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.
A pair of Hijos—Boy Nasionales Diaz, aka Boynas Diaz, and Elodon Haropoy, aka El Odon—alternated at collecting trash, consisting mostly of wilted Sampaguita flowers wrapped around the foot of revered statues and images inside the church.
Boynas Diaz would usually dump inside the closet his collection of trash. At the close of church services around 10 in the evening, El Odon, and sometimes one of the salaried church workers, would collect all trash from bins and closets inside the church and the surroundings outside.
At 9:00 PM church goers thinned out inside the church. The last mass had concluded 15 minutes earlier. In about 30 minutes, about half of the lights inside the Church would be turned off. At ten, church doors would be closed.
The light was still on at one of the confessional boxes, which meant that a priest was still inside, waiting for remorseful souls to unload their burden. Inside the confessional was Father Revo, the confessor. For the past hour he had not heard any client. But in this private world, he multi-tasked. When he did not hear confessions, he read books. That day he was trying to finish Rubem Alves’ “Towards a Theology of Liberation.”
When Father Revo finally stepped outside of the confessional, Boynas Diaz hurriedly approached him. Boynas Diaz said a lady was asking him to open the storeroom at the back.
The lady in question was Punzi. She and her teammates found their way back inside the church. They had changed clothing and donned facial props. They took seats far from each other, each one keeping a watchful eye on what went on at the back of the church.
Asked to explain, Boynas Diaz said something was creepy, and he did not understand what that was. Father Revo looked around and saw Church security staff at the main gate. There was also one at the Quezon Boulevard side. Another one with K-9 patrolled the aisles, picking up litters left by churchgoers.
About 15, at most 20, were inside the church, but Boynas Diaz could not find the lady when Father Revo asked him to show to him (Father Revo) where she was.
El Odon appeared pushing a cart and went straight to the storeroom. He opened it with a key and with his gloved hands, gathered trash and dumped them into his cart.
Boynas Diaz and Father Revo met El Odon at the door as he was stepping out.
“What’s inside that storeroom?” Father Revo asked.
“Where, why?” El Odon asked, puzzled.
“There,” Boynas Diaz said, pointing at the back of the church, “at the storeroom where you collected that trash. Did you left that open this morning?”
El Odon’s growing bewilderment was evident.
Boynas Diaz: “A stranger just asked me to open that storeroom. This morning I found that something inside looked different. I did not check what it was. Is there something in that room that would be of interest to anybody?”
“Well, I think the answer to that question is to go there and check,” Father Revo said. He then proceeded to ask the security personnel to request the remaining churchgoers inside the church to leave and close all doors. Everybody knew it was closing time anyway, except perhaps Benjo and Ivanho, who left with perceptible hesitation. Before dumping Franco, they strapped his body and covered his mouth with packing tape. They knew that the boy remained immobile inside the storeroom and hoped he would still be alive the next day.
As Father Revo, Boynas Diaz and El Odon checked the dark portion of the storeroom, they noticed a bulging bag or something on the floor. El Odon dared to touch it and was as much frightened as he was surprised to find that it was not a bag; rather it was a body of a human being and thought it slightly moved.
Almost by instinct, Father Revo called security. In seconds, the three were surrounded by some three or four security staff members, one with K-9, and at least two more Hijos. There was hesitation, but eventually a security staff pulled out the hog-tied boy. The sight of a half-dead Franco unfolded before everyone’s eyes. His mouth was plastered with packing tapes. His wrists and ankles were wrapped to his body—like a pig ready for roasting—also with tapes.
Father Revo, again almost instinctively, moved to unzip Franco’s mouth, but a security personnel stopped him and volunteered to do the unwrapping himself. With a pocketknife, he cut the tapes aroound Franco’s body. Franco limped to the granite floor like a heap. Same security personnel picked Franco up, and rushed him to the parish clinic, going through the altar door which was a shorter distance than going through the main door.
Through the metallic railings of the church doors, Benjo and Ivanho saw that Franco had been discovered. The OXD duo had waited outside to keep an eye on him.
