Although inspired by true-to-life events, Miracles of Quiapo in its totality is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance of similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. No offense is intended for any mention of names, places or things that bears similarities with actual or existing names of persons (whether natural or juridical), places or things. Where the novel mentions Quiapo Church or Manila City Hall, among other iconic places, to cite a few examples, it is only because they are integral to its plot, and which otherwise further aims to edify their historical and/or cultural prestige.
Before she took on the menial job as store attendant of a general merchandise store in Quiapo, Sylvia Monir had a promising career in multi-level marketing, ostensibly selling home grooming products. However, a court case against the company for pyramiding halted her rise to fame and wealth.
Still, that did not stop her from getting ahead in life. The main competitor of the company hired her as a mid-level corporate executive. With bonuses from sales made by teams she helped grow exponentially, she became a self-made millionaire at age 35. She was so good that her co-workers felt envious of her success.
One day the owner of the company found that somebody had embezzled funds from the treasury. In an internal investigation that followed, two co-workers testified that Sylvia was behind several fraudulent transactions, complete with receipts that established the money trail. Turned out her skills in sales could not help her navigate through the maze of bureaucratic traps. She found herself lucky: the penalty of dismissal imposed on her could have been harsher.
Months later, egged on by a former co-worker to question her unjust dismissal, Sylvia sued the company for unfair labor practice. She took the gamble partly on the resolve of personal pride that nagged her to redeem whatever was left of her reputation, as well as partly on a friend’s advice that everything she lost financially could be recouped. She eventually lost the case, after a series of appeals, along with much of her savings that she spent for legal services during litigation.
Her depression pushed her to the brink; her emotional swings—sometimes foregoing meals for days—taxed the patience and tolerance of people around her. Except for a few—her boyfriend of 10 years had abandoned her—those who followed her in her heyday were mostly gone. Convinced that a world she once dazzled with her gift of gab had been lost, she sought and found refuge in illegal drugs. It was a matter of time before she showed signs of hitting the bonkers. In just a span of two years, hers was a free fall from the heights of self-confidence to the depths of despair, from millionaire to pauper, from a winsome talker to a wretched loner.
Fortunately for her, the core of her family was there to lift her from the pits. Against her will, family members deprived her of personal liberties. She could not hang out with anyone beyond the neighborhood unless she showed some healing in her emotional bruises. Alcohol, cigarette, and drugs were totally and permanently banned.
After a year of arduous babysitting, Sylvia’s mother, frail at 65, gradually allowed her to test the outside world again. Strangely, the city streets became a therapeutic home for her. Her outward appearance still pretty much suggested that she had lost her wits. On closer look, however, she was one who could wow a crowd with tales of her once happy life and, to the surprise of policemen and onlookers, she could speak fluent English.
Even more strangely, she found the slimy Quiapo neighborhood to be accommodating. The place where complete strangers meet beckoned her to blend in. Although at times she marked herself as Catholic by the sign of the cross, members of the Muslim community in the area adopted her as one of their own. Fourteen months after her meltdown, she was on her way to a “miraculous” emotional recovery.
Wooed extravagantly, she went on to marry a Muslim trader. They separated three years later, however, although she decided to keep his family name. Her husband, who had children from several other women, complained that she was impotent.
Her husband happened to have connections with a slew of policemen. Through an endorsement by one of them, she got the job as store attendant in the store where she found a carefully bundled child one early morning, just as dawn was breaking. She was sane enough, with an astute presence of mind, to quickly decide that this one was her passport to redemption. She had been planning to try her luck as an overseas contract worker, and she needed at least 100K pesos to get all the paperwork done. Once she started “earning” again, her personal vow to repay her mother for the troubles she caused her could finally be fulfilled.
Sylvia guarded Anding like he was the Golden Buddha—one of those make-believe stories she once read from a pile of her favorite tabloids. So precious but hidden.
First order of the day was to talk to Sir Dikomo. The policeman had the longest tenure in the Quiapo Police Precinct. While it was normal for everyone else to be re-assigned to other precincts after two or three years, Sir Dikomo had been in Quiapo for more than ten years.
