July 23, 2005

CSI Payatas

Smaller and Smaller Circles
By F.H. Batacan
University of the Philippines Press, QC
155 pages

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Sometimes a rare gem of a novel like this comes along your way like a pigeon dropping guano on top of your head. For one, this tome was neatly tucked away among the different volumes of other Filipino novels that I could have missed this title if I had not browsed through thoroughly the Powerbooks shelves. More importantly, F. Batacan's work is a patently Filipino whodunit novel full of shady characters and CSI-inspired plots, which is rare enough these days because our masochistic literary shelves are already crammed with Spanish-abused Noli me wannabes, Martial Law desaparecidos, WWII comfort diaries, EDSA "me-&-4-million-other-usiseros-were-there" analyses and Jessica Zafra's constipated insanities. Most are angst ridden and emotionally rich stories to break and make your achey, achey little heart. Not this one.

Set in a highly wounded, straight-forward, no-nonsense, James Pattersonesque tone, F. H. Batacan's 1999 Carlos Palanca grand prize winner, Smaller and Smaller Circles is one gripping novel that you can finish in one or two sittings. It's one of the best gripping reads during a rainy day. If Agatha Christie lived here, she would have written the same novel.

PDI columnist Ruel de Vera wrote: "Dead, mutilated bodies of children are discovered in and around the Payatas area of Quezon City, with faces, hearts and genitals missing. It seems that a serial killer -- yes, a Pinoy serial killer -- is picking off a juvenile victim on the first Saturday of every month." This prompts Augusto Saenz, priest cum forensics anthropologist and Fr. Jerome Lucero, psychologist and side-kick, to sniff out the killer among the hidden garbage heap of Payatas.

Besides the priests investigating the skeletal clues left behind by the victims, there's a motley of characters which Batacan satirizes with sheer precision. One of which is Benjamin Arcinas, the NBI lawyer who is caricatured as corrupt, inept and who gets a confession by torturing the "suspect." No wonder most criminal cases are thrown out of courts because of lack of evidence. And Joanna Bonifacio, the pretty yet headstrong TV journalist who helps Saenz in the investigation looked like one of the Probe Team reporters. Jessica Soho she aint.

No need to divulge more details but it is suffice to say that there's lots of CSI investigative techniques applied there (by Saenz & not by the NBI) like cordoning off a crime scene (which is seldom done here because we prefer the cover-the-head-with-newspaper type of evidence gathering.) Also, there are enlightening and infuriating points in the novel showing that because of the stupidity of the NBI and the Police, serial killers can go on killing people with impunity. And yes, there are lots of mutilated bodies- with a gross factor of 8/10.

The novel stands by itself. It's a treat since only a few detective novels are set in the Philippines and it's a statement also for us Filipinos that serial killings can happen here too and not just in CSI:Miami. And the probability solving such crimes, heaven forbid, is infinitesimally slim.
Smaller and Smaller Circles is a definite must-read.

"Smaller and Smaller Circles is sleekly written, slowly building up the tension, and painting its characters...in a vivid, compelling manner."
- Rina Jimenez-David, Philippine Daily Inquirer

PDI columnist Ruel de Vera has this to say about the book (which has a more comprehensive review than mine):

July 14, 2005

Return To Sender (Part 1)

July 13, 2025

Dearest daughter,

Felicitations! How are your studies faring? I do hope all things are going your way- I mean from your grades, clubs and to your social life. As promised, I'll send you your allowance as soon as the cane harvest starts.

Anyway, you asked me last week the history of the recent Philippine Civil War and how it transformed modern Philippines. Is this really your topic for report or just another diversion to stimulate my dull brain here in Negros? This is what I can share:

It all started about 20 years ago when then President Arroyo was deposed by a group of disgruntled soldiers one fateful night. The atmosphere then was electrified. By then civil groups and leftists transferred their mammoth rallies from Makati to Mendiola. Most of the influential people were there- Cory, Ramos, Legarda and perhaps a million or so civilians. They were practically demanding for her resignation at the doorsteps of the palace. President Arroyo in haste announced on TV that martial law has been declared and that any civil disobedience will not be tolerated. That made the rallyists went amok shooting and hitting the police officers who were cordoning the area. They pressed against the lines further more using their bare bodies as steamrollers, and in minutes they were at the gates. Rembember the French Revolution when the women of Paris stormed the gates of Versailles with pitchforks demanding the head of Marie Antoinette? It was that and more.

