press Boy Deo’s shoulder as if to assure him that everything would be okay.

“I learned from her that the supposed marriage did not work. Your mother’s girlfriend or boyfriend backed out of the arrangement even before you were born, saying somebody else—not me—had impregnated her. Many things were going against her; I suppose even her own family—if she had one—would not like her marrying a lesbian.

“As you can see, there is no way I can be sure if indeed I am your father,” Father Revo teased Boy Deo, “in the first place, you do not look like me at all.” Both had lush eyebrows, with about the same physical attributes, especially skin color. “If there is some semblance of similarity between the two of us, it is when you scratch the back of your head when you speak in public. I do that when I tell a lie.”

This lit up Boy Deo’s countenance, just as Father Revo expected it would. Boy Deo felt fine staying a little longer beside his sick but jovial alleged father. But soon his mobile phone shook again to announce an incoming message. He asked Father Revo to be excused, saying it was time for him to leave. 

“I have a question. Was it you who took me to the hospital when I was dying from fever one stormy night? I was six or seven at the time, and Junie and I were wrapped in a blanket together at one of the steps in the Quiapo Underpass.”

Father Revo just stared at him, saying nothing.

In almost inaudible words, like a whisper, Boy Deo continued, “You are like a God who does not answer his people when they suffer and cry for help.” Somehow, the son uttered the words in a way that they sounded more like a compliment than an indictment.

Unknown to Boy Deo, Father Revo had saved him from physical harm at least thrice, and from serious conflicts with the law at least twice. And unknown to all, even to Father Andoy, Father Revo had felt the pain as he saw Boy Deo being consigned to a life where he—one who was hardly old enough to be called a boy—had to survive and fend for himself, denied of a family that could shield him from pain, from fear, from danger, from hunger and all kinds of physical and emotional suffering, a family that could hear his cries for help.     

Before he left, Father Revo gave him a rosary. “Please accept it to assure me that you will at least one day consider forgiving me.”

Father Revo’s mother gave that rosary to him the first time he went to confession. That was about fifty-eight years ago. That was the same rosary that Boy Deo’s alleged mother had referred to which she pressed into his pocket after a violent dispersal at the picket lines. He was manhandled by security guards of the company. The strikers responded by attacking the guards. A scuffle, then bedlam, followed. When the dust settled, one was dead on the spot from gunshot wounds, tens were injured, and Father Revo lay motionless on the concrete pavement for several minutes. People saw a rosary dangling from his waist. When he came to, a woman (who would become Boy Deo’s alleged mother) shoved it back into his pocket.  

It was thirty minutes past noon. On his way to City Hall, Boy Deo passed by Quiapo Church. The next mass would be in three and a half hours, so there were not many people inside the church. He alighted from his chauffeur-driven car at the Lanciano Boulevard side of the church and slipped inside.

He chose a pew in the back row to sit on and spent the next half hour just staring at the Black Nazarene.

Would he become what he is now if his mother, or Father Revo, had not abandoned him?

He remembered a local wag, or sage—depending on whether one believed or not what he said—whom Quiapo folks called Pilong Tasyo, telling him why parents were actually serving the long-term interests of the child if they left their children fending for themselves at least half of their waking hours.

But the closer he was to condemning his self-confessed father, the easier it was for him to rationalize that overcoming endless odds in life was the result of going through harsh conditions that, at a very young age, he was forced to cope with.

He knew that Father Revo, now Revo to him, ironically, was merely trying to console him when the priest assured him that his experiences better prepared him to become the best people-centered and God-fearing Mayor of Manila.

He ran through that thought over, and over, and over again. If all the pain, injustice, and hunger that he went through was meant to help him serve his Manila constituents better—with courage, competence, and character—then he was fine, OK, and even feeling better. Somehow, he could find order in his chaotic world, and that its overall design had prints of the hand of God who without doubt was hard at work.

He wandered through time a little further.

1) Was that elaborate—but seemingly unnecessary and ultimately boring—brokering by Sylvia Monir that led to Vida De Gracia, including the run-ins with the OXD operatives that eventually led the judge to expose the scheming side of Sir Dikomo, a way to ensure that he would get the support from the police and the military from the time he ran for public office up to this point where he was frantically searching for his identity?