The Police Commission had found him guilty of at least three administrative charges in the past, meriting penalty of dismissal, only to be re-instated every time after each conviction. Not a few from among his ranks had expressed resentment for what appeared clearly to them as special treatment that was being accorded to him by higher authorities.
Not found in police records, Sir Dikomo had also shot and killed two gangsters with whom a cousin of his had an altercation. This meant the public had no idea of how many more lives have been ended by his gun.
But Sir Dikomo was perhaps the most beloved patrolman in all of Quiapo. Whenever he had his way, he did not tolerate abuse of ordinary people by persons in authority; and he was reciprocated with an abundance of respect. Regular devotees, vendors, tenants, among many others, deferred to him. During Friday masses, the Quiapo Parish turned to him—complementing the security force of the parish—to ensure that order within the surroundings of the church was maintained. For this extra service, the priests showered him and his fellow officers with gifts, either in kind or in cash.
Sylvia was indebted to Sir Dikomo for endorsing her to her employer. Excited at the prospect of being able to finally repay him, she sought him out for a chat. After a brief “yes-I-know-you” banter, they went down to business:
“I just sort of remember that orphanage kind of business you told me about…” she said.
“Yes, have I told you about Sir Reg, our former chief?” Reference to his former boss was subtle. Sir Dikomo felt that Sylvia could be kind of mole or spy within the organization, and so if she was referring to a side hustle that some people might find exploitative, there was the venerable Lt Col Regidor Makatigbas to either thank or blame for.
“No,” Sylvia replied. Of course, Sir Dikomo kept a secret like how Father Revo would guard the seal of the confessional. That meant disclosing but only stray and unrelated strands of the OXD agenda. That also meant being discreet about any scant mention of his Sir Reg.
“Well, he wanted to broaden his sources of information that feeds a group of clienteles for orphanages,” Sir Dikomo mumbled, still trying to probe whatever the point it was that brought Sylvia to him. “That was probably the context for why you got the information regarding orphanages.”
“Yes, Sir, I have an information for you!” she exclaimed.
“I remember there had been three cases in this area where sources of leads got hefty commissions for their referrals,” he said, sounding like he was more confident now in what Sylvia was trying to say.
“No, Sir, I am not only the source of information, I am the custodian of an orphan myself,” she clarified, with matching body language that emphasized she was worth more than a commission.
Ok, so this is a money transaction, Sir Dikomo thought, feeling more relaxed at this point. His reaction told Sylvia about how pleasantly surprised he was.
It had been four long years since she felt this confident, and although the fleeting flashback triggered memories of hate and unbearable pain, she could not deny at this point that momentum was teasing her. Hers was a vision of a door being opened for a realistic streak that could soon bring her back to a familiar self: being the one who was on top of her game.
“And from those three cases, I knew, Sir, that babies who have no government records had commanded bigger sums…” she paused, waiting for some kind of confirmation from the police officer.
Sir Dikomo nodded, saying, “Yes, of course, depending on how seamless you can deliver the child to the boarding process.”
The boarding process for the OXD agenda, sometimes called the OXD (short for Operation Xing Dynasty) project, had three long-term tracks. The first, called Subic Babies, sent orphans to designated families in the United States where they would stay long enough to be able to acquire American citizenship. Their Filipino parentage would qualify them to become dual citizens. As dual citizens, they could buy real estate properties, including huge tracts of land in the Philippines. In 20 or so years, the Subic Babies would be able to supply land, including quarry materials, for the OXD project.
Track Two comprised the Homonhon Babies, where orphans would be sent to OXD-affiliated families. One or two members of these families were likely to have military backgrounds. Like the Subic Babies, the Homonhon orphans would be raised in a normal environment for kids, like going through grade and high school. In college, they would be enticed to enroll at the Military Academy. Their military training, as well as the progression of their respective military careers, should be seen as a natural process for them. In 30 to 40 years, tens of military generals in active service would be expected to covertly support the OXD Project to the point that, where there would be any conflict, their oath of allegiance to their country could be sacrificed for what OXD’s ultimate mission demanded.
