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.
Three months later, Senator Oscar De Labuya, one of Senator Makatigbas’ attack dogs, delivered a stirring speech on the Senate floor.
Oscar De Labuya: “Mr. President, I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege.
Senate President Billy Cosme: “You have 10 minutes.”
De Labuya: “Mr. President, colleagues: I rise this afternoon to bring to your attention an orphanage where, of all places, young people are being victimized by sexual predators.
“Available data show that there are at least 1.9 million abandoned children in the Philippines today. Majority of them falls under the category of orphans; orphaned by a war that the country does not need, orphaned by extra judicial killings, orphaned by morbidity.
“Who takes care of the orphans, our orphans? For the majority who find friendly homes, their relatives take care of them. Some of them, who however constitute a minority, are equally lucky: they find their homes in orphanages. The rest have nowhere else to go but the streets in urban areas where they have more chances of surviving than elsewhere. They populate the dump, picking up anything of value for junk shops. They scavenge and beg for crumbs; they eat “pagpag,” or morsels left on the table by customers in restaurants; for a night of sleep, they find refuge on the pavement or under bridges.
“The day is blessed when anyone has the time to think about and do something for the orphans—our orphans. Taking care of the unlucky ones is the bigger challenge than what I am about to present today, which is the other side of taking care for the lucky ones.
“You may have read reports or watched footages about what goes on at the Halosahos Children’s Mission-Philippines (HCMP) in Manila. But I believe there is more to know about and learn from these reports. I took a closer look and here is what I found.
“HCMP has a license to operate as an orphanage. But most of the children it supports are not orphans. Oddly, it also does not put up any of the children for adoption, which does not justify its license.
“What HCMP does is send the children to school. It uses funds that are sourced from faith-based charities in the United States. On surface it appears that our children are benefiting from American benevolence. Our people should be grateful for it. And the parents of the children, who pass on to somebody else their responsibility for the education of their children, are no doubt indebted to HCMP. And the government, who passes on its responsibility for the education of its citizens to other organizations, also does not seem to mind, even with negative reports staring at them in the face.
“The reports that so far had become public knowledge show that the children, aged 7 to 17, numbering 30 more or less, are being used for online pornography. Not only are they hoodwinked to pose naked before the cameras that remote viewers pay for, they are also duped to perform sexual acts, again for a fee.
“More despicable are sexual assaults by people who manage HCMP on the hapless children. I need not belabor you with the graphic details of how this criminal bent among the powerful is being inflicted on the powerless. Just think of it as rape of children at the hands of those they look up to as guardians, because that is what it is.
“People who manage HCMP have been charged in court. The hearing court dismissed the charges because the witnesses who were the victims themselves failed to attend the hearings. They failed to attend because they were not informed of when the court was supposed to hear them. No notice of hearing reached them. In one instance, HCMP agents sent the victims on week-long vacations, all expenses paid, ostensibly to allow them to visit their relatives in the Visayas and Mindanao.
“The tasks before us, Mr. President and Honorable Colleagues, are the following:
“One, to find ways that enable government to better regulate orphanages and welfare houses; two, to seek solutions to age-old problems related to “normalized” practices that mock our judicial system; and three, to review the laws, with the end in view of introducing amendments, with respect to accreditation of orphanages and application of the rules of judicial processes.
“I submit that there is need for the Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, and the Committee on Youth, to conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, on the operations of HCMP from the time it started sometime in 1983 up to the time court cases were levelled against it and dismissed by the courts towards the latter part of last year. We need resource persons from the Social Welfare Department and the lower courts concerned, among other government and non-government organizations.”
Cosme: “Any interpellations? Senator Sotomayor?”
Senator Sotomayor, a popular born-again Christian evangelist and another Makatigbas ally: “Mr. President, may Senator Labuya yield to a few clarificatory questions please? Actually, only one question.”
Cosme: “Yes, by all means, if the gentleman from Spratlies so desires.”
Labuya: “Willingly, Mr. President.”
Sotomayor: “Would you agree to the suggestion that other orphanages be investigated as well?”
Labuya: “Yes, Your Honor, Mr. President. I mentioned HCMP because obviously we need to start somewhere. However, just for the purpose of being organized, can you suggest names of orphanages that you suggest should be investigated? I mean, we cannot just pull somebody in randomly, on the spot and out of nowhere.”
Sotomayor: “Yes, I will submit names to the committee that will be designated to lead the investigation.”
Cosme: “Alright. Anything else, gentlemen?” Hearing none, we now proceed to tackle pending bills.”
Sotomayor: “Thank you, Mr. President.”
ALLIES OF SENATOR MAKATIGBAS planned not to directly drag Sir Dikomo to any controversy. Rather, the agenda was to plant landmines during the investigation where anything could happen, particularly when a witness or resource person would divulge information voluntarily. Thus, at this point there was no showing that a senator was attacking a fellow senator.
During the investigation, witnesses did not offer information that could be considered a substantial addition to what Senator Labuya had shared in his speech. They recalled how HCMP personnel got their way with the kissing, the mashing of breasts and about everything else that could happen under those situations.
Present and former staff of HCMP were also subpoenaed to appear before the Senators, but they did not appear. Warrants were issued for their arrest.
Also subpoenaed were personnel of the Social Welfare Office and a couple of lower court judges.
On the third day of the hearing, Ms. Ruby Damiana of the Manila Social Welfare Office was one of the witnesses who took part in the investigation. Thirty-seven-year-old Senator Sotomayor, Chairman of the Committee on Youth, asked Senator Flora De Yamat, sister of Justice Tomas De Yamat and Chair of the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, the lead investigating committee, to be recognized.
Senator De Yamat: “Senator Sotomayor, it’s your turn to ask questions.”
Sotomayor: “Thank you, Madam Chair.”
De Yamat: “Please observe our time limitations.”
Sotomayor: “Ms. Damiana, do you recall having facilitated the adoption of an abandoned child in March 1976?