Father Revo and the Hijos gave Franco the best first aid care they could offer. The first time they saw Franco’s face exposed to the glare of light, it looked as if he had been starved of oxygen for days. The parish medical staff was not available all the time, and during this time of day the closest doctor they could call might at best arrive only in about 30 minutes. Father Revo reckoned that the child would be fine as soon as a medical professional got to see him within that span of time.
Forty minutes passed and not a shadow of a doctor or a nurse was within sight. Father Revo decided to bring Franco, accompanied by Boynas Diaz, to a nearby hospital. They used the parish vehicle; the priest himself was on the wheel.
By some coincidence, the OXD trio’s car—this time a white Gemini—had been navigating the lanes of Taft Avenue for more than 500 meters alongside Father Revo’s Toyota Tamaraw. The trio (who sank themselves into a recapitulation of how policemen had thwarted them twice already in their attempt to snatch the child, the first one being in 1976 at Sta. Cruz) could have recognized Franco had they got around to spot him, but the Tamaraw’s door covered him from their line of sight. At the United Nations Avenue intersection, Father Revo’s car turned right towards the Manila Doctor’s Hospital. The Gemini turned left towards the Manila Police District headquarters.
After a couple of hours Father Revo and company was back in Quiapo Church. Franco this time was looking fine, in quite a stark contrast from the way he looked just three hours earlier.
Church staff helped them get Franco some meal. They also provided him temporary sleeping quarters in one of the vacant rooms for guests in the rectory.
The rector, Monsignor Ubanon, called it a day at 9 PM. He would be informed about Franco in the morning of the following day.
THREE DAYS AFTER Franco’s abduction, Vida was baffled that no one has contacted her for ransom demands. The day after Franco’s abduction, General Rosendo Dimas Uy had briefed her that authorities lost the child in a chase somewhere in Quiapo Church. The kid was nowhere to be found but General Uy assured her that he would continue to sniff around for unusual movements. Vida offered him as much as two million pesos with which he may use anyway he pleased just so he could help her bring Franco back.
Although Sir Dikomo knew that the OXD had botched their operation, he expected them to report to him right away. They did so only the next morning, through an emissary. Somehow this caused him to feel wary about the trio being loose.
At least three groups were now looking for Franco, namely: the OXD trio of Punzi, Benjo and Ivanho (who at this point thought they were now working on their own); Vida’s hired troopers; and Sir Dikomo’s strike force. Most members of the last two groups were receiving government salary, but the potential extra income they could earn enticed them to put in man hours for an undertaking that could be argued as more private than public.
THE DAY AFTER FRANCO was found bundled inside the church, on 15 March 1981, Monsignor Ubanon asked his secretary to dial Sir Dikomo’s office. He wanted the police chief to see if Franco was the one he was looking for.
In minutes Sir Dikomo was at the rectory and saw Franco for the first time. He had no idea if indeed Franco was the child he was looking for. But first-hand account by Hijos, Father Revo, Security and clinic staff convinced Sir Dikomo that Franco was the kidnap victim.
All this time Franco had not spoken a word.
“What’s your name?” No answer except a dismissive look on his face. “Where do you live?” This sounded to him an even tougher question. “Who is your Mommy?” Still nothing; maybe he knew but did not know how to say it.
Everyone had tried to coach him to say something. No one succeeded. If it was any consolation however, Franco did not look worried or stressed.
Sir Dikomo told Monsi Ubanon that he would send somebody from his unit to fetch Franco, who would eventually bring him to the Social Welfare Office. Sir Dikomo explained that the Social Welfare Office not only would be in the best position to help de-traumatize the child but also facilitate his return to his family.
Back at his office, Sir Dikomo’s staff informed him that General Makatigbas called when he was out. The latter said he would expect Sir Dikomo to return his call.
“That boy you told me about,” General Makatigbas said after greeting Sir Dikomo, “is Judge De Gracia’s adopted child.”
For a few seconds, Sir Dikomo was too embarrassed to say a word. It now made sense to him—how it happened that too many troopers he had no idea where they came from had converged at the crime scene almost instantly three days ago.
Makatigbas added: “I got the info from no less than General Uy.”
The two of them did not need to say anything more. The OXD operation involving this child was done and out of the way.