2) Did God slap him with pictures of all the misery he saw in the lives of Yago and Teresa—not counting his own miseries—to rouse him up to imagine a better world that he hoped a Citizen’s Congress would be able to facilitate?

3) Did God really mean to imply that Junie’s death was a way for his rise to significance? And what was Nardong Sablay’s death for?    

Boy Deo remembered that day when Father Revo consoled the mother whose baby died from diarrhea, and some seven years later, when Father Revo encouraged them to seek a political office and directly make a difference in people’s lives.

Little good deeds, what they could do to enrich people’s lives—Boy Deo could see himself smiling.

He also remembered the bishops’ statement about saving Waday:

“The case of Waday is sadly a case of how we treat the poor among us. Like those who reject Jesus as our savior for many reasons—one of which being that they suspected him as a fake Messiah, and which was the same justification when we, as a mob, decided to send him to his death by crucifixion—we reject the idea that all of us are equal in the eyes of God. We do not believe he is the true Messiah because we expect a God who would deliver us from human-built bondage, just like what Moses did when he freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

“Like those who doubted Jesus, we fail to recognize people for who they are: that rich or poor, powerless or powerful, young or old, woman or man—we are all equal in the eyes of God. This failure, which leads us to reject the belief that God resides in each one of us, in turn fuels our drive for control, and to exploit those whom we can exploit, to humiliate those whom we can humiliate, and even maim those whom we can maim.

“One thing leads to another until we believe that no one and nothing can stop us. Not even God. Like our ancestors who defied God in the Garden of Eden, the drive for control has at its core the notion that we are bigger than God. And yet we have fallen from grace because of that defiance. And Jesus had to die in the most physically painful and humiliating way of dying on the cross, as it was the only way by which God can show us how he can help us rescue ourselves from that fall.

“Let then the case of Waday be our opportunity to accept the redemption offered by the cross by submitting ourselves to God’s reign and, acknowledging that he is on top of everything, be hopeful that we are all deserving of His mercy. Let the courts reopen her case, and let the evidence be heard in a judicial process where no one controls it but our collective desire to find the truth as the sole basis for serving the ends of justice.”

Like Solomon, Boy Deo prayed that God grant him wisdom to understand even just snippets of human nature and how concupiscence, which often results in tragedy, can sometimes lead to something positive, providing occasions for regeneration, transformation, and growth.

On the wall inside his office hung a reminder for him to check daily with the public prosecutor handling Junie’s murder case. He knew he needed more than human effort to get the work done. 

He took out the rosary in his pocket. 

For another half an hour he fixed his gaze at the altar. He had lived for more than twenty-two years within the vicinity of the Quiapo Church. But he had not stayed inside the church itself for longer than fifty minutes, except during the time when he was hiding from the police.

Then he knelt down and crossed himself. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

He repeated a few beads as bunches of flashbacking thoughts competed for his focus while saying the rosary.

Before he rose from his seat to leave, he picked up a misallete (a program for the day’s mass). On his way to his office inside the car, he scanned the single-sheet printout and went over the gospel reading about the final judgment, citing Matthew, Chapter 25:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”   

He reflected on those early years in Quiapo when he got around to hearing many of the gospels that were being read during mass. How he wished he got them all stored in his memory! And how indebted he was to Teresa for giving him the opportunity to hear many of them in Quiapo.

Inside and around the Quiapo church was the place where he saw the rich sharing spaces with the poor, the righteous mixing with criminals, the authentic smiles blending with expressions of pain and hopelessness, and the acts of kindness standing out from a concupiscent crowd.

It was in Quiapo where he felt indebted to anonymous souls for their random acts of kindness. He reflected on the power of little good deeds:

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” 

He thought of Waday again—how she must have counted each day waiting for a visit from her brethren.  

Back in his office, the mayor’s secretary told Boy Deo that three women purporting to be his lost mother wanted to see him. He instructed the secretary to send the three to the City Legal Officer with a note that a determination of facts be established and, if necessary, charges for misrepresentation be leveled against impostors.

The mayor further instructed the secretary that henceforth, all visitors with the same agenda should first be vetted by the legal officer.