Damiana: I have handled so many adaption cases already, I’m sorry, Sir, but I cannot remember about a particular adoption case in March 1976.”
Sotomayor: “If I show you a copy of a newspaper that published the story of an abandoned child in Quiapo in that year, would you remember it?”
Without waiting for Damiana’s reply, Sotomayor flashed a tabloid clipping for the cameras before giving it to her.
Sotomayor: “Madam Chair, I am sharing a copy of the newspaper report to the witness for her perusal. Ms. Damiana, do you remember this particular case now? Kindly go over it. You will see that you were one of those whom the reporter had quoted.”
De Yamat noticed that Damiana was taking too much time to respond, so she asked: “Do you have a lawyer with you, Ms. Damiana?”
Damiana: “Yes Sir, we have one from our office. He advised me to check my case report on file first before I answer your question. Just to make sure I do not make a mistake.”
De Yamat: “Please address the Chair when answering questions, Ms. Damiana.”
Damiana: “Yes Ma’am, Ms. Chairman, Your Honor.”
De Yamat: “Alright. Please attend the next hearing then, and bring your files with you. Anything else?”
Damiana: “Nothing more to say, Madam Chair.”
De Yamat: “Senator Sotomayor?”
Sotomayor: “Madam Chair, I will continue with my questioning at the next hearing. Thank you.”
De Yamat: “This hearing is adjourned until Tuesday, June 15, 2002. Secretariat, please ensure that the witnesses and/or resource persons that have been called to appear or re-appear are duly notified of this next hearing date.”
In the next hearing, Ms. Damiana once again made herself available for further questioning. Sotomayor subjected her to a more extensive grilling. Below is an excerpt of the transcript of their verbal exchange.
Sotomayor: “Can you tell us what happened on that day, please?”
Damiana: “On that day, Sir, I and one office mate responded to a call from police authorities in Quiapo.”
Sotomayor: “Let me interrupt, lest I forget this point. Who are these police authorities? Can you identify them?”
Damiana: “I cannot identify them except the Quiapo Chief of Police. I remember he was the one who arranged the meeting with us and the one who found the abandoned child and two priests of the Quiapo Catholic church. His name was Chief Inspector Decoroso De Mozo, who is now the beloved Mayor of Manila. People in Quiapo used to call him Sir Dikomo.”
Sotomayor: “Under what circumstances was the child discovered, then later deemed to be abandoned, and what is the name of the one who found the abandoned child?”
Damiana: “Based on the stories we heard at the site, the abandoned child was found in front of a store in Quiapo near Plaza Miranda at about 2 AM of that day. The name of the one who discovered the abandoned child was Sylvia Monir, Sir.”
Sotomayor: “Thank you. Please continue with the narration that you started.”
Damiana: “There was an abandoned child. On trying to establish who the qualified custodians were, we learned that Father Andoy of Quiapo Church had come forward as prospective parent of the child. We decided there was no need to intervene further when Father Andoy confirmed that he was taking custody of the child.”
Sotomayor: “Isn’t that odd, Ms.Damiana? Did you not at least try to determine if Father Andoy was the true parent—or one of the biological parents as they are more commonly called—or to ascertain if Father Andoy would qualify as custodian, given the fact that Catholic priests supposedly have no experience in babysitting?”
Damiana requested for a break at the prompting of her lawyer.
Damiana: “Sir, first of all, I know from personal experience that priests have experience in babysitting.” Damiana stopped, somewhat surprised by the laughter from the gallery which she did not appear to expect. She continued: “Your Honor, there is presumption of qualification when somebody volunteers to take care of a child. Please note also that we have agreements with those who manage orphanages, and some concession is given to orphanages of good standing. In this case, we considered Father Andoy as a member of an organization that manages such orphanages of good standing. In fact, we have been working for a long time now with those orphanages. At any rate, there is the mandatory follow up with parents or guardians that have taken custody of abandoned children.”
Sotomayor: “Did you make a follow up on what happened to the abandoned child after you granted his custody to Father Andoy?”
Damiana: “Yes, Madam Chair. We learned that the child was kidnapped…” she stopped again, visibly distracted by hushed comments from the gallery. “… or something to that effect. We did not intervene any longer because that became a police matter.”
Sotomayor: “Do you know who among the police have taken over the case?”
Damiana: “I’m sorry Sir, but there is nothing I know about further actions by the police.”
Sotomayor: “That’s okay, Ms. Damiana. We can just invite Father Andoy and the police assigned to the area at the time for the next hearing. Do you know the full name of Father Andoy?”
Damiana: “No Sir.”
Sotomayor: “But you said you have a case report. How reliable that report can be?”
Damiana: “A second, Sir. Yes, it’s here in my footnote. Father Andoy’s full name is Father Fernando Sabitsana. I was hesitant to ask him to sign his full name in my report.”
This time the Senators joined the gallery in a round of laughter.
De Yamat: “Order please. This committee does not tolerate attempts by anyone to make fun of another on account of identity, gender, age, ethnic affiliation, or beliefs.”
Sotomayor: “I’m sorry, Madam Chair. Really, really, sorry. But no offense was meant whatsoever. I guess we just wanted to make light out of what has been a tense morning.”
De Yamat: “Ok. That’s fine. Anything else from colleagues? We will then adjourn until next week, same date, same time. Secretariat, please prepare summons for Father Andoy, Sylvia Monir and Mayor Decoroso De Mozo for the Senate President’s signature. By the way, when did Mayor De Mozo retire as Police Director General?”
Sotomayor: “I believe he retired in 1998, Madam Chair.”
De Yamat: “Ok. Thank you very much Senator Sotomayor. Let me thank also the witnesses for coming over and my colleagues for making this hearing a truly productive one.”
On the next hearing, the gallery was packed to the rafters. People expected more revelations from the lineup of witnesses. Some of them were earlier interviewed by media and they promised to reveal everything they knew.