“It is good that I now know where the child is,” Sir Dikomo replied, with not a trace of emotion noticeable from his voice. “I can send for Judge De Gracia to confirm his identity, then proceed to announce to the press that the kidnapping case is solved.”
Might not have been the best outcome for the general, but for Sir Dikomo, losing a few million pesos in this manner was more than compensated by seeing how his legend as Manila’s finest could further soar.
“And by the way,” Sir Dikomo felt he had momentum, “I expect the trio to be completely out of this too. They used to be your operatives before you assigned them to me.”
“Of course,” General Makatigbas replied, sounding irritated and resigned. “Take out the whip. They are now your operatives. Not mine. But I will talk to them if they call me.”
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FATHER REVO ASKED MONSIGNOR Ubanon in private if the rector thought it was odd for Sir Dikomo to take Franco away before he could announce to the press that the kidnap victim had been found. They agreed in the observation that media had to some extent turned the Quiapo kidnapping into a high-profile case, therefore it would have been a tremendous image-booster for Sir Dikomo to once more edify yet another sterling accomplishment of his in a press conference.
Monsignor Ubanon agreed with Father Revo that it might have been better to talk Sir Dikomo out of his plan to take the child away without first informing the press. However, he decided against Father Revo’s suggestion that the child be brought to the Ospisyo instead of the Social Welfare Office, until his parents were identified so they could reclaim him.
“I miss Father Andoy,” Monsignor Ubanon told Father Revo. Like priests who had been open target for tabloid items, Father Andoy was shipped to another diocese where he was deemed less known by parishioners. He could return to Quiapo after five years, however. Or he could have been sent to Rome for advanced studies in Theology, but his academic profile hardly endorsed him for such an opportunity.
Very likely Monsignor Ubanon was referring to what happened in an all-star baptism of an abandoned infant about five years ago.
“Yes,” Father Revo chimed in. “He had a way of putting himself in the middle of anything that others would shy away from.” And they both chuckled.
THE OXD TRIO TOLD General Makatigbas that they needed to be reimbursed when the latter directed them to drop the operation involving Vida’s child. They asked one million pesos for a month-long surveillance and for the Lancer which they deemed condemned. The General commented that the amount was above established rates, but he nevertheless assured them he would ask for an exemption to the rules.
The trio adopted two contingency plans. One was to remain with OXD provided they got compensated within the next 24 hours. The longer it took for them to get paid, the higher the odds that they would never be get paid at all. The other required a tougher decision-making process. They assumed that, given General Reg’s telling them that the child belonged to Judge De Gracia, it had become too risky to re-claim the child due to her connections within the law enforcement agencies. But in the event they would indeed find a way to re-claim the child, against all odds, they could demand no less than a 5-million-peso ransom, given Judge De Gracia’s rumored wealth.
At 5:30 PM, 15 March 1981, Punzi received a call from El Odon. On the night of the previous day, she closely studied the mien of both El Odon and Boynas Diaz. She thought El Odon was easier to negotiate with. She discreetly approached him and showed to him her duplicate badge. She offered him five thousand pesos in exchange for information on the whereabouts of the child. Another 10 thousand pesos would be given to him if any information he gave to her would be deemed helpful for her work.
El Odon told her that he heard the police would transfer the boy from the rectory to Sir Dikomo’s office across Quezon Boulevard. A press conference had been set at 8 PM in his office. The distance between the rectory and Sir Dikomo’s office was less than three hundred meters and, in the trio’s assumption, Franco’s security would probably use the Lacson Underpass to cross Quezon Boulevard.
Benjo and Ivanho moved quickly. Benjo had earlier talked to the Warden of Manila City Jail, who was a friend from long time ago when Benjo was still in the police force. They started as acquaintances when Benjo was attending court hearings. Benjo offered the warden ten thousand pesos for the services of three prisoners, preferably petty criminals from the Quiapo area, and another two thousand pesos for honorarium of the guards who would be assigned to secure the detainees. The task was for the prisoners to clean the streets from Sunday’s litters around Quiapo in the evening, escorted by prison guards who however did not know what was going to happen except to prevent any escape. Three prisoners would normally require three guards, but at this instance only two guards were in attendance to take on the duty.
