Clean up after Traslacion

Chapter 11: Son of an Orphan

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One after the other Mayor Deo learns the surprising details about his personal life. First, Father Revo suggested that he was Boy Deo’s biological father. This proposition was proven correct when the mayor meets his biological mother who had been confined at the mental hospital for 30 years. Second, he learns that Reg Makatigbas was the father of Katleya, his mother. And third, he also learns that Katleya was an ophan whose mother died from military atrocities in Isparatli. While he recognizes himself as the son of an orphan, he takes pride in the fact that although most orphans of violence become violent themselves as they grow to adulthood, Katleya has chosen to help herself and the community she wished to represent by trying to get an education and by being active in social action. Events beyond her control force her to abandon college and eventually drifted towards the unknown arenas of fate. She bears a son but could not assure him of her motherly care. This drives her to depression; she spends the next 30 years of her life at the mental hospital. What could have led to tragic consequences turned to positive outcomes when her son not only survived, with help from many human hands, but grew to become one of the country’s rising political leaders.

A month later, there was jubilation as Boy Deo announced to the media that his name had been changed legally from Deodatu Biradayon to Leandro Francisco Deodatu Ramos Calasanz. He adopted Father Revo’s family name.

“Call me Deo!” he said.        

The media had another bountiful season. Heaps upon heaps of stories about Deo’s life, now dovetailed to those of Katleya, Father Revo, Sylvia Monir, Father Andoy, Judge Vida, Teresa, Katalina, among others, headlined TV, radio, and print media broadcasts. There was a picture of Mayor Deo beaming proudly with his mother, savagely captioned “Basilio, Sisa’s Pride.” There was another picture of Mayor Deo flanked by Senator Makatigbas and General Uy to his right and Sir Dikomo to his left, captioned “The Leader We Need, Says General Uy.” A reporter who highlighted his being an abandoned child had called him the “New Moses,” not fished from a river but picked up from the dump.

Media people scoured traces of where Katleya came from and soon found out from the Theresiana Sisters in La Profesa that Katleya was once called “Elodia,” and in one photo that showed mother and son, the caption read: “Elodia, orphan of war, Deo, son of an orphan.” It was, hands down, the shot of the day. 

Equally captivating was the one that showed Deo flashing a boyish smile beside Makatigbas, captioned “The General’s Grandson.”

Two weeks ago, Makatigbas had returned from Singapore where he got his own and Katleya’s blood samples tested for DNA. The samples matched. 

For the remainder of his term as Manila mayor, Deo lived in relative peace. His detractors retreated to neutral corners, disarmed of weapons with which to attack him. His administration had been cited not only for being corrupt-free but also for its innovative approaches, bannered by the Citizen’s Congress. This governance model started to excite international organizations. A globally acclaimed author suggested that Citizen’s Congress can be used to recreate the constituency of the United Nations.

OnePenoy evolved to become OneManila. Data from the Commission on Elections, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the City Social Welfare and Development Office, the Department of Health, the Land Transportation Office, among other government and non-government agencies, not only became handy to verify the qualification of city residents as legislators and policy makers, but they also promoted transparency and accountability in city government operations. Artificial intelligence (AI) data, with real-time satellite imagery interpretation, helped the city government respond more quickly to criminality and disasters such as flooding, vehicular traffic congestion, and carbon concentration. Property tax invoices were issued to individual accounts in OneManila, supported by satellite imagery of locations of property and valuations based on AI generated data from real estate advertisements. The portal featured video tutorials that were intended to provide the best possible taxpayer experience for property owners in the city.

Tax compliance rates, revenue levels, and constituency satisfaction indices shot up in Manila, making the city a model not only for the entire country but for other countries as well.      

At the domestic front, Katleya had not returned to the mental hospital. Deo hired two private mental care specialists who alternated on attending to his mother. Her father also arranged for a schedule where she had to undergo regular medical checkup at the military hospital.

Deo also offered to hire Meldie as Katleya’s personal consultant. Meldie expressed elation at the opportunity to help her former live-in partner, but she refused to accept remuneration. In private, Meldie blamed herself for what happened to Katleya. She felt helping Katleya get her mental health back was the least she could do to lessen her own guilt.

It was through Meldie that both Deo and Reg Makatigbas learned some snippets of Katleya’s early life both in remote La Profesa and in the city. Now 51—30 years of which she spent at the mental hospital—Katleya was 17 years old when she enrolled at the state university in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines.