First to be asked by senators was Sylvia Monir.
De Yamat: “First of all, I would like to thank you for making it to the hearing on short notice. Do you still live in Quiapo?”
Monir: “No Sir, I live in Cavite now. But my former boss in Quiapo forwarded to me your letter.”
De Yamat: “In that case, you should deserve more commendation for being a responsible citizen. But before we continue, please tell us about yourself. I am interested to know how this matter ended up with you being the finder of the child, among other things. Keep in mind also that you are under oath. You cannot skim or crunch the truth. So be honest with your answers. That will help us get the facts faster and also keep yourself out of trouble.”
Monir: “I was working as a store attendant in Quiapo when one morning, actually about 2AM or 3AM, I opened the front door of the store and saw this infant—I think not more than a month old—wrapped in a piece of cloth. I was both rattled—because I feared being held by the police for kidnapping—and just did not know what to do that I ended up calling for Father Andoy to ask him if he could take custody of the child. Obviously, it was not that simple until the Quiapo police called the Social Welfare Office help us sort out the questions that we could not resolve by ourselves.
“And if I may correct myself as quoted in the newspapers, it is not true that the child was perched atop the heap of a garbage pile. As I got ready to open the store for the day, I found him neatly wrapped in a box pressed right next to the front door. There I saw him as I unlatched the door.”
De Yamat: “Ok, I think we can flesh out more details when the senators take their turns to ask questions. Let me recognize now those who have manifested at the last hearing their intention to interpellate. Let’s call on Senator Boncaras first.”
Senator Boncaras: “Thank you Madam Chair. Ms. Monir, do you know where the child is now? I suppose he is a young man now. Do you know what his name is?”
Monir: “I was facilitating the legal adoption papers when the other party kidnapped the child. So I don’t know where he is now. We were supposed to likewise adopt the name given by the Quiapo priests when they baptized him, which was Deo Renato Moscavida, if I am not mistaken.
Boncaras: “Let me ask Father Andoy then. What was the exact name you gave to the child?”
Father Andoy: “Leandro Deo Renato Moscavida. We wanted to call him Anding.”
Boncaras: “Damiana, who was one of our resource persons the previous weeks, told us that you consented to act as custodian of the child. Did you actually take custody of the child?”
Father Andoy: “No Your Honor, Madam Chair. A week or so after he was baptized, Ms. Monir and the child could no longer be found. We thought he was kidnapped or something.”
Boncaras: “Thank you Father Andoy. Let me revert to Ms. Monir. Ms. Monir, were you kidnapped along with the child? Is it true you and the child both disappeared?”
Monir: “When I facilitated the legal adoption documents, I was given a modest fee. But I had no idea the adopting party had planned to steal—maybe the correct word is take?—the child without going through the legal process. In my rattled state of mind, I followed up with my long-pending application for overseas work and luckily, I got approved. I went to Hongcau days after I lost the child.”
Boncaras: “And who was the adopting party?”
Monir: “Unfortunately, Your Honor, I have lost all my documents related to the child. I could no longer recover them in Quiapo. The names of the adopting parties were in those documents.”
Boncaras: “Do you at least know their address? I mean, how many times did you meet with these people that you call adopting party? Where did you meet? Did you by any chance meet at their residence?”
Monir: “We meet only once, Sir. At a motel in Rizal Avenue, Sta. Cruz, Manila.”
Boncaras: “Ms. Monir, that is quite a revelation. But the pieces of information that I am most interested in would include the identities of the persons with which you appear to have cut deals, and the kind of information that you have shared with me so far disappoints me. This is not your usual ordinary transaction that you perform as a store attendant. But even with ordinary transactions you keep receipts, don’t you? Be reminded that you are under oath. Madam Chair, how can we elicit a more forthright response from the witness?”
De Yamat: “Ms. Monir, we can give you as much time as you need to recall the name or names of the persons you call as adopting party. What do you think?”
Monir: “Can I answer the question in the next hearing please? I need to talk to a few people who may know the persons I am referring to?”
She was hoping her former husband, Hussien Tho Monir, could help her locate her old files. She was also hoping he could offer her some advice on what to say in the next hearing. It was a long shot from her perspective because for years now she and her former husband were no longer on speaking terms. She thought maybe the publicity that the hearing generated could help at least rebuild their ties, if not their friendship.
De Yamat: “That would be fine with me, unless there are objections from my colleagues. May I know what the committee members think?
None from among the senators in attendance objected to Monir’s request. De Yamat had something more to say:
“The chair wishes to make a manifestation. It has been months since we started this investigation on certain or otherwise alleged irregularities in orphanages. I believe we have enough information to make sense of what needs to be done and what legislation needs to be introduced to address the problems we have identified. While it is unfortunate that we were unable to hear the key persons who managed HCMP, we nonetheless heard the testimonies of workers and security guards who at one time or another worked for the said orphanage.
“Unless something substantial comes up that would require a closer look, the hearing next week shall be the last session that this committee will convene. In the meantime, let me thank you all again for your cooperation. See you next week.”
The senate hearing was beamed live by free television. It would have been fair to say that almost all Filipinos, especially those who lived in urban areas, and including those who lived in other countries such as the United States, Canada, the Middle East and Europe that subscribed to Philippine TV channels, had followed the proceedings. One of those who watched intently from the beginning was Vida De Gracia. She felt she had something to contribute to the proceedings after she heard what Sylvia Monir had said in the last hearing.
When De Yamat convened the next—supposedly the last—hearing, she had something to announce. After she declared the session was resumed, she said:
“The other day, I received a call from a former judge. Her name is Vida De Gracia. I assume many of you here know her. She had been a recipient of many awards for her integrity and competence. She told me she can add pieces of information that some of my colleagues were asking from another witness, Ms. Sylvia Monir.
“Before we hear other witnesses, I wish to give Judge De Gracia the opportunity and time to say her piece. Are you ready with your preliminary statement, Honorable Judge De Gracia?”