Next caller was Reg Makatigbas. Although he lost in his presidential bid, he kept his job as senator. Half of his six-year senatorial term remained unspent that he could revert to. Boy Deo’s senate appearance had wedged a gap between him and the senator, but now that the heat of election-related tussles seemed to have cooled off, relations could be heading back to normal for the hawk and his protégé.   

Makatigbas and Sir Dikomo also appeared to have reconciled. The former mayor had confided to his rival for the presidency that he might be able to locate the birth clinic where Boy Deo was supposed to have been born and thereby help untangle his successor from the identity mess he was in. Almost everybody understood that Boy Deo had nothing to do with that mess, but he was being pilloried for it.

Boy Deo thanked Makatigbas for the latter’s courtesy visit. He also suggested a plan for all concerned—Makatigbas, Sir Dikomo, General Dimas Uy, Lt. Joey Ty and wife Olivia, Judge Vida De Gracia and David, her nephew, Sylvia Monir, Father Andoy, Teresa, Katalina, among others—to come together and celebrate his electoral victory. Makatigbas knew there was another agenda—to help Boy Deo sort of fill in his parentage vacuum—which he himself proposed.

At Boy Deo’s New Manila home, people gathered in what truly was a victory party. It was a food fest. Red wine, tequila, and Filipino beer flowed freely. Everybody was present—including the frail Judge Vida—and were having a good time. It was a night of fun… and a night of serious talk. There were surprises as well, especially for those who were seeing each other for the first time, such as Makatigbas and Katalina.

Also, it was an open secret among guests that Vida remained at odds with Sir Dikomo. “I have forgiven you and asked God’s mercy for our peace of mind,” she replied when Sir Dikomo approached her for a handshake, repeating his apology.

To help set a happy tone for everyone, Boy Deo broke the news that he had an idea of who his father was, but could not disclose names until he was a hundred percent sure of his information’s veracity. He suggested that nothing less than what his missing mother could substantiate was needed to erase all doubts.

Makatigbas and Sir Dikomo agreed that finding the way that would lead to Boy Deo’s mother was next on their agenda. They may have felt humiliated by their loss in the last election, but they lived, so to speak, to fight another day. And Manila’s Boy Wonder could be an ally in the future that no one would wish to oppose.

There was something even more compelling for both Makatigbas and Sir Dikomo. If helping Junie had become a personal mission for Joey, helping Boy Deo had also become a personal mission for Sir Dikomo, largely because of Vida, and for Makatigbas, all because of Teresa, and to some extent because of Junie and Joey.

Makatigbas felt he had not done enough to compensate the Biradayons for what happened to Osang. During the election campaign for the presidency, he made it a point to visit the Biradayons in Biringan. He arranged the visit to make it appear private, lest the media dig dirt and make a controversy out of it, but public enough to satisfy the need for recognition that his hosts expected. Careful not to offend the sensitivity of Teresa’s family, Makatigbas offered financial help not as a philanthropic gesture, much less a handout, but in the nature of mutual help. When Boy Deo appeared in the senate and introduced himself, Makatigbas asked him if he was related to the Biradayons in Biringan. Boy Deo told him he knew one Biradayon—Teresa—who adopted him when he was five years old.

For her part, Judge Vida pledged her support for the rectification of all legal documents related to the mayor’s identity. She could not stay long for the rest of the night, though. She soon asked herself to be excused. Father Andoy also left. 

Buoyed by drinks, talk wandered on the misadventures of their youth. Boy Deo volunteered some of his thoughts. “Those were the days when intervening factors bigger than us got in the way to change the course of history, I suppose.”

As he himself expected, Boy Deo didn’t quite make himself clear. Makatigbas wondered if the mayor was referring to his Biringan adventures. Sir Dikomo thought Boy Deo could be referring to allegations of his links to kidnappers.

Dimas Uy joined in; he reminisced about his field exploits in Mindesaba. He said he always liked to brag about the professionalism of his men. He mentioned Makatigbas was one of his more trusted lieutenants, whose idealism he could now see in Joey. “I was there when Reg started as a field trooper. Being caught taking missteps in their personal lives is a risk that troopers like him are exposed to. The field manuals help us navigate through enemy territories, but they hardly shield us from storms that batter our personal lives. That is not an excuse, of course, for whatever indiscretions that we, like anyone else, make.”

Minutes later, Teresa and Katalina also asked to be excused. Boy Deo ushered them out, leaving the military icons to themselves momentarily.