She took a course in agricultural engineering; she had hopes of giving back to the farmers in Biringan which (as she learned from the Theresiana Sisters in the orphanage of La Profesa) was where her roots came from. It was this same orphanage that nurtured and raised her from toddler to elementary grader. After graduation from elementary school, the orphanage would normally send the children to foster parents where a family environment could be further developed for them. But the Theresiana Sisters made an exception for Katleya, who had shown early that she had a flair for teaching. So the orphanage kept her until her graduation from high school. During free time, Katleya simulated kinder classes for toddlers in the orphanage.

Katleya took and passed the admission test for a full scholarship in the state university before she graduated from high school and soon, she had to leave the orphanage.    

Being a stranger to the bustle of the city, she felt lost, and for the first time in her life she missed the Theresiana Sisters badly. Fortunately for her, she had a classmate—named Paloma—with whom she built a solid friendship. Their mutual trust and respect were initially built on their academic aptitude. Later, they discovered they had the same passion for civic duty—e.g., coastal clean-up, earth hour, election watchdog volunteering, etc.

By the second semester, they shared a common dormitory room. They also joined the student council and got involved in organizing protest actions.

A week before the first year of her school days at the state university ended, she was devastated when she heard the news that Paloma—who had already gone home to the nearby province for the school break—had been raped and murdered. The primary suspect, the media reported, was the mayor of a town in Paloma’s home province.

Katleya positioned herself in the front and center of mass actions denouncing the heinous crime. She was out in the streets almost every day during the school break. Soon national media took notice of her, with newscasts of primetime television showing some footage of her fiery speeches over the megaphone. Her network of alliances in student activism went from local to national. It was at this point when she met Meldie, a treasurer of an allied student organization and providing logistical support to many protest actions within Metro Manila, especially around the Mendiola and Tepeyac areas surrounding the vicinity of Malacañang Palace.

Meldie was a scion of a large political family that used to be an influential kingmaker of sort but had lately been victimized by a nasty power play within the government. Her grandfather, the patriarch, was charged with tax evasion. One could tell that, in a way, Meldie’s interest in protest actions was to help antigovernment forces destabilize a system that marginalized her family.

Among Meldie’s prized possession was her American passport; her parents were American citizens. But she preferred to be mostly independent from the flow of the family’s grain. She lived alone, hopping from one apartment to another. On the matter of sexual orientation, she was attracted to girls and women. In fact, it did not take long for Katleya to notice that Meldie was more interested in her than in the street protests that at this point seemed to consume Katleya’s full attention.

By the time she reached the second year at the state university, Katleya barely met her academic requirements to maintain her scholarship due to the growing amount of time she spent networking with fellow activists. By the time she turned 19, just weeks after she enrolled for the third year, she dropped her subjects.

The decision to leave university was partly on account of egging by Meldie, and largely on account of a growing threat from what appeared to her as hired goons that tailed her inside the campus. Katleya suspected that the people behind the killing of Paloma were out either to silence or murder her as well.

Totally dependent on Meldie for her daily needs, Katleya agreed to Meldie’s proposal to relocate to the United States with the hope of rebuilding a life together in that foreign land. They needed proof of marriage so that Meldie could legally tag Katleya along with her. Katleya suggested to see a priest in Quiapo; to Meldie’s reluctant consent, Katleya also proposed to get impregnated by the same priest so that, as Katleya planned, a family they could call their own may grow as soon as they got settled down in the United States.

Katleya did get pregnant from an injection of the priest’s semen, but the relocation to the United States did not happen when government finance authorities tagged their properties in the United States as ill-gotten.

Three days after Katleya gave birth to a boy, policemen swooped down on their apartment. They were looking for one Katleya Ramos who they said was a member of the terrorist-tagged communist party. Physically exhausted, rattled, and unsure of what to do, she hid the baby and motioned to Meldie to look after him while she was away. Deep in her heart, she knew that the charge against her was so serious she thought she may no longer see her baby again.            

In just a few days, Deo could tell that Katleya was on her way to gaining complete control of her senses. He could also tell that Meldie had helped his mother in ways no one else could probably do—like responding to jokes that they assumably shared in their youth—as she went through her recovery process.   