Track three comprised the rejects. Orphans sent to either one of the two tracks who got derailed at some point became sources of the organ banks in mainland Qina. The OXD Secretariat decided on how or when they became donors. Often, they died from a motorcycle accident, or they could be casualties in a drug buy-bust operation.
Parallel lobbies supported legislation that aimed among other things to harmonize and ease the procedures for the grant of dual citizenships involving the US and other major countries of destination for Filipino migrants, revisit laws on orphanages and adoption, as well as on ownership of real estate properties by dual citizens. There were also specific interventions for each of the three tracks. For Subic Babies, OXD helped finance and nurture the election of selected puppets in key local government posts, especially in areas adjoining to the West Philippine Sea territories. Local officials who had potential to be groomed as Manchurian candidates at the national level were tabbed as “special projects.” For Homonhon Babies, OXD worked covertly to help manage the careers of selected military and police officers. For the rejects, OXD established a network of affiliates among funeral and memorial services outfits.
OXD made it a policy to strictly follow Philippine laws on adoption of children from orphanages. But just the same, it assumed that after completion of each adoption process, nobody would be able to track either the identity or the whereabouts of the child, regardless of whether they were in the United States or in the Philippines. There had been complications, however, such as when a scam run by a foster care center became the subject of a congressional investigation, threatening to expose the heretofore invisible industry players like the OXD. Which was why preference was given, and bigger amounts were paid, to custodians of abandoned children, because no records about their identities existed. This also explained why OXD has maintained a network of maternity and birthing clinics in major urban centers throughout the country, although some of them existed only in paper.
After a discussion on how money would be split (Sylvia actually could do nothing but either agree or disagree), they decided to discuss the onboarding details at some future time and date. Whole transaction would amount, in peso terms, to 200K, 50K of which would be deducted and split among a matrix of brokers and/or affiliates. That meant Sylvia would net around 150K for her merchandise.
Before she kind of closed the deal with Sir Dikomo, Sylvia reached out to at least two more prospective buyers from a list (which she laboriously compiled for at least five days) of families that have filed applications to adopt a child. The list contained names and telephone numbers, and was collected from Hospicio de Manila and two other orphanages; with characteristic creativity, she also listed names of childless families that have recently offered masses at the Quiapo Church that petitioned for divine intervention. Two from her list offered amounts that she rejected. One was even slightly higher than the one that was already on the table. She thought that she owed the policeman so much that it would take a much bigger take home pay to turn him down.
The effort to auction off her precious find also led her to more discoveries about the orphanage business. She found out that there were several layers of distribution chains. Orphanages sourced their warm inventories not only from birthing and maternity clinics, but also from custodial facilities for homeless street children. Then they either raised or farmed them out to foster homes, some of whom were unknown to government regulatory agencies. There were brokers and “bridge families.” Like auto service centers that groomed used cars before being offered for resale to command higher prices, outsourced foster families helped refine the manners of orphans (especially street children) to prepare them for adoption.
OXD had more or less the same business model, except that the less documented transactions were, the more secure the whole operation would be. Before Sylvia could get paid, she had to deliver the baby like he was a contraband. Identities of agents involved had to be concealed; no records to be signed; nothing had to change hands except the baby and wads of cash.
Sir Dikomo assured her that for as long as she kept the code of silence, the deal would be completed just as they discussed it. One final detail in their verbal agreement: Sir Dikomo advised her to just “disappear into the night” as soon as she got paid.
This was not a problem for Sylvia. Her contract for overseas employment, facilitated by a recruitment agency that was partly owned by her former husband, and her travel arrangements were up for final approval; nothing but the full payment of corresponding recruitment fees stood in the way of her second lease in life.
ANDING WAS ON HIS way to a family that would adopt him fourteen days after he was baptized. He could have been shipped earlier, but on two occasions Father Andoy paid a visit that made it impossible to arrange trysts with the assigned receiving and disbursing agents. Sylvia did not want to arouse suspicion in him that she had other plans for the child. On his first visit, the priest had discussed the compensation for her heroic and compassionate services, which to her was almost a token. He also mentioned that a family among the Hijos were ready to adopt the child. On the second visit, he assured her that adoption papers were being finalized by the parish lawyer in collaboration with the social welfare office of the city government.