Little did the president know then that in that tumultuous tempest, her palace guards were already springing a trap to assassinate her. The junior officers grabbed her and like Julius Caesar, they stabbed her many times in the torso and in the back. Even her patent mole was cut off. Not satisfied, they did what the friars did to Governor-general Bustamante during the early 18th century, they lynched her from the balustrade and with their service pistols, they made her into a target practice.

The rallyists were soon held back with bullets and tear gas. The late Mrs. Aquino was shot in the stomach wetting her yellow blouse with blood. She died minutes later after muttering to her daughter Kris, "This country is not worth fighting for!" As for Fidel Ramos, he was shot in the neck by a young officer who was then bludgeoned to death by the enraged mob. It was mayhem at its finest. There were at least a thousand dead bodies scattered around the palace reminicent of the Amritsar Massacre in India. As for ex-president Estrada, he too was assassinated in his cell. Even those who were thought to be presidentiables like Drilon, Villar and De Venecia were suddenly killed one by one by suspected army-backed militias. The police were nowhere in sight to stop this.

When the dust finally settled, the TV crackled with the sounds of General Abu, Bataoil and Cimatu calling those politicians who were killed traitors to the constitution and that this was how God intented to clean up the whole country- with blood and terror. Of course, the Catholic Church and every other religious authority were shocked by this horrible spectacle that they immediately denounced and excommunicated these military malcontents. What the AFP did to them was just like how Robespierre & Marat abolished the Church in Revolutionary France. They confiscated their assets and assassinated their top clerics just to make an example- Archbishop Cruz was bludgeoned to death by rifle butts, Archbishop Rosales was mauled to death by dogs from the K-9 unit, Eraño Manalo was knifed in the neck by soldiers posing as church members and Eli Soriano was shot at the mouth.

Their denouncements did not go unheeded. In just two days after Arroyo died, the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Cebu, Negros, Iloilo, Davao and Sulu announced that they will secede from the republic and any outside military interference will be met with equal ferocity. They each grouped according to their own ethnolinguistic background: the Ilocanos for a Federal Ilocandia, the Cebuanos for a Republic of Cebu, Mindanao for a Morolandia and so on. The military installations and soldiers who were trapped in those areas were given an ultimatum: to either fight for them or face the wrath of the people. Most defected easily but in Davao, the military tried to take hostage the Mayor and his family, but they found out late enough that Mayor Duterte has more firepower and private soldiers than they. Those who participated were killed, their genitals slashed and their corpses paraded in the public plaza in which the public took great pleasure in stoning the dead bodies.

With the separate republics hastily being put up, other provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao quickly joined them. Pampanga, Isabela, Bulacan and Batangas tried to declare independent but were quickly and brutally quashed by the military. In San Fernando, Pampanga, then Gov. Lapid was shot in the chest, his feet bound together and was hanged upsidedown at the provincial capitol. In Lipa, Batangas, Mayor Vilma Santos was gangraped by unknown soldiers and was shot several times through her private parts. In Isabela, the entire Dy family was locked inside a cellar and soldiers threw in Molotov bombs thus, roasting the entire clan. My dear daughter, what happened in Manila was worse- it was short of being called a genocide.


July 11, 2005

Macatagal-Arroyo's Mandate of Heaven

It seems now another People Power is in the offing. The withdrawal of support for a clinging leech in Malacañang is snowballing into a collective chorus from a population who is fed up with her ineptitude. From her cabinet members, to the allied parties, to the religious sects and to the business people, they are mouthing the same diatribe: Resign Gloria!