Vida De Gracia: “Yes, Madam Chair.”
De Yamat: “Ok, thank you. Secretariat, please administer to the Honorable Judge the oath now.”
De Gracia (reading a prepared statement): “Honorable Senators, I volunteered to appear before you to share some information and to contribute to the search for facts in relation to your ongoing investigation on orphanages and, in particular, on the abandoned child whose missing foster parents you are trying to locate.
“Sometime in April 1976—on the 6th or 7th—somebody called me by phone to offer for adoption what she said was an abandoned child. The caller introduced herself as Sylvia Monir, the same person whom you have questioned in the previous hearing and who I see is again present today. Ms. Monir advised me to meet her at a drug store beside a motel in Avenida Rizal, Sta. Cruz, Manila. She also made the impression that I needed to hurry up, or else the child might end up in the hands of other interested parties. She mentioned the minimum amount of Php 175,000 for the deal, which she said could be completed on the spot. She gets the money; I get the baby—as simple as that. I do not know what Ms. Monir was thinking, but I can say with confidence that what happened was not in the nature of me stealing the baby from her. If her call sounds fishy to you, it also sounded fishy to me. But that did not stop me from finding out what she was up to.
“I did not know how Ms. Monir got my contact number, and I had no opportunity to ask her then. I guessed she got my telephone number from one of the orphanages because when I lost my only child, a son—a Catholic Priest—to cancer in 1975, I inquired with orphanages in the hope of possibly adopting a child. But now that she is here, maybe we can ask how she got my number, just to clear up a few details.
“At the meet-up location in Sta. Cruz, I met Ms. Monir briefly, but long enough for her to inform me that the child was already in somebody else’s hand. The lucky instant surrogate parents happened to hung around for awhile as they shopped for baby items in the nearby drug store. Ms. Monir approached them, then she just disappeared. My meeting with her lasted for less than a minute. That was the first and last time I saw her, until now.
“I had no way of knowing what she told the surrogate parents—Jovy and Trudie, if I remember their names correctly—but the next thing that happened was that the three of us were talking about the baby. Then two, which became three—two males and one female—people approached us with hardly our knowing it. One of them said we were under arrest for attempting to abduct the child. Just as surprising was their quick exit—almost stealthily—from what they judged as the scene of a crime when they saw a patrol car approaching us. Unlike the trio, the police in uniform did not accuse us of any wrongdoing. This left us puzzled about, first, who Ms. Monir was, then, second, about who the trio was. But I must admit that insofar as I was concerned, the joy of seeing the baby in our hands overshadowed whatever feelings of uneasiness that we experienced at that time.
“Trudie and Jovy offered the custodian role to me, which I gladly accepted. Eventually I applied for his legal adoption which the court granted to me 6 months later. The papers are complete and open for verification, in case anyone is interested. Affidavits narrating how the search for the baby’s true parents had failed—largely because Ms. Monir could no longer be found—are on file.
“In an earlier session I noted that a tabloid clipping was shown to a witness—I think she was one from the Social Welfare Office—for the latter’s comment. Because she identified Ms. Monir as the one who found the abandoned child, it became clear to me that the child she found, whom the Quiapo priests had baptized as Deo Renato, is the same child that I later on adopted.
“The adoption papers will show a different name—Francisco De Gracia—and for the five years that he was with us we called him “Franco.”
“Then in March 1981—I could remember it was Friday the 13th—the three people who tried to arrest us in Sta. Cruz in 1976 snatched Franco away from us in the shopping center in San Juan. I thought the kidnappers did it for ransom money. I did not receive, by phone or any means, any ransom demand. But I did receive reports that the kidnappers brought Franco to a safehouse or something in Quiapo. Neither the police nor the military were able to track Franco and his kidnappers down.
“Since that day on 13 March 1981, I have not seen Franco again.
“About a week later, news broke out that an accidental killing inside the Lacson Underpass happened. Because all these things were happening in Quiapo, I could not help but think that maybe this accident at the Underpass was related to the abduction of Franco.
“It is my wish then, Honorable Senators, that you continue with this investigation until facts are known regarding the accidental killing of an inmate in March 1981. I believe Mayor De Mozo had been invited once in your sessions; I strongly suggest that he be called again to testify because he was the Quiapo Chief of Police when all these things happened.
“That’s all I can say for now, and I thank you all for giving me this opportunity to add information to your fact-finding inquiry.”
De Yamat: “Thank you, Judge Vida De Gracia. Before my colleagues can ask questions—and many of them had already signified to do so—can we have a break first? No objection? Ok. We take a 30-minute recess.”
The senators took turns in interpellating De Gracia, mostly on details that related to Monir’s own testimonies. Since Monir was also present, she was forced and relented to correct herself where her own testimonies contradicted that of De Gracia’s. One senator questioned the propriety of De Gracia’s dealing with Monir in the manner that she did, given her stature as a former judge. De Gracia replied that she had no time to figure out the transaction as it unfolded. She further explained that compliance with the adoption process, for which she said she coordinated with Social Welfare Office while completing the legal requirements, had effectively cured whatever defects might have tainted, in her own words, “the extra-judicial proceedings.”
For the next hearing, De Yamat’s committee re-invited De Mozo and Father Andoy to appear. When the next hearing was convened, De Mozo and Father Andoy. The latter was accompanied by Monsi Ubanon, who was now retired as Rector of Quiapo Church. There was also a surprise witness in the person of Gidaben.
When the hearing started, the senators trained their questions at Monsi Ubanon, who earlier stated that on March 13 or 14, 1981, one Hijo discovered something at the back of the church, and that something turned out to be the boy that resembled the one described by De Gracia.
Senator Vlad Vasectomas (not allied with either Makatigbas or Sir Dikomo): “Monsignor Ubanon, can you please provide us details on what happened after one of the Hijos discovered that something that turned out to be a boy inside the church?”