Even Father Revo seemed to feel the vibe. He had been discharged from the hospital. Unfortunately, he had to be confined again in December of that year. The first of his morning callers was Senator Reg Makatigbas. The general-turned-senator was in his jogging outfit. mostly likely he drove directly from a round of gold with the aging but highly respected Dimas Uy.

Father Revo made the motion to stand up to extend his hand, but Deo, who was seated across the room, and a nurse who was attending to the patient, both howled in protest, imploring Father Revo to be still.  

“You are almost as lively as 31 years ago, Father Mel,” Makatigbas greeted the priest. It obviously was an encouragement more than an honest compliment or anything else.

Makatigbas learned that Father Revo was Deo’s father even before he learned that Katleya, Deo’s mother, was his daughter. How strange fate could be, Makatigbas could hear telling himself. He and the priest were of the same age, and their careers started in the same place—Guinhikaptan. He was fresh from graduation at the military academy when he was sent to his first assignment in that part of Ispratly Island, to contain—his marching orders indicated—the communist rebels. Both strangers to the place, Ispratly was where both of them got their baptism of fire.

But what surprised Makatigbas the most was that the moniker “Revo” had survived 31 years after he suggested it himself in Guinhikaptan.

They built some kind of connection the first time Makatigbas and his troops saw Father Revo at the house loaned to the latter by a well off parishioner. That house served as the chapel’s rectory. When one of Makatigbas’ men knocked on the rectory’s door, the priest welcomed the troopers as if he had been expecting them for ages. Like he always did to his visitors—acquaintances or strangers alike—he invited them for a cup of coffee. Before he stepped inside, Makatigbas quickly scanned the neighbors (mostly at a distance of more than twenty-five meters) and saw some of them peeking through their windows.

“Good noon, Father. I am Lieutenant Reg Makatigbas and these are my companions. We are members of the Philippine Army.” The young lieutenant meant to shake the demeanor of the young priest, and he saw that the priest was not showing any bit of discomfort. The priest’s body language was consistent with what he had been told about their host. Makatigbas interpreted Father Revo’s gait as that of a genuine invitation for the government troopers to touch base with him. Makatigbas had prior intelligence information that the priest entertained armed rebels in his domicile.

 “Good noon, Lieutenant Reg.” It was Father Revo’s turn to greet the commanding officer. “My name is Melquiades. Melquiades Calasanz. I am a man of the cloth, as they say. A Catholic priest. You can call me Mel.”

As soon as they got themselves seated, Makatigbas could not help but tease Father Mel with his imagined communist links. Half-chuckling, he asked the priest why there were two large thermoses (used to store hot water for quick serving of coffee) in the dining table when he had no wife and children. Father Revo’s repartee “people call me father—so I am supposed to have a table full of children” pleased Makatigbas. The latter interpreted it as openness on the part of the priest.

Indeed, it was hard not to say something when people were gathered taking sips of coffee. In this part of the globe where trees hovered abundantly over man-made structures, creating canopies that ensured a relatively cool temperature for much of the surrounding areas, hot coffee enriched joviality even when the sun was up.

Father Revo acknowledged the serious tone in the military man’s banter by explaining that a platoon of communist rebels, often as many as today’s visitors, passed by his abode once a week.

“For goodwill’s sake, I offer them coffee whenever they see me,” Father Revo said. “It is not an invitation for them to come back often, but I must say talking to them gives me opportunity to hear their grievances.”

“I volunteered to be assigned to this place because my grandpa said his ancestors came from this place,” Makatigbas sounded as if he wanted to change the topic. “They must be a rebellious lot, judging from the way they defied the Spanish king’s decree to change family names with Spanish-sounding names.

“How about you, Father Mel, what brought you to this place? Are you a native of Ispratly?”

“No, I am not from this place. I just wanted for the first two years of my priestly life to immerse myself in a community where poverty leaves our people oppressed. As you know, this place is one of the provinces in the country with the highest poverty incidence rates. I wanted to know the dynamics—how social systems affect the resolution of conflicts that lead to marginalization of some of our brothers.”

Makatigbas took time to comprehend the nature of the man before him. Here was one who opted to live among strangers in the middle of armed conflict and abject want. Was he nuts? Makatigbas could not be sure of what to think. But one thing he could say with certainty was that this man of the cloth had courage.