Joey seldom talked; he was visibly in awe of his superiors. This time he found his voice, addressing General Uy. “Sir, you are as popular as anyone out there. Why have you not joined politics?”

The question deserved to be responded to with equal daring. “I really don’t think joining politics is necessary. The military can always grab power from the civilian government any time it wants to.”

Everyone thought the revered general was having fun. He was taking liberties at all kinds of jokes he could crack. This one included, “I suppose the likes of Reg and Dikomo join politics simply for the funds of it.”

He was not done.

“Come to think of it, maybe there is even no need for the military to grab power because civilian government bows to the military anyway. Why attract screaming headlines when a little body language is enough to get what you want?”

Sir Dikomo felt obliged to respond in any way; after all, anything that made noise, as the saying went, was satisfactory to a crowd. He opened up as Boy Deo rejoined them. “General, if your theory is correct, then why don’t Joey’s communist friends just send their young recruits to the military academy? These recruits could be generals someday. Then communists could launch their revolution from within government, like Trojan horses?”

Boy Deo, whose association with Joey through his wife Olivia and Teresa had been attributed to, felt slighted. “I think we already have Trojans in OXD, if the gossips are something to go by.”

Boy Deo had stunned the military men with his senate testimony. He just did it again, probably prompting them to ask, what else does he not know?

Being the most senior, experience and age-wise, General Uy felt obliged to defuse the simmering tension among his friends. “I think Dikomo’s idea had been tried before. But it has yet to succeed. There have been one or two who received the rank of a general. You see, the point here is it takes more than that number of warm bodies to command a following big enough to ensure a successful revolution with the necessary support from an insider. And I think there is one frontier in the human being that remains beyond the reach of ideology, and even of technology.


General Uy paused, took a deep breath, paused again, then continued, “From the perspective of an organization, a group (and that may include crime syndicates), a nation (and that may include its police or military organizations), or a group of nations, man can rationalize, even justify, the murder of his fellow man.

“That is why we tend to dismiss the transgressions committed by fellow men and women in uniform, because we know that while we have weapons and the license to kill people, we do so to keep the government, and the State it represents, alive.

“But on the individual level, a murderer must go through the wringer of what his own conscience asks. Not many can bear the noise of the silent soul. Often, a man’s heart is too weak for that. And that explains why the communist infiltration of the military did not work. Same thing with OXD, if ever that one exists at all.

“The violence that persists today is no longer about ideology. It is hardly even about money. It is about conscience driven by anger. It is about revenge. Military men who lost friends and family decades ago continue to hunt the rebels, on the pretext that military actions are all sanctioned by government. Rebels—communists or Muslim separatists—who lost friends and family decades ago continue to hunt state troopers, on the pretext that this is what their cause demands.

“At the end of the day, there is a need for our country to have a leader whose vision and representation our people can believe in. One who can break this self-inflicted cycle of anger and violence among our people. And I am looking at our friend and host here, Mayor Boy Deo, who evidently is charismatic, idealistic, and competent. It would do us well if we rally our support for him, now and in the future.”

No one dared question General Uy’s monologue.

SIR DIKOMO REMEMBERED Tho Monir having told him the latter had possession of Sylvia’s documents. He tracked Monir in Malate where he was renting an office. He asked Monir to locate the old Sylvia documents.

Earlier, Sir Dikomo sought Sylvia for information when controversy over Boy Deo’s identity broke out. Sylvia told him she also tried to determine the parents of the abandoned child before she sold him to Trudie and Jovy. She said there might have been clues in the documents she left with Tho Monir but added the two of them were no longer seeing eye to eye. She further said she could not fully recall but suggested there might be contact details of the birthing clinic where the child was born. She hoped Tho was able to safekeep the documents.

At the top shelf of the storeroom where Tho kept his old files, he found Sylvia’s twenty-five-year-old-something folder. He gave it to Sir Dikomo.

Sir Dikomo scanned every paper in the folder. He did not find anything of consequence, except probably a one-fourth sheet of bond paper with notes that roughly indicated the address of a birthing clinic in San Miguel, Manila.