Monsignor Ubanon: “When we check the storeroom at the back of the church, we found the boy almost lifeless. The only sign that he was alive has his pulse. He could hardly move. When we untied him, he crumpled to the ground, prompting us to rush him to the clinic at the rectory. A couple of hours or so later, his vital signs were back to normal. He spent the night in the rectory. On the next day, we informed then Police Chief De Mozo about the boy. He agreed to present the boy in a press conference later in the day. The press conference did not happen, however, because the police who escorted the boy lost him in the middle of that melee at the Underpass. We have not heard anything about the boy since then.”
Vasectomas: “Did it not somehow cross your mind that the boy you found inside the church was the same boy you baptized 5 years earlier?”
Ubanon: “Nothing of that sort crossed our minds. Probably it would have been different if the information uncovered by this investigation was available at that time.”
Sotomayor butted in: “Madam Chair, with Senator Vasectomas permission, can I briefly ask Monsignor Ubanon please?”
De Yamat: “Senator Vasectomas?”
Vasectomas: “Yes, Madam Chair. Senator Sotomayor may proceed. But after he is through with his questions, I would like to ask Mayor De Mozo next.”
Sotomayor: “I have only one or two questions, Madam Chair.”
De Yamat: “Carry on, please.”
Sotomayor: “Monsignor Ubanon, can you please educate us on why you baptize a baby who in all likelihood does not understand yet about what’s happening to him?”
De Yamat: “Excuse me, Senator Sotomayor. I hope you don’t mind. But how is that related to the kidnapping that has been the topic of this investigation for the last three or four sessions?”
Sotomayor: “Because the baptism of one who probably was not even a month old could have made the identification of the child harder to facilitate. As it is, the abandoned child now appears to have two distinctly different names. I suppose any investigator would run into complications first before realizing that the two names would refer to only one person.”
De Yamat: “But that still does’nt make your question relevant to me. But ok, let’s hear what Monsignor Ubanon has to say.”
Ubanon: “As a popular born-again Christian evangelist, I assume that Senator Sotomayor shares a common belief with the basic Catholic teaching that, as the Bible says, unless we are born again, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. For Catholics, the rebirth happens during baptism. We know what happens if an infant dies without the benefit of baptism. So, we have a duty to baptize infants even at the time when we know they have little capacity yet to decide for themselves. At any rate we are all connected to the creator, and ourselves to others—we recite the Apostles Creed everyday during the Holy Mass acknowledging, among other things, ‘the communion of saints’; we can trace this link to as far back as the beginning of creation, when Adam and Eve fell from grace. By that link we can lift each other up, deserving of mercy and redemption, so that by baptism we may be re-united with God in his kingdom, who reigns in perpetuity. This link requires us to promote our understanding of this gift and mystery of rebirth in all stages of human existence, from infancy to old age, with guidance especially from parents and Godparents. And the best teacher that can guide us back to God’s grace by way of baptism is living a life that turns away from sin, and by doing something good for our fellow human beings and all the things around us.
“Then there is another sacrament, called Confirmation, on which occasion the baptized child gets confirmed at the time when he or she is much older. Catholics at any age can also renew their baptismal vows every year during the Triduum, which is the highest point of our Holy Week celebration.”
Sotomayor: “Thank you, Monsignor Ubanon, for that instructive homily. That would be all, Madam Chair.”
De Yamat: “Senator Vasectomas?”
Vasectomas: “Yes, Madam Chair. May I now direct my questions to Mayor De Mozo, please?”
De Yamat: “Please proceed.”
Vasectomas: “Mayor Mozo, what happened to the press conference? Was it aborted? How did you lose the child?”
De Mozo: “You Honor, Madam Chair, I will repeat what I have said countless of times before in varius fora and in media interviews. Our investigation showed that a mob, quite unrelated to the press conference that had been planned for the evening, went after an inmate who rushed inside the Underpass at about the same time that my men were transporting the child from the rectory to my office across the Quezon Boulevard. The commotion went out of control; the inmate himself, who was in Plaza Miranda doing community service under the GCTA program, was shot by the prison guard, and the child slipped from police custody. We searched the vicinity all night until the next day but we could not locate the child.”
De Mozo was subjected to an intensive and sometimes heated grilling by Senators, whose collective disbelief over what the mayor has presented dominated the theme of their questions. Specifically, they found it hard to believe that the timing of the mob attack and the fetching of the child for the press conference was fortuitous or coincidental. They also asked: Did he not try to find out who the parents of the kidnapped child were, given that this crime has attracted so much media attention? They sought a more straightforward explanation for why they should not think that the mob attack and the subsequent pandemonioum at the Lacson Underpass was staged.
The blank wall that De Mozo erected before the Senators provoked the latter to call more witnesses, to the total but concealed amusement of Senator Makatigbas and his allies. On the next hearing, many witnesses who in previous hearings had testified were in attendance again. They included Monsignor Ubanon, Mayor De Mozo, Judge De Gracia, Sylvia Monir, among others. Then a bunch of volunteers also made themselves available, after making representations with the committee chair. They included Manila Vice Mayor Junie Justicador, who brought along with him his boyhood buddy Boy Deo, and Gidaben.
When De Yamat banged the gavel to open the adjourned session, Senator Rodrigo Boloroton asked to be recognized. Along with De Labuya and Dayamante, Boloroton was one of Makatigbas’ trusted allies in the Senate.
De Yamat: “Gentleman from Benham Rise is recognized.”
Boloroton: “Thank you Madam Chair. May I ask the secretariat to flash the photo on the big screen please, the one I shared with you earlier?” Shown for all to see on the projector screen was an old photo of then Police Inspector De Mozo along with three other card players joining him on what appeared to be a casino table. “Madam Chair, let me ask Judge Vida De Gracia if she recognizes anyone in the picture.”
De Yamat: “Judge De Gracia?”