Father Revo saw that Makatigbas was contented with being a listener, sometimes shooting glances at him when he talked. Then, addressing the military man’s first question: “That’s why I bought two thermoses because they come in bunches,” referring to the rebels.

As Makatigbas made a gesture to leave, thanking Father Mel for his hospitality and candor, he launched yet another attack.

“For being a friend to the rebels, maybe I can call you Father Rebo, or Father Revo?” Makatigbas—still half-jesting—said. “And, just in case your friends ask in what direction we are heading, tell them we are going north.”   

(It was probably a tribute to Father Mel that no bloody encounter between troopers and rebels happened in Guinhikaptan in the two years that he was there, unlike in many neighboring barrios where shootouts were commonplace.)  

About ten to eleven kilometers to the north of Guinhikaptan was where the sparsely populated Barrio Bukāran located. There he eventually met Osang and with whom he sired Katleya.

Back at the hospital, Deo was surprised to hear for the first time his father being called “Father Mel”. He wondered if the surprises surrounding the identity of his family would never end.

There was so much to catch up on between the two. Their idealism may have been dampened by time, but their drive and ambitions for a better life—not for themselves but for those who were dear to them—remained evident.

After about thirty minutes, Makatigbas asked if there was any thermos inside the room, without any hint of playing the role of a joker. Father Revo’s face lit up, the smile authentic, and the wit has not been dulled by time when he retorted: “I dropped the habit of serving coffee when I learned from a scientific study that caffeine helped limit the testosterone levels in men.”

If Makatigbas ribbed Father Revo for being a rebel, Father Revo kidded Makatigbas for being a womanizer. This was just the second time that they talked to each other at length—the first time being that in Guinhikaptan—but it seemed to Deo they had been brothers all their lives. There was one brief encounter that happened in between both occasions. They were back in Manila–Makatigbas, who had risen relatively fast to become a general in the Philippine Army, had intervened for the release from detention of Father Revo who the police had earlier charged for defying authority when he led protesters in an urban poor community whose dwellings the court had ordered demolished. Both came out of it feeling humbled and untrue to their calling. Makatigbas knew he was out of the book; he just couldn’t help himself rushing to the aid of his Guinhikaptan friend when he saw Father Revo’s photo on the front page of a broadsheet. “The rebel in him has not changed,” he told himself. On Father Revo’s part, he too was repentant for being a party to the general’s breach of conduct, although he wished to thank the latter for sparing him the hassles of incarceration.

When Makatigbas finally left, Deo stared at his father, as if saying so many things have been left unsaid, and would be happy to hear some of them.

“Like all of us, he has his flaws. But he is driven by his convictions. He knew what he needed to do as a professional soldier with a mission to maintain security. He only started to behave strangely when he became a politician. So yes, I like him more as a military man than a politician. In fact, it is because of him that I have full respect for men in uniform.”

From Father Revo’s hospital room Makatigbas proceeded to visit Katleya, who was having her psychotherapy sessions at the military hospital. Makatigbas arranged these sessions with Deo, who fully appreciated his support for promoting the wellbeing of his mother. It was easy to see why Makatigbas was interested in helping Katleya gather complete control of her senses. It was not only because he wished to hasten the process of rebuilding their lives together as a family. It was not also only because he felt he needed to do more to compensate for his omissions with respect to helping her mother’s family in Birigan. Another reason—perhaps for vanity–was that he anticipated Katleya’s sensible narration of how her love story with Father Revo came to be. With the latter’s openness, Makatigbas knew he could hear his version of that story, but he felt that Katleya’s context would be more compelling.

Doctors found it hard to diagnose what specific ailment or deficiency she was suffering from. Her records at the mental hospital showed that, aside from her paranoia and anxieties, she went into a trance, which at times lapsed into a coma, during New Year’s Eve. It turned out she was deathly afraid of the sound of gunfire.

It would have been probably helpful if somebody knew how the baby—who would be called “Elodia”—rattled by the raucous soldier’s gunfire, assured herself of her mother’s protection by sucking her mother’s milk. That milk would soon be mixed with blood dripping from her mother’s wounded neck. Instinct told Katleya that gunfire was what caused her mother to grow cold.  