Rattled, Sylvia wrapped the baby in a towel and whisked him out of her living quarters a few minutes after Father Andoy’s last visit. She then checked into a decrepit, low-budget motel in nearby Sta. Cruz, but only after explaining to the front desk attendant who demanded upfront payment that she was waiting for her husband and that she would pay as soon as he arrived.
Inside the motel room, she weighed her options on how to proceed. It was clear to her that she needed to get paid and get out of the motel fast. The longer she stayed in that room, the higher the risk of her gold turning to stone. She knew she made an impression among the motel staff that something unusual was going on with her and the child. She could not afford any slight hint that would alert people to call the police, because a search for the baby’s records in the civil registry will expose her complicity to a crime. Kidnapping— “flagrante delicto,” caught in the act—if she remembered correctly something her lawyer of bygone days liked to say.
She could not leave with the child for a few minutes to see Sir Dikomo—that would most likely invite the motel to call the police. She could not leave to see any of her prospective buyers for the same reason. She could not leave the child inside their room, regardless of whether or not the front desk might suspect she was slipping out to dodge her bill—that would not only invite the police, but probably the social welfare office and even medical personnel as well, given the vulnerability of the infant that suggested his need for medical care.
Probably the safest route for her, legal complication-wise, was to admit that the baby was under the custody of a Quiapo priest, go back to the store, and say goodbye to the promise of a greener pasture abroad. But she needed a corroborating tale to support this line; unfortunately for her, in her haste she left at her Quiapo residence a copy of the tabloid that featured Father Andoy and the child. Would people believe her if she told them they were on TV less than a month ago?
Lost in her thoughts, she did not realize that her time to settle her bill for a short-time stay was up. She decided to approach the front desk.
“I wish to extend for another two hours,” she said. “And can I use your phone, please?”
On the phone, she tried to control the uneven tone in her voice, lest she might invite questioning from the motel staff—even from those who might show empathy.
She called her employer first, telling her the lie that a member of her family was in an emergency and that she needed to see him in the hospital. She also said that she might be away for the whole day. Besides Sylvia, two other store attendants were in the owner’s payroll. She asked one of the two to take her place while she was away.
Up next was a ring at Sir Dikomo’s office.
“Can I talk to Colonel De Mozo please?” The emphasis on the rank was deliberate to keep anyone within hearing distance from even thinking that she was an outlaw.
A voice told her that Sir Dikomo was out of the office for something. She could not leave a telephone number for the police officer to return her call; she could not also give the address of the motel where she was holed up.
“Ok thanks, please tell him when he comes back that I will call again in 30 minutes,” and she hung up.
One after the other she called up the two other prospective buyers, but both told her that they could not produce the money on demand. She explained to both of them that there was an emergency in the family and that she needed to leave for the province immediately. She also disclosed her location, citing the address of the drug store right beside the motel, assuring them that she and the baby would be around to meet them in the event they were able to raise the money.
In a sense she felt relieved that the delays would give her more time to consider carefully her options. She waited for one hour before calling Sir Dikomo’s office again. She could not hide her excitement when she heard his voice on the other end of the line.
“Where have you been?” he asked, in a tone that, although calm and gentle, sounded like a prelude to scolding. “Our agents have been trying to get in touch with you these past few days.”
There was little time to even apologize, especially that she had been busy practically the past week building her list of prospective clients. This was a make-or-break situation for her. She looked around to see if somebody was listening. There was none. “Please send them to Perseverance Drug, near My World Motel and Venus Medical Supplies, Rizal Avenue, Manila. Please tell them to rush over. I cannot stay in this place for longer than an hour. Bye, Sir.” Then she hung up.
She felt like hugging Anding. She was now close to believing what she said when she talked Father Andoy into her scheme: that the baby had super-natural powers. In almost 6 hours that they had been missing in action, moving like fugitives and all, he had shown little discomfort or irritation, except to seek his bottle of milk. Inside the motel, he was asleep most of the time.