At the birthing clinic, the former mayor surprised everyone when he told them he was looking for old records. The clinic staff were more than happy to help him. After an hour of searching, they were able to locate the file of a patient that delivered a baby on April 16, 1985. The name of the patient was Katleya Ramos. Her address was in a compound in Aguila Street, near Mendiola. They called Sir Dikomo on his cellphone to tell him they had found something.

Sir Dikomo did not lose a minute looking for the address. When he reached the address, he found that a townhouse had replaced the compound in which Katleya was supposed to have rented an apartment. On further investigation, Sir Dikomo was referred to old residents at the corner of the street where they might have had information about renters in the old compound.

Somebody told him he knew of someone named Meldie De Masinloc who worked with Katleya. His informer said Katleya helped organize antigovernment rallies in Mendiola involving students and labor union members, adding the compound was once raided by the Metrocom because of her.

De Masinloc once lived across Aguila Street. Her former neighbors informed Sir Dikomo she had transferred to a condominium unit in Sagrario. When Sir Dikomo finally found De Masinloc in a condominium in Sagrario, he found out that she was living all by herself. He surmised that De Masinloc was a lesbian. From De Masinloc he also learned that Katleya was arrested by the police five days after she gave birth to a son.

“As she was frisked away by the police, she asked me to take care of the child,” De Masinloc said. “But she knew I go to the United States every six months, hence it was impossible for me to babysit the child. I guess she understood my predicament when I shook my head. Then she hastily added—‘can you find a way for one of the priests in Quiapo Church to take custody of him?’ So, one day in April—I think it was in 1985, if I am not mistaken—I dropped him in Quiapo in the middle of the night. I marked the box he was in with big black letters ‘Please send this boy to a priest in Quiapo Church.’

“A week later, I visited Katleya in Camp Crame. She was not there. Somebody in Camp Crame told me she went Sisa (a character in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere who snapped and lost her mind when she lost her two sons); they sent her to the mental hospital. I feared she might have been summarily executed. So, I went to the mental hospital in Ocaranza just to make sure. I found her there, but there were intervals when she did not recognize me at all. You can go there yourself and check if she is still there.”

Sir Dikomo lost no time informing Boy Deo. He dialed the mayor’s cell phone number. He asked the mayor if he could come over. Just to make sure that there would be no surprises, Sir Dikomo told Boy Deo what he had just found. He advised Boy Deo to hear first what De Masinloc had to say. He added, “Try not to disclose that the boy she dropped in Quiapo is now the mayor of Manila so that she will have no reason to alter her story in any way.”

By instinct and by a habit developed by his military training, Sir Dikomo scanned his network that he thought would enable him to access more information. He dialed Reg Makatigbas to update him on his lead.

“Does the name Katleya Ramos ring a bell to you? She is alleged to have led some student organizations that staged antigovernment rallies at the time when you supervised Oplan GMRC, if I am not mistaken.”

Makatigbas froze for the second time in his military life. Never had he felt this numb, immobile, and speechless during his early years as a government trooper, ducking live bullets in the Ispratly and Cubacabana war zones.

The first time he experienced this kind of feeling was when Teresa confronted him about Osang, and the daughter he had with her that Teresa told him had been renamed Katleya Ramos.   

Minutes later, the lobby of the condominium teemed with people. Some of them were carrying TV cameras. It was rare for a place like this one to be visited by a mayor; in this case, the visitor was not only the mayor but also accompanied by the former mayor of the city, along with a senator.

De Masinloc could not hide her excitement when she saw Boy Deo, Sir Dikomo, and Makatigbas. Sir Dikomo asked De Masinloc to tell the present mayor what she had narrated to the former mayor. De Masinloc repeated her tale with gusto.

The thought that she was unable to help Katleya in her time of desperation had been a burden she needed to unload, De Masinloc confessed. For two decades she had suffered the fate of being a prisoner of her own conscience. Truth be told, she had shared Katleya’s story with acquaintances several times before. She didn’t feel relieved then. It was totally different talking to Boy Deo and company about Katleya. In her excitement, she could not help but ask Boy Deo what his birth date was. Boy Deo smiled but said nothing.

De Masinloc tried again. “By the way, how old are you, Mayor?”

Boy Deo joked that his age was half her age. De Masinloc thought how foolish it was for her not to think about Katleya when the much-publicized identity crisis hit the mayor several months ago. On the spur of the moment, she rushed inside her room. When she re-emerged, she gave Boy Deo a picture of a mother and her child.