Because of that personal detour in his professional life, Makatigbas could not shake himself free from the burden of a pointless recollection of his whys and what ifs. He wanted to break off with a girlfriend in college and a more recent one he dated twice right after his graduation from the military academy. He thought that being stationed in a remote area—as remote as Ispratly Island—would be a convenient excuse to make himself intractable. To his relief, the hierarchy’s decision to recall him from his Ispratly mission a year later was also an escape from any responsibility he might have had with Osang, about whom he maintained he had nothing but friendship with benefits.

As soon as he found Katleya in the mood to talk, he would—like a doting grandfather—randomly ask her questions along with small compliments of Father Revo.

Like this one:

“I would say he is one of those who practice what they preach. In two times that I experienced an encounter with him—in Ispratly and in Cerrito—I am convinced of his genuine concern for other people, especially the poor. I saw that he was willing to risk his own life and limb just to be able to serve them.”

Seeing that references to Father Revo pleased her, Makatigbas pressed his agenda. After a few more psychotherapy sessions, he felt confident enough to ask her his big question.

“How did you and Father Revo meet?”

She told her the story the best way she could. At the end of it, it was her turn to ask:

“Do you accept him as your son-in-law?”

Katleya expected a yes or no answer; she did not get one or the other. Evasive or not, he replied: “It is because of him that I have total respect for men of the cloth.”

Back at the hospital where Father Revo was confined, three visitors knocked on his door just as Deo was about to leave. The priest was now asleep. Deo stayed a little longer to chat with the visitors, who brought along with them boxes of fried chicken, rice, and cola from Jollifoods, apparently intended as a well-wishing present to Father Revo.

“We are very happy for you, Mayor Deo,” the trio greeted him.

Of the three, two appeared to be men and one was a woman. All were about the same age as Deo. Continued the woman: “We tried to visit you and the late Junie a long time ago, as soon as we learned that the two of you were working at city hall. But we felt you might misunderstand it as opportunity seeking.”

Pleased, Deo nevertheless looked puzzled.

One of the men got the clue in Deo’s face and said: “We are not as popular as you, so it is perfectly understandable that you have no idea of who we are. We used to play together and sell Sampaguita at Plaza Roma when we were street kids, about five or six years old.”

As soon as Deo heard this, he blurted out “just as I thought” with laughter, gathering them as a bundle in his arms. This hushed commotion nevertheless roused Father Revo from his sleep.

The trio greeted him in unison: “Sorry we disturb you from your siesta, Father Revo.”

Despite nursing some abdominal pain, Father Revo cheerfully acknowledged their presence.

“We have brought something for you!” exclaimed the woman, pointing to cartoon boxes of Jollifoods atop a table.

“Thank you! How come you know my favorite food?” Father Revo joked. “Because you know me, I must also know you.”

The woman was first to volunteer: “It is good that Mayor Deo is here, because it was the five of us—God bless Junie’s soul—whom you treated with free lunch at Jollifoods some 25 years ago. I am Monina.”

“I am Freakie, Father.”

“And I am Leo. We used to sell Sampaguita with Mayor Deo and Junie at Plaza Roma. We were also playmates for one or two years, I think.”

As both Deo and Father Revo listened intently, the three needed no further prodding to tell their story.

“Me and Monina, we are siblings,” Leo said. “Freakie is a cousin. His parents broke up early, so he has since lived with us.”

Monina continued:

“When we told our parents about what happened on that day, our tatay asked nanay if it was possible for him to volunteer to become an Hijo. We lived under the bridge and scavenging for scraps was our only livelihood, so we were untidy and could not present ourselves decently. It was hard for tatay to apply for membership until Guimo, who eventually became Junie’s stepfather, offered help.

“As Hijo, tatay could only help during morning masses because he and nanay continued to collect scraps from dump areas in Binondo and Sta. Cruz during the afternoon and evening, then sold those scraps at junk shops by midnight. He did not get paid as Hijo, although a few times we could have free drinks and snacks at the office inside the church. After a year of serving as Hijo, tatay got wind from another Hijo of an invitation to work as a janitor-cleaner in a nearby maritime school. It turned out that the owner of the school was a Nazarene devotee himself and he had bias for members of the Hijo. Tatay, along with four other Hijos, got hired as utility workers and were assigned both inside the campus and onboard training ships.

“My tatay’s wage was low, but we were able to buy some clothing. We still lived under the bridge although our nanay had more time now to look after us.”

“And I got free education,” Leo cheerfully butted in.