After 30 more minutes, she gathered the baby in her bosom, then stationed themselves outside the motel, close enough to the entrance and exit door so that the front desk could see them. After 15 minutes or so Sylvia saw one of the buyers approaching them. They got the deal done in less than three minutes. What took them long to close the transaction was the unsteady hands by which she counted the money. Then she gave the baby to the middle-aged couple. Just like that.
After paying her bill (which was loose change compared to the three-thousand-pesos tip she generously gave the attendants and security guard) and collecting her personal effects, she had just taken a few steps outside, enjoying scents of her new-found freedom, when she saw a brand-new Toyota Corolla pull up right beside Perseverance Drug. An elderly woman was in the passenger seat. The driver went out of the car as he spotted her.
After greeting each other, she apologized: “I’m sorry I thought you would not be able to come. Somebody has already taken the boy. They have left just minutes ago.”
“How much did you exchange him for?” the driver asked.
She told him the truth. “A hundred fifty thousand pesos.”
“Tough luck,” he murmured, “grandma here is ready to part with 175 thousand.”
For a moment, Sylvia could not say a word. Almost by impulse she bit her lip and also instinctively looked away to hide her facial language. As she spun her head, she saw the middle-aged couple at the counter of Perseverance Drug. Quick-witted, she thought that this was a win-win opportunity for her clients.
“O look, over there! I can ask them to discuss things over with you,” she suggested, pointing at some customers of the drug store. She then approached the middle-aged couple, who undoubtedly were rummaging for baby items.
“I’m sorry to disturb your shopping,” she greeted them again. “I’m also sorry if this sounds awkward, but somebody outside wish to propose 175K for the baby. You make 25K on the spot for the trouble of your coming over…”
The man looked puzzled. The woman looked irritated, almost annoyed, as if asking her what kind of scam she was up to.
“Again, I’m sorry,” Sylvia sounded calm and professional. Talk about what money did to self-confidence. “It’s all up to you, Sir and Madam. He is over there, outside; you can discuss his offer with him if you so desire. Else you can just ignore him or wave him off. Thanks again for your trust.”
As she left for good, she passed by the driver to tell him that she discussed with the couple his offer. They might or might not consider it, she said, and that he might do well to wait awhile for what would come next. Sylvia thanked him for coming over. She said good bye with a graceful wave of her hand.
As the middle-aged couple, with the woman carrying the baby, stepped out of the drug store, they saw him talking to an elderly but charming lady inside the car. Back inside the store, they had decided to keep the baby, but when they saw how the old lady talked to the driver, they could feel she was almost like anyone’s grandma.
The woman did not resist when the man pulled her arm to guide her towards the car. He felt that a little gesture of courtesy would not hurt and informing her of their decision would produce a feel-good vibe for all of them.
“Good afternoon,” greeted the woman. “We understand you are looking for this baby, just as we are. We have been married for 15 years but still childless. We have made the decision to keep him.”
“Oh wonderful,” the elderly woman greeted them back. “Can I at least take a look at him?”
Maintaining a safe distance, the woman opened the baby’s hood and showed his face to the elderly woman, who remained inside the car.
“What a soul. I just lost a son who died of cancer. He was a priest. I dreamed of raising a boy to replace him. It would have been nice to see him reach at least the seminary before I die.” Her face was slightly wrinkled, but the couple could see that her eyes were sparkling with childlike optimism.
Between the husband and wife, the latter was of firmer resolve not to part with the baby, but when she saw and heard the elderly woman, she kept looking at the facial expression of her husband for clues. As conversation among claim-makers became lighter, the infant responded by kicking his legs and flashing what pundits would call a “killer” smile. He brought peace and eased the build-up of tension among panicky adults. The husband was now leaning towards keeping the child as his own, while the wife’s inclination shifted towards favoring the grandma.
Grandma was about to give in when a young woman butted in. “You must be Sylvia Monir?” she addressed the wife.
Nobody noticed that three people in casual clothes had approached them, and were in fact close enough to hear what they were talking about.
“No, the one with that name has left,” the wife exclaimed. “And who are you, if you don’t mind, Sir?”