Really now, with only the Jueteng scandal and the Garci tapes to pin her down, do you think it is large and sufficient enough to have the heart to get rid of her? For me, NO! Ever since Erap was deposed from the palace, civil society (and politicos) have been tempered with a post-traumatic stress syndrome wherein small infractions and self-contrived scandals are for them, enough to depose a duly elected president. It would take the plundering of the national treasury to do that. Like Marcos. For me, it would take dozens of Erap-style scandals involving personal kick-backs, tax breaks for Lucio Tan, and corrupt cabinet members to make me want to impeach her. But because everyone has been brainwashed with the fact that such tapes are the only reason to undo her, then let it be so. Let her go down from her ivory throne.

The reason why Fate led her destiny to what it is now is because she failed to address these problems properly. Wrong tactic. Wrong timing. I feel if she showed lots of courage to mass prosecute and persecute those jueteng lords, or at least addressed the tapes while it was still a benign tumor, then, perhaps she won't be in this precarious situation. But no, she chose to deny that such illegal games exist and that there were no payoffs flowing to her fat corpulent husband's stomach. She chose to keep mum about the tapes for so long and only to fan the flames of protest when she said sorry (this in the hope that we "dumb" Filipinos will recognize it as another Clintonesque apology worthy of forgiveness.) Ha-ha-ha. It was too late and too little. The public (more like the Manila public) has lost trust in her presidency.

The question is: How to depose a president? Take note of the following:
A. Voluntary Resignation
1. She will resign, then good.
2. She will not, then:
a. go to (B) for constitutional means
b. go to (C) for unconstitutional means
c. Coup d'Etat if the military gets an idea from co-ASEAN member, Burma.
d. Compromise with Ramos for a parliamentary shift in government slated for next year.
e. She will develop acute stress gastritis and irritable bowel syndrome forcing her to (A.)

B. Impeachment
a. if pro-impeachment prevails, then good.
b. in anti-impeachment prevails, then go to (C).

C. People Power III

Ah, it seems that in this country, if you want to kick your leaders off their position, what you do is to pressure him or her by means of a mini-mass demonstration (only in Imperial Manila) and conclude it that it's the deep desire of the whole Philippines. Okay. People Power nowadays sets a very bad precedent because it implies that we as a people are quickly brainwashed by opportunistic politicians to use extra-constitutional means in toppling a government. What they're trying to say is this: "Forget impeachment. Let's use the psychological impact of another Edsa II to make her leave Malacañang! Let's do some rallies! Let's do civil disobedience! Maybe a couple of Molotov bombs will do the trick!" Are they forgeting that even criminals deserve due process? And in her case, an impeachment trial? Ooops! I forgot this is the Philippines where extra-judicial killings are the norm of justice.

The only reason why the Erap-Marcos opposition wants an extra constitutional way out of this is because they fear that they do not have the numbers in congress or the senate to push an impeachment trial. That may be so, but if they use their collective intelligence to convince the Arroyo-allied parties (like the Liberal Party) to defect to their cause, then, there might not be the need to do these CNN-like press conferences. But because they're bereft of any shred of IQ, their only recourse is to agitate the public with mass rallies, TV denouncements and self-perpetuating press conferences.

I feel we should stick to impeachment and let the law take its due course. Even if you can already feel that De Castro, Drilon, Pimentel, Imee Marcos, and especially Legarda have been salivating in their seats (more like frothing from their mouths), this is no reason to expedite justice by taking other means than through impeachment. Because if we do, then the law becomes a laughing-stock, a folly of sorts. We must not make a mockery of our constitution by giving in to the Marcos-Erap malcontents for if we really think hard about it, the alternative to Arroyo is equally as dismal as she. Can we hear people clamoring for Noli? or for Loren? If any of those clowns gets a hold of the presidency, then you can be sure that Erap will have his presidential pardon. You and I wouldn't like that, do you?

In Chinese history, the Mandate of Heaven is very important for its loss signals the end of a dynasty. In our case, heaven right now is not looking very well for Mrs. Macatagal. For how long, only time will tell.