Monina, obviously the spokesperson for the three, continued: “Yes, Father, from elementary to college. In college, he took up maritime engineering and he earned his degree in three years. Meantime, Freakie and I continued to study in public schools although getting enough allowance for basic needs was a daily struggle. 

“Anyway, back to my brother—our hero–from the training ships, he learned of job opportunities that we could hunt for after graduation. He did apply and landed his first job as an apprentice on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. He got promoted almost twice a year, and in four years, he became a second mate. Freakie and I also eventually got hired in the same company largely based on his recommendation.

“Long story short, Father, we were able to buy our own home in Kabite and got our parents to live in a healthier environment and a more comfortable life. And we are all indebted to you for that act of kindness at Jollifoods. That might just be some little good deed for many, but in the end, it meant the best that we could make of our lives.”

“When we visit our parents—which is twice a year–we also make it a point to visit Quiapo Church. This morning we inquired in the parish office about you, only to hear that you have been confined in a hospital. That was how we found you here, Father. We prayed to the Black Nazarene for your good health and cheerful heart.

“Get well soon, Father,” Freakie, almost in tears, finally found his words.

“Get well soon, Father,” Leo added.

Deo remembered Gidaben’s story about an act of kindness shown to him by Madis-ogon’s policeman father that influenced his transformation later in life. Gidaben, then a street kid like Deo was when he was young, was hungry and could not buy for himself a string of fish ball, and was surprised by the elder Madis-ogon who bought one for him. That little good deed apparently was not lost on Gidaben when, years later, he decided to risk his own interests to repay Yago through Junie and Katalina with his share of stained money from Madis-ogon.              

The following month, January 2015, Monsignor Discotero Rasonable, the Rector who replaced the now-retired Monsignor Ubanon, invited Mayor Deo to deliver a talk at the conclusion of the mass preceding the Traslación.   

In his homily, Manila Archbishop Cocopate Cardinal Calaveria talked about miracles. He said that while God can perform miracles by himself, he preferred showing them to us with the participation of human hands. Thus, he needed five loaves of bread to feed a multitude. He needed buckets of water so he could transform them into wine. Even in the Old Testament, the Israelites had to paint their doors with the blood of a sheep to fend off the curse that killed the firstborn males in all of Egypt.

He added that the miracle of the Eucharist, which happens every day in the Holy Mass, was like the blood of the sheep; it shielded us from the curse of the fall of our parents from God’s grace in the story of creation—the Genesis. But for that miracle to work, God needed our participation. We must turn away from sin and do things that please him.

In the past, rhythmic chants of “Viva! Viva! Viva!” reverberated throughout the Santiago de Compostela at the end of each celebration of the Holy Mass that preceded the Traslacion. It was easy to tell why. For as soon as the carriage of the Black Nazarene started its march, a flood of devotees would rush in its direction. They wanted to touch the statue, which was almost an impossibility due to a multitude having the same desire: one effectively blocked the other’s way. Injuries and accidents happened here as some of them would still manage to hop onto rows upon rows of somebody else’s shoulder just to get close to the carriage. At any rate, most devotees would settle for the second-best thing—they tossed their hankies at the Hijos manning the carriage who, after rubbing them at any part of the Black Nazarene’s body or clothing, would toss them back to the crowd.

Anything that kept the devotees from showing off their fanatical worship was a damper. Thus, when somebody announced that a speech would follow at the conclusion of the mass, a hushed echo of disapproval emitted from the throng. But the announcer was obviously playing to the gallery. He clipped his words in cadence for effect. When he mentioned that Mayor Deo was in the house, the crowd roared with its rhythmic chants again.

“Viva! Viva! Viva!”

Dawn was breaking. Tentative rays of sunlight flickered from the east. A sea of devotees could be seen filling the entire open space of the Santiago de Compostela—all of its 58 hectares—and surrounding thoroughfares, frantically waving their white shoals and handkerchiefs in the air.  

“Viva! Viva! Viva!”            

In his speech, Mayor Deo stayed close to Calaveria’s theme—that is, about everyday miracles.