A burly-built man butted in. “We are Metrocom and you are under arrest!”
Stunned, the wife had to restrain herself from yelling. “I told you this was a scam!” she accosted her husband. Their faces stared blankly at how shocking the last couple of hours had been. Hopping from one taxi to another just to save time, coughing up borrowed money, then losing all of it just like that. They wanted to raise hell in protest, but there was no one to protest to.
The driver delved into a rescue attempt. “Can I see your badge, Sir?” he demanded.
Feeling insulted, the hulk showed him handcuffs instead.
“We are undercover agents,” the reply came from the young woman.
“That’s alright officer,” Grandma calmly butted in. With a stern face and unblinking eyes, she addressed the bully. “We are all—all of us here—are going to the precinct with you.” She then turned to the couple, asking them to hop inside the car.
For a second this stopped the intruders in their tracks. The third member of what looked like a team, a slim middle-aged man, spoke for the first time. “Ok, follow us, our car is parked across the street.” He briskly pointed a finger to a heavily-tinted burgundy-colored Lancer.
He barely finished what he was saying when he saw a police patrol car turned the corner at the nearest block, red and blue lights blinking.
“Come quick, we will look for Sylvia Monir instead,” the middle-aged man shot a crisp command to his companions.
Grandma and company, who were now all inside the car, looked puzzled at seeing the three sped off without taking the child. Their confusion was compounded when a police patrol car parked brusquely in front of them.
Two uniformed men got out and they proceeded to My World Motel. They were met at the door entrance by the motel security who assured them the problem has been settled, explaining in so many words that goons had attempted to kidnap the child, but they just fled hastily when they saw your car with blinking lights.
The two policemen then approached the car, and one of them asked the elderly woman politely: “Is everything ok, Madam?”
“Well, yes, it seems so, officer. They just left. Thank you for your prompt response. May God bless you. And take care.”
The uniformed policeman was genuinely pleased to hear those disarming words from her. “Ok, and take care also. You are just like my mom.”
The police patrol car left; its lights were now turned off.
Inside the Corolla, the couple was hushed not by lack of emotion and feelings of gratitude, but by the dramatic turns of what they just experienced. But Grandma— “My name is Maria Vida Corazon De Gracia, but call me Vida,” she said—as always, was quick to make heavy loads lighter. “I can ask David here—he is my nephew—to drive you to your place in—Quezon City is it, right?”
“We are actually thinking—my wife and I—that you are more deserving of the baby than we are. Even if we just get our money back—without markup—we would be happy with it and we will remain thankful and forever be indebted to you for saving us…” the husband said.
“…we really are not sure of what could have happened without you,” the wife added.
David, a first-year law student, passed by the Sampaloc police station to file the report of attempted kidnapping against the trio that confronted them at Sta. Cruz. But before that, Vida invited the couple for some refreshment drink in her home, which was about a half-kilometer away from the police station.
Aboard the car, they already talked about the future of the child. Vida agreed to the couple’s compromise proposal that they would take custody of the child for a month, after which they would surrender the boy to her. They also agreed that Vida would reimburse them with the amount of 175K pesos, and that she would also be the one to complete the adoption papers, with herself as the designated adoptive parent.
Feeling more at ease and secure, their conversation became lively and freewheeling. They again introduced themselves, complete with short biographies.
“I used to be a judge—at one point also dabbling as university professor—but I retired early to take care of my sickly son. He was a priest. You know, priests have no families of their own that could look after them under those situations, although dioceses have provisions for medical care. My son was in pain for so long, and I knew he needed me by his side. So, I sacrificed my career for him. I actually could have just taken a leave for one or two years, but I simply didn’t have some professional drive anymore after he died. Anyway, I was qualified for early retirement so I just sort of vanished from the maddening crowd. Besides, my late husband, who was a military general when he was taken hostage and eventually killed by a separatist rebel in Mindanao, also left me relatively well-off with his retirement benefits. He died in the service of the country and is a hero. My son left me nothing financially, but he gave me the kind of peace that lifts my spirits high even when everyone else around me is down.”
“My full name is Gertrudes Superales. Friends and family call me Trudie.