De Gracia: “The lady and the two men who are seated beside the younger version of Mayor De Mozo here, were the ones who tried to arrest us in Sta. Cruz in 1976 and the ones who snatched Franco from us in San Juan in 1981. I would venture to guess that this picture must have been taken earlier than 1981, judging from the similarities of how they looked like when I saw them in Sta. Cruz.”
Boloroton: “Just curious, Judge De Gracia, why do you seem so sure of the identities of the persons shown in the picture?”
De Gracia: “One of the fingers of the left hand of the muscular man—to the right of Mayor De Mozo—is missing, as you can clearly see in the picture. He pointed the forefinger of his left hand to my nephew in Sta. Cruz (he must be left-handed by the way) and I saw the missing finger in that hand. It was the same hand he used to push Franco inside a Lancer that they used to kidnap the boy in 1981. The lady has a scar in her right eyebrow; and the third male companion has kept his moustache untouched from the time that picture was taken to the time they confronted us in Sta. Cruz in 1976.”
Boloroton: “Thank you Judge De Gracia. Not to insinuate anything, the man with the missing finger was found dead supposedly from bullet wounds in a motel in Olongapo City in 1982. And the other two have been missing since 1983. Again, Madam Chair, I am not insinuating anything. I am just sharing some facts that this committee might deem helpful. I have nothing more to add, Madam Chair.”
De Yamat: “Mayor De Mozo, this committee grants you the opportunity to comment on the picture.”
De Mozo: “All I know is that the three persons shown in the picture were former policemen—well, a policewoman in the case of the lady there—themselves. They were discharged from the service for a variety of offenses. But this picture must have been taken when they were still in active service, and as far as I can remember, they invited me to that casino-hotel in Sta. Cruz to ask a favor from me. They asked me to vouched for their satisfactory performance as a way, I suppose, to mitigate the gravity of administrative charges filed against them.”
As in the previous hearing, the senators ganged up on De Mozo. But for questions that he could not answer with convincing clarity, he invoked, on the advice of his lawyer, his constitutional right not to say anything that later on might be used to incriminate himself. Or something to that effect.
After another hour of trying to pin De Mozo down, De Yamat, on the motion of Senator Boncaras, shifted to the testimony of another witness.
De Yamat: “Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to address all of you, including those who are watching on television. The rate at which this committee has come across witnesses who offered to testify is perhaps unprecedented in the history of congressional investigations. Today we have two more of these volunteer witnesses, and I am privileged to introduce our next witnesses: Manila Vice Mayor Junie Justicador and another one—a surprise witness if you will—who shall introduce himself to you later on.
“In the meantime, let’s now call on the Honorable Vice Mayor.”
Junie Justicador: “Thank you, Madam Chair, Honorable Senators who comprise the investigating committees.”
He took out a prepared statement which he jointly wrote with Boy Deo. “Ladies and gentlemen: I felt obliged to appear before the honorable senators when they asked witnesses, as they again ask our esteemed mayor today, about what happened at the Lacson Underpass in 1981. As mentioned earlier, somebody was “accidentally” killed in that melee.”
Justicador appeared to gather himself; his voice cracked as he continued. “I will not beat the bush. But rather I will tell you now that the man who got killed on that day was my father. I also will not attempt to add to your doubts by raising my own questions to Mayor Mozo. I assure you I have asked him the same questions you asked him in this investigation. I had found his forthrightness wanting but, to his credit, his recollection of what happened has not changed.
“So instead of beating what to me, in a figurative sense, is a dead horse, I wish to talk about my father. Hopefully this will contribute to achieving the purpose of this investigation when it was launched about six months ago, which is to find ways by which government can better address organizational dysfunctions and social inequities.
“My father was an orphan at five. His parents—my grandparents—were murdered at noontime on a day when the sky was clear. It was not hard for witnesses to come forward, but my family was not moneyed enough to be able to buy symphaty. What should have been a double murder case did not reach the courts; and even if it did, the HCMP case tells us that poor victims hardly get a fair hearing from some—and let me emphasize “some”—judges.
“My father was later on adopted by his uncle, whose poverty constrained his capacity to assume additional financial burden. For a pittance, his uncle shipped my father to a rice trader in Tondo, Manila, three years later.
“At 8, my father worked and lived like a slave in his new Tondo home. One day, he was accused and found guilty of bringing bad luck to his adoptive family. A househelp brought him to a crowded street in Caloocan City, and practically left him there alone, for dead.
“He made the streets his home, begging for food to survive, until he was old enough to steal. Throughout his teen-aged years, my father built a reputation for being a sleight of hand artist, earning tags such as Manila’s top theft and Manila’s finest ripper. That reputation introduced him to the rogue elements of the police. He thrived as a leading member of criminal gangs covertly ran by the police; he was into snatching, illegal gambling and, later on, into the more lucrative illegal drugs business.
“In his early twenties he married my mother and a year later I was born. My father renounced his criminal ways and, together with my mother, rebuilt a life away from the underworld. They coped well initially as a sidewalk vendor. But just as my father was on his way to a complete transformation, determined as he was to lead a fully-reformed life, he was picked up along with former fellow gangsters. They were drugged and used as fodder in a staged shootout, allegedly in a police manhunt for kidnap for ransom groups. Miraculously, my father survived that massacre; although his three companions did not. The fifth one, designated as driver of the vehicle which transported the condemned former members of police criminal gangs, is also alive. And he is here today to tell his story.
“The policemen involved in the manhunt operations detained my father without formal charges. Later on, he was transferred to the Manila City Jail, still without charges. Two years later, he was sent out along with two other inmates to Plaza Miranda for community service. He was mobbed at Plaza Miranda and the prison guard, thinking that my father was trying escape, shot him.
“Like his parents, my father was murdered. My family had long longed for justice. We have yet to get any.
“Thank you, Madam Chair and Honorable Senators.”