Below is an excerpt of Mayor Deo’s speech:

“I practically lived in the vicinity of Quiapo Church for twenty-two years. I made Plaza Roma my home for at least ten years, from the time I was five years old until fifteen. I lived those precious growing-up years with my friend Junie, the one who should be standing up now before you instead of me. Junie and I went through the grind, eking out a living from the sale of recovered scraps as well as from alms, from the kindness of others. Before us, his father himself scavenged to survive for twenty years in that same place, two years of which under the bridge near Sta. Cruz—over there (pointing northeastward), just over two kilometers away from here. It was a habitat shared with flies, ants, and spiders.

“Many times, I heard the priests in Quiapo and in Sta. Cruz say that God is good, that he did not leave anyone hungry, etc.

“I did not believe them. For how could I believe them if all around me there was hunger?

“But you know as a kid, even in our wretched conditions, Junie and I had time to play with spiders… and you know how creepy spiders are, how they scare people away and get whacked in return. We made pets out of them. There was a time I spent a couple of hours just watching one of my pets build its web, and I could not believe how beautiful a spider’s web is if we only allow it to complete its work, instead of pitting them against each other until one or both of them die from exhaustion or injuries just like we did when we were kids, or when we drive them away with brooms or sticks because we think they are unsightly and fit to be condemned for blighting our surroundings.

“God’s work in our lives is like that of a spider’s web. We can only appreciate its beauty if we allow him to complete his work with our cooperation. In this context my life story can never be dissociated with that of Junie.

“Yago—Junie’s father—was left for dead when he was eight. Nobody knew how he survived the next five years of his life. What we know is that he managed to keep not only both his body and soul together, but he also kept his sanity while experiencing the lowest ebb of his life. In fact, he managed, in the end, to raise a family from which a generational leader like Junie emerged.

“And I think the dramatic part of Junie’s story evolved the way it did because of Nardong Sablay. The latter was the one who left the eight-year-old Yago on the sidewalk of a busy street in Caloocan, alone and without any resource to help himself survive. Of course, Nardong Sablay acted on the orders of his lady boss, and should be blameless. But he made it a point to make life harder for Yago than it already was for the kid.

“When Junie started to attract a following as chair of Sangguniang Kabataan, then as member of Barangay Council, you can imagine Nardong’s horror (who remained as one of the trusted hands in Mr. Ty’s Cerrito household) when Joey (who by the way is now a colonel in the military), brought him to his parents’ house in Cerrito. On learning from Joey that Junie was Yago’s (a.k.a. Golek) son, Nardong Sablay (who was already sixty years old at the time), asked Junie, with Joey’s permission, to hire him as an all-around errand boy.

“‘I wanted to mend the irreparable damage I inflicted on his father,’ Nardong Sablay pleaded. Joey acceded because he knew his own mother was also blameworthy for what happened to Yago.  

“I can narrate the same story about Joey. He was remorseful for what his family did to Yago. To make amends, he helped Junie achieve what he tried to achieve in life.

“Stories go on and on. I can also mention with much fondness what happened to Meldie. Being apologetic for what happened to my mother, she helped Katleya rediscover her smile.  

“The point I am trying to say is that there is always hope for redemption, regardless of how compromised one is, if only we allow God to complete his work for us. Who would have thought that it would take two generations—from Yago to Junie and myself—for us to see the beauty of a completed masterpiece, like a spider’s web, which started, in the case of Nardong Sablay, in betrayal that was driven by envy and hate, but ended in redemption and reconciliation, or in the case of Gidaben, who had to risk his own life by sharing us his story, or in the case of wayward cops, whose reformation both surprises and inspires us. 

“You would think that Nardong Sablay, after his role in dumping Junie’s father, would be worthy of condemnation in the way we swat spiders away from our homes. But he redeemed himself by asking to be part of Junie’s household; in the end, he even tried to heroically save Junie’s life on that tragic night that we got ambushed in the campaign trail.

“There are miracles waiting to happen every day if we only do our part—with hard work, discipline, and God-centered purpose and dedication–and, as I said, allow him to complete his work for us. I played and sold Sampaguita flowers at Plaza Roma with fellow street kids who drew inspiration from acts of kindness shown to them—those little good deeds—and turned their lives around to become one of our modern-day heroes, the Overseas Filipino Workers. They struggled for decades, but they did not give up. In the end, by doing what they could do best in their daily lives, by grinding it out under limiting circumstances, they succeeded. They justified God from whose mercy all redemption come.    