“That one is Katleya.” De Masinloc pointed at the mother in the picture. Boy Deo thanked her. He pushed the picture inside the left pocket of his jacket.

When Boy Deo, Sir Dikomo, and Makatigbas left for the mental hospital in Ocaranza, the TV camera crews and tens of reporters followed them.

Boy Deo did not show any emotion the first time he saw Katleya. If De Masinloc’s story was true, then all the pain he suffered as a child and as a teen was nothing compared to what Katleya had gone through. For her part, Katleya was noncommittal, behaving as if nothing unusual was happening to her surroundings, despite the sudden surge of onlookers. She did not look different from the wretched and homeless women he saw every day when he was a child grinding it out in Quiapo.

Boy Deo asked the permission of hospital management for him to bring Katleya home, saying she was a member of his family. The hospital had no record of her family members, so the staff considered it a breakthrough that somebody as famous as the Manila Mayor would come forward to claim her as one of his own.

Boy Deo was turning 30. He surmised that if Katleya was her mother, she must have been sick, deprived of family and of liberty for 30 years also. He doubted if sane people would have the emotional capacity to survive such an agonizing stretch, one that spanned his own lifetime. He remembered the other day’s gospel.

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” 

He rationalized that one did not need to be literal about everything; but how he wished he could commit more time to visit people who are serving time in jail and recovering from sickness in health wards, family relations or not.    

The mental hospital staff suggested that Katleya be transported in a separate vehicle. But Boy Deo insisted that she sit beside him. A hospital doctor and a nurse accompanied them.

On board the ambulance, Makatigbas whispered to Boy Deo if it was ok for the nurse to get him a blood sample of Katleya, to which Boy Deo did not object.

Katleya remained expressionless the whole time she sat beside Boy Deo in the vehicle. When the convoy of vehicles arrived at his New Manila home, Boy Deo studied Katleya’s poise. She answered questions thrown at her, even from among the press. Often, she sounded sensible to him.

He decided not to ask her about anything for as long as he did not feel confident enough to kind of break the ice with her. The doctor explained to him her condition, diagnosed as psychosis with severe dysfunction caused by depression and schizophrenia, adding that a family environment could help her recover her sanity.

Boy Deo next dialed Father Andoy. He asked the priest if it was possible for him and somebody he referred to as “a guest” to see Father Revo at the hospital. It was Friday the thirteenth in June of 2014, the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua, patron saint of lost items.

Father Andoy cheerfully granted Boy Deo’s request. Minutes later, Father Andoy ushered Boy Deo and Katleya into Father Revo’s room. It was the first time the four of them saw each other together.

Boy Deo could tell from Father Revo’s facial expression that the priest had recognized Katleya. But her own usual noncommittal behavior did not encourage the ailing priest to offer any gesture of greeting or salutation. Boy Deo did everything under the circumstances to help Katleya feel relaxed. He turned an electric fan on and helped her take a seat opposite Father Revo. Boy Deo also sat down next to the priest.

Boy Deo understood what kept the surprise meeting awkward. He offered Father Revo an explanation. “She is Katleya Ramos. We just fetched her from the mental hospital.”

When Father Andoy and the hospital doctor left the three of them alone, Boy Deo pulled the picture out of his pocket and showed it to Katleya from a distance of about seven feet. Boy Deo and Father Revo could see every muscle that moved in her face. For the first few seconds she did not show any interest in the picture. But Boy Deo kept showing it in front of her. Then she stared at it, initially with hesitation, until she got so engrossed with the picture that she seemed to be oblivious to anything and anyone else. Then tears started to roll down from her eyes.

Boy Deo could no longer take it. He got up and hugged Katleya. She sobbed in his chest.

Before the three of them left, Father Revo gave the Leo Benedicto ring to Boy Deo. “Hope you keep it. I hope that one day you will be able to accept me as your father.”

Boy Deo replied: “I will keep it. Thank you… Dad.”

Then they headed for the exit door.

After a few reluctant steps, Boy Deo stopped. He glanced back toward his father. “If it was up to me to forgive you, and if there was anything for which you need forgiveness, as you asked the other day, you are forgiven.”