De Yamat: “I know my colleagues have signified their intention to interpellate Vice Mayor Justicador. But before we go to that, may I ask the surprise witness if his testimony is related to that of the Vice Mayor?”
Gidaben: “Yes, Your Honor.”
De Yamat: “Ok, so that my colleagues can minimize repeating the same questions for both witnesses, we shall hear your testimony first. You may proceed after taking the oath. Secretariat, please administer the oath now.”
Gidaben (reading a prepared statement he and Junie and Boy Deo had jointly written): “My name is Foroylan Camuilagui. I am 47 years old. In the underworld, people called me Gidaben. Later on, when shabu became more profitable than jueteng, the police who ran our operations called me ‘El Chapo.’
“The gangsters under the protection of the police in our area, which covered Recto, Avenida, Sta. Cruz and Quiapo, consisted of several sub-groups. I belonged to one of the sub-groups, while Yago, the Vice Mayor’s father, belonged to another sub-group. As far as I could remember, Yago’s group had five members.
“In late 1970s, Yago and other members of his group alienated themselves to the police for being inactive in jueteng and shabu operations. The police thought Yago and his group members were double crossing them. The same group of rogue policemen were involved in a kidnap-for-ransom operation in March 1977. On the 23rd of that month, I was tasked, under duress, to find Yago and his friends. After I showed to the police where Yago and his friends were, the police picked them up, tortured and drugged them. Turned out they were going to be used as fodder for a staged shootout.
“On that day, I was also tasked to drive a Ford Fiera from Intramuros to the intersection of Roxas Boulevard and Kalaw Avenue. On board the Ford Fiera were Yago and three of his friends. The only indication that they were alive was that they they were breathing.
“Upon reaching the Roxas Boulevard and Kalaw Avenue intersection, I leaped out from the driver’s seat, following the instructions given to me by my police protectors. In seconds I heard gunfire. I looked back and saw uniformed men straffing the Ford Fiera. From the news, I later learned that Yago’s companions died on the spot.
“These rogue policemen themselves were involved in the kidnapping, and they made it appear that the murdered gangsters—who Vice Mayor Justicador had called reformed gangsters—were the kidnappers. The true kidnappers were gone before the police riddled the Ford Fiera with bullets.
“I had no idea how Yago came out of it alive. But exactly two years later, when news broke out that the one who resembled his identity was killed at the Lacson Underpass, I had to believe that somehow Yago must have survived the 1977 massacre.
“I may have been the best among jueteng runners and shabu pushers, but I have no record of being a violent person. I weep hard when people die young due to violence.
“My conscience tortured me without let up after I learned that Yago was murdered in 1979, and that I could have helped him alter his fate if I only knew he came out of the 1977 rubout alive. I searched for the family—his wife and his son, who is now the Vice Mayor of Manila—in Nueva Vizcaya, in Tondo, in Caloocan, in Sta. Cruz and other places in an effort to mitigate the irreparable damage that I inflicted on them. In fairness to the rogue cops, I got my share from the ransom booty in 1977. They made it clear that the money was also meant to buy my silence.
“But—I will not stop repeating this—my conscience bothered me. If only to repay a debt that was beyond redemption, I was willing to part half of the amount I got with the surviving wife and the couple’s only child. And I was am willing to help the family in any way I can so long as I had the means and the request was reasonable. When Vice Mayor Junie asked me to testify today, saying yes to him was easy, even at the risk of my own security. My own life is not enough to compensate for the injustices that government and society have inflicted upon the Vice Mayor’s father.
“Honorable Senators, that is all I have to say. Thank you.”
De Yamat: “Thank you, Mr. Camuilagui. I understand my colleagues are again jockeying for their turn to ask questions, but the plenary will convene in a few minutes. Shall we adjourn until tomorrow, same time? Hearing no objection, session is hereby adjourned until tomorrow, 11 February 2003.”
The hearing resumed on the next day as scheduled. Senators lined themselves up for the chance to ask questions. Except for De Mozo, who notified De Yamat that he could not attend due to a bum tummy and an abnormally high blood pressure, all witnesses present during the previous day were again in attendance today. The committees spent almost four hours asking questions in relation to Justicador’s and Camuilagui’s statements.
Perhaps most perceptive among the senators was Ruben “The Gadfly” Quemas, who asked Camuilagui how certain he could be that the shootout at the Roxas Boulevard-Kalaw Avenue intersection was staged. Camuilagui explained that before he proceeded to the designated rubout area, he was instructed to pass by a vehicle whose color, markings and build were identical to that which he was driving. He believed the ones on board the replicated vehicle were the true parties to the crime.
Quemas: “What made you believe they were the true kidnappers?”
Camuilagui: “The leader of that group asked me to unload a black bag—I later learned from the news on TV that it contained money—and I heard him talk to somebody over his walkie-talkie.”
Quemas: “And what did he say to somebody over his walkie-talkie?”
Camuilagui: “He said “get the exodus ready.”
Quemas: “What do you think did he mean by that?”
Camuilagui: “I really don’t know, maybe it was a code, but somehow it prompted me to look at my rear mirror as I drove towards the Kalaw-Roxas intersection. And I saw the other Ford Fiera sped off towards the back of the Quirino Grandstand.”
Quemas: “Ok. On another point. You said the rogue cops—and I mean to wrap the words rogue cops inside quotation marks—gave you money as your share from the ransom. Was it part of the agreement when you falsely accused Yago and then drove one of the Ford Fieras to the Kalaw-Roxas intersection?”
Camuilagui: “Yes Sir.”
Quemas: “And the rogue cops honored that agreement?”
Camuilagui: “Yes Sir.”
Quemas: “Roque yet honorable. Isn’t that a contradiction?”
Camilagui could be seen searching for his words.
Quemas: “Ok, you may not answer that question. It just shows once more that there is honor among rogues. But you also said that the money you received was also intended to keep your mouth shut? Are you not, by testifying before this committee, violating that agreement?”