“We have been married 9 years, not 11 like I told you earlier, but we remain childless. We have consulted as many doctors as we could afford. We are not Catholics, but we have been to Obando in Bulacan, to Baclaran and, of course, Quiapo. We have even consulted faith healers, even plain kibitzers. Somebody said I can conceive if we adopted a child first, provided he or she was not a blood relation. So we went to orphanages, including Hospisyo, the one Jose Rizal referred to in one of his novels as where Spanish priests brought their illegitimate children to. It is a nice place, by the way.”
Vida laughed. “I saw this news on TV—I think a month ago—about an abandoned child supposedly fathered by a priest. I actually inquired about it at Plaza Miranda, but most of the people there whom I talked to said I needed to go to the parish office because Father Andoy or something has custody of the child. I have a soft spot for abandoned children…” she paused, noticing that the child had kicked his foot, “because when my son was assigned to a parish in Paco, I saw how deaf and mute people radiate with hope and optimism despite their difficulties to communicate, which is how endearing abandoned children are, despite their frustrated longing for their parents.”
Trudie continued: “Like I said we are more of the kind among protestants than Catholics, but because of you I might just ask Jovy here to visit your churches and attend mass more frequently. We are impressed with the life-support institutions that the Catholic Church has built over the years—schools, hospitals, charities, orphanages, even prison ministries. That is why we trust in Catholic orphanages.”
“Me? I am Jovito Bonayon. Nickname is Vito. I have been a construction worker in Saudi Arabia for 5 years.”
Vida noticed that Vito was not inclined to say much, so she did not press him to open himself up. Instead, she reverted to their hair-raising escape from an attempted kidnapping.
“What do you know about Sylvia? Could she have something to do with the rogue trio?”
They were totally clueless, the couple admitted. “We have been resigned to the fact that we have already lost our money… probably even our lives… until you saved us,” Trudie said.
“Maybe I will just privately investigate with my contacts in the police community,” Vida replied, “but in the meantime, you need to feel out of danger too, you know, because of what happened this past hour.”
“We are thinking of leaving the infant in your care now and not next month or in the future, maybe he is more secure here,” Vito suggested.
“I will agree to that if that is your wish—the security concern is definitely a strong point—although I will be glad to hear some plan for the two of you to bear a child,” Vida cajoled them teasingly.
“There is none yet,” Trudie admitted, “but that should be next in our to-do list, for sure.”
Vida offered to close the conversation. “Here is the thing,” she said, “you now know our address and you are more than welcome to come over anytime you wish and see the baby.”
THE STORE OWNER TOLD Father Andoy that she left with the baby at least a couple of times, saying she needed to get the baby vaccinated for polio and chicken fox, and some other diseases which she could no longer recall.
The following day, Sir Dikomo also showed up looking for Sylvia. Told that she thought there was no sign of her coming back anytime soon, Sir Dikomo asked if he could search her room.
There were a few personal effects and old copies of tabloids, one of which had headlined Father Andoy being rumored as the father of the baby.
Then there was a crumpled piece of paper, beside the trash bin. Sir Dikomo picked it up and unfolded it. He saw randomly written names and what appeared to him as telephone numbers, but most of them were crossed out. He slid the piece of paper into his pocket.
He tried to call the numbers written on the paper. When Sir Dikomo could not get a ring from any of the numbers he dialed, he decided that either the numbers were typos or they were not in use. He was left with no other recourse but to hunt Sylvia.
FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS Anding was called Franco. Vida had him baptized as Francisco De Gracia. His adoption was completed through a judicial process, including affidavits supporting his late birth registration.
One night Vida had a dream. She saw unknown creatures leaping out of the water as she and Franco were resting under a tree in a Batangas beach. As the creatures—which looked like a cross of scorpion and centipede, but with legs of an octopus—approached them, she quickly gathered Franco and scampered away. But, to her horror, one of those deceptively agile legs snatched Franco away from her.
The creatures taunted Vida as they totally ensnared Franco, who could hardly wiggle out from their grip. If it was any consolation for her, Franco’s facial language told her he was ok.