“Also, let me share with you something which I don’t think I have ever mentioned in public speeches before. As a kid, I followed the ants. I watched how they scavenge for crumbs, and how they bring their food to their colonies which I found to be hosted by trunks of trees or damaged concrete buildings. One time there was flood that either submerged or carried heaps of things away—push carts, scraps, trash, merchandise goods, construction debris, and even cars. There I saw the ants floating above the water. Whole colonies wrapped themselves up as one like a ball. Floodwaters rushed toward the river, and the floating colony passed by the shed where myself and two or three of my friends, soaking wet, were waiting for the rain to stop.

“The ants looked like they were tied to each other through their limbs. The ants showed their commitment to each other, helping themselves to create air space that enabled the colony to float. Each one helped the other survive the flood that swept them from their homes.

“From the spiders that taught me to wait for the completion of God’s creation, to the ants that taught me how one depended on the other to survive, I come here today with the message to suggest that there is beauty in an ugly world, that there is love for one another even if it seems envy and hate everywhere are pulling us down.   

“Spiders can help change our views as individual persons. Ants can help us transform our views as a community.

“I remember the first time I experienced the Traslación. Maybe I was six or seven years old. I saw this boy, maybe even younger than myself, who was crying because he lost her mother. Then somebody told him to just stay where he was because his mother would look for him in the last place where the two of them stayed together. That good little deed of assuring him was a miracle; he stopped crying and, sure enough, his mother found her way back to him.

“The message of ‘just staying where you are’ has not left me as I grew older. Staying where you are, to me, means keeping the faith. As we struggle, God will come back to us, in the person of somebody who we might not even know. In instances that I cannot count, I also experienced the Black Nazarene’s miracles in my life. The miracles came in the form of food when I was dying of hunger, and of mothers—I had at least five of them—who found their way back to me.

“Katleya, from whose blood I got mine, came back to me in mysterious ways. She was orphaned by the whims of war. Most times orphans of violence become violent themselves. But her path took a different turn. The web of God’s creation has opened opportunities for us to see where we can best complement the fullness of that creation. I think that if we are only discerning enough, being at peace with ourselves, which requires us to seek the grace of forgiveness and humility, we would be able to understand how God prepares that path for us.         

“Staying where you are means keeping alive the hope that life will turn for the better for as long as we put in the effort to make a living, with determination and dedication. It means doing little good deeds for our neighbor. It means helping to put the smile back in those who need our help. To be of service to others is the last place—’the communion of saints,’ as we hear the preachers explain in their homilies and as we pray the Apostles’ Creed—where we need to stay together. That is where God, I suppose, will come back to us. Cardinal Calaveria has reminded us of how the Holy Eucharist works for us. It is an assurance that God will keep coming back to us, fulfilling his promise that he will not leave us alone.

“The Traslación is an occasion for the recollection of how our lives have experienced the outpouring of love from our brothers and sisters. The Black Nazarene performs his miracles through them. He heals the sick through our doctors and other medical professionals. He wipes the tears away from our eyes through our mothers. He brings laughter into our lives through our friends. And he keeps us humble through our enemies.

“It is just fitting that we strip ourselves of our sandals or shoes because we are walking on holy ground. This ground is holy because it supports our bond with God and his creation. Our bare feet feeling the earth symbolize the acceptance of our responsibility for each other, including those generations that will come after us. We need to spare the ground of our trash. We do not need to step on somebody else’s shoulder just to be able to touch the Nazarene.” 

The transformative power of Deo’s words manifested itself an hour or two later.

While the estimated number of devotees had increased by more than a million, the Traslación that year was in many ways different from the previous years. This one was orderly; only a handful of devotees got injured. There was but few trash and litters on the streets. The procession was completed in twelve hours instead of the forty-eight hours that the Traslación took to complete in the previous year.

A couple of hours later, Mayor Deo’s cellphone vibrated in his pocket. It was a call from Father Andoy.

“Father Revo watched the live coverage of the mass from his hospital bed. He said he felt proud—”

“Hearing my speech?” Boy Deo butted in, trying to be cheerful. Even with no one telling him, Boy Deo could sense where Father Andoy’s news was heading. They both knew Father Revo’s time was up. Father Andoy only made it less of a suspense for him.

“Yes… and also for seeing you wear the Leo Benedicto ring,” Father Andoy replied. “He closed his eyes right after your speech. An hour or so later, he breathed his last. My condolences, please.”