The prisoners tripped each other for the opportunity of being sent out on errands like this. They knew that x number of hours of community service would be deducted from the full length of their jailtime. There had been other assignments aside from the so-called Good Conduct Time Allowance incentives, such as those that entailed payment of “professional fees.” They mostly refer to renting of prisoners as hired assassins, whose cells functioned like safehouses.
At about 7:30 PM, Benjo, who had disguised himself as an itinerant vendor, stayed close to the entrance of the Lacson Underpass at the Plaza Miranda side. He was assuming that Sir Dikomo and his men would take this route to transfer Franco from the convent to his office across Quezon Boulevard.
Punzi and Ivanho were at the Quezon Boulevard side of the Underpass, just across from where Benjo was. The trio planned a scenario where a commotion to be triggered in large part by Quiapo’s habitués—so that Sir Dikomo would not suspect somebody was on the loose trying to snatch Franco—could create enough distraction for the toddler’s security.
Unknown to them, Sir Dikomo had his own counter-security steps all planned out and set for execution, in the event something untoward happened. Plan A was to bring Franco in on board a secured car, from the convent then south towards Palanca Street and back to the other side of Quezon Boulevard. Plan B—in the event there was heavy traffic at Palanca—was for the fetching unit to cross Quezon Boulevard on foot via Raon overpass. The Lacson Underpass route was last and the least likely option.
Sir Dikomo had the foresight not to inform Vida about Franco before the press conference, because that, to him, was a sure way to invite unknown forces at the behest of General Uy. Before the venerable Judge Vida, and most especially before the press, he did not wish to share the limelight with any law enforcer to whom one way or the other she could be indebted for the rescue of Franco.
Benjo could be seen next as if he was in an earnest conversation with a bystander. The latter would move towards another huddle, this time involving what appeared to be two loose groups—a game of dama (a local derivative for chess) was in progress in one of them while a card game was about to begin in the other. These diversions often morphed into drinking sprees as time progressed into the night. At least two, one after the other, followed the bystander’s prompting; they got up to have a better look at a street sweeper some 60 meters away.
“You, looking for Bodabil?” one of the card wagers asked the bystander.
“No, he was asking if anyone remembers Bodabil, the snatcher of Sta. Cruz…” volunteered an onlooker of the dama game.
“I remember the name, but not the face…” shared another. “He stabbed the friend of a friend. Let me correct myself, my guess is that he is a member of a big-time kidnap for ransom syndicate with reward money on his head.”
The unwritten rule among gangsters in the area was that there was pre-formatted hostility towards anyone who harmed their kind. Often what determined which gang ruled over a territory was the clandestine support given by some members of the police who demanded protection money. The gang which delivered on a consistent basis their end of the unwritten contract with the police was assured of continued operation of whatever underground business they were into.
Quiapo had been prime location not only for priests who collected bumper harvests from devotees—although they represented just a small portion of total donations collected during mass—that flocked to the church every day. Those harvests were made more abundant during Sundays and Fridays. Even priests from far away places could request, especially if they had connections to the hierarchy, to officiate one of the Friday masses on the ground that they needed extra funds for their respective parishes, such as when they got hit by calamities. The immortal joke was that the calamities included fellow priests getting their girlfriends pregnant.
The crowd attracted predators of all kinds—snatchers, swindlers, sellers of fake items, petty criminals, organized criminals, etc. Like Barracudas that ambush a school of mackerel, these predators, some of them itinerant just like many of the churchgoers who came from faraway places, freely pounced on unsuspecting preys.
Quiapo was also haven for beggars. Devotees who came to ask or thank for whatever favor they felt the Black Nazarene had accorded them were likely to cast sympathetic eyes upon the downtrodden, the dump-bound paupers.
“Let’s take a look, shall we?” it was a command, not a question, from the one who most likely was the boss.
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The author is indebted to the memory of people whose lives have inspired kindness, compassion, and forgiveness among the many lost generations that followed them.
Although true-to-life events have partly inspired the stories presented in Miracles of Quiapo, this work in its totality is a work of fiction, a novel. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance 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.
Copyright © 2022 Ingming Aberia
All rights reserved.
Photo Credits: QuiapoChurch.com.ph