Camuilagui was again taking time to compose himself.
Quemas: “That’s ok, you may take your time.”
Camuilagui: “Sir, I guess there is a point in the lives even among the wretched where one gets the opportunity to decide which values are more important than others.”
Quemas: “Yes. And what do you mean by that?”
Camuilagui: “I have reached that point where to me the truth is bigger than my life.”
Quemas: “Ok. But it still does not add up. You said the rogue cops were in effect behind the massacre. On that account they certainly have the capacity to murder anyone, especially you, who knew you could be a witness against them, such as what you are doing now. So instead of giving you a portion of the ransom money, why did they not just do it—that is, kill you?”
Camuilagui: “I don’t know, Sir. What I only know is something I learned from experience. Maybe they also grew a conscience.”
Quemas: “Last question Madam Chair, Mr. Camuilagui. Can you tell us the names of the rogue policemen you are referring to?”
Camuilagui: “Our lawyer has advised us to disclose their names only in an executive session.”
Quemas: “That would be all for me, Madam Chair. Thank you, Mr. Camuilagui.”
Far from the noise, in the comfort of his sprawling living room in a New Manila home, Lee Tan was glued to the livestream of the senate investigation proceedings.
He remembered that day when he got Pearlie back from the kidnappers. It now made sense to him why the kidnappers trapped themselves between the sea and the heavily guarded escape routes. They did a Moses as told by the Book of Exodus.
For the allies of Makatigbas, what the investigation has done to demolish De Mozo’s reputation was beyond expections. The fallout on their principal’s perceived rival for the 2004 presidential elections was so devastating that they considered helping him to sort of redeem whatever might have been left of his political capital. Behind the scenes, their respective handlers have not made attempts to make the rivalry open, and so the Makatigbas group thought it would add to the charade if an attempt to rescue a belegeared competitor was made public.
Senator Dayamante told his allies that he has goods on one of the witnesses that made De Mozo look bad. It was time to unleash the entertainer turned politician.
De Yamat: “Thank you Senator Quemas.”
Dayamante: “Madam Chair?”
De Yamat: “Yes, Senator Dayamante.”
Dayamante: “Can I address the Honorable Vice Mayor please?”
De Yamat: “Yes, that is what he is here for, after all. So yes, by all means, you may address him. Carry on, please.”
Dayamante: “Thank you, Madam Chair. Vice Mayor Justicador, I notice the person beside you has been coaching you in these entire proceedings. Is he your lawyer?”
Justicador: “He is more than a lawyer to me. His name is Deodatu Biradayon. He is one of my Executive Assistants.”
Dayamante: “Can I ask him a few questions?”
Justicador turned to his left, in the direction of Boy Deo, who nodded to him. He replied: “Yes, I think so.”
De Yamat: “Administer the oath, please.”
Boy Deo swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
Dayamante: “Mr. Biradayon, I have an old copy of a magazine that carried a story on one named Deo Biradayon. The title of the article is ‘From the Eyes to the Brain.’ Are you the one being glamorized in this article?”
Boy Deo: “Yes, Your Honor, Madam Chair. I was the one glamorized in that article in the same manner that Mayor De Mozo had been glamorized in this investigation.”
Dayamante: “All right, Sir, I understand what you mean. Now, if I may quote portions of the article, it says here that people at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo once referred to you as “The Eyes.” Can you tell us what it was that you do to merit this “The Eyes” tag?”
Boy Deo: “I lived with street children throughout much of my childhood days. I was always looking for food to eat. So maybe that was how I came to be known as ‘the eyes’ as you call it.”
Dayamante: “Just so we do not waste time, let me just quote some portions of the article. It says here: ‘Before Boy Deo became the brain thrust of Manila Vice Mayor Junie Justicador, he earned various monikers such as the seer, fortune teller, and faith healer.’ Is this true?”
Boy Deo: “I could not tell people what they wish to call me, Your Honor, Madam Chair.”
Dayamante: “Apart from this article, I also asked around Quiapo, and legend has it that you could see things that others could not back in the day, when you were much younger. Can you tell us some of these you saw that others could not? Can you show us a sample of your extra-ordinary powers now?”
Boy Deo: “Your Honor, if you asked the Quiapo folks about it, chances are they would have told you that I could see things on a Friday only.”
One could sense that Dayamante was determined to embarrass Boy Deo by proving that he was a fraud, a scammer, and on the lookout for whatever means to advance his personal selfish agenda.
Dayamante: “That’s fair enough. It is unfortunate that today is a Tuesday. At any rate, can you tell us of a particular apparition or something that you saw on a Friday but others did not?”
Boy Deo: “I can remember one, Your Honor. On December 2, 1977 I saw how you killed an infant at La Casta in Tondo, Manila. You were drunk and driving a Toyota Land Cruiser when you hit the infant. But instead of checking on your victim, you fled as if nothing happened. And instead of you going to jail, your wife sent your girlfriend at La Casta to prison. Until now that poor woman is still serving time at the Correctional Institute for Women for an offense that existed only in your wife’s mind. The name of the wretched woman is…”
Boy Deo was not yet done, but a Nokia 3310 cellular phone that was thrown in his direction almost hit him in the face. He was stunned. He stopped and pushed his microphone aside.
Dayamante barked on the microphone: “You cannot just accuse a duly elected senator without any evidence!” And as he heaped more debris across the session hall, still in the direction of Boy Deo, De Yamat banged her gavel furiously.
“Order please!” De Yamat pleaded. “Page! Seargeant at Arms!”
It was only for the timely intervention by the Senate security personnel that Boy Deo was able to escape from physical harm.
Miracles of Quiapo
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ACKNOWLEDGMENT AND DISCLAIMER
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 fictional novel. No offense is intended for any mention of names, places or things that bears similarities with actual or existing names of persons, places or things.
Copyright © 2022 Ingming Aberia
All rights reserved.
Photo Credits: QuiapoChurch.com.ph