Sunday, January 1, 2012
I STOOD NAKED with 499 other “captives” on a cold and windy early morning of January 1989. My time in Tanay, Rizal is winding out in about two weeks. Infront of us are our sets of fatigue uniforms and combat boots piled high like a mountain on a road junction at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range.
I am assigned as pathfinder and I am issued a compass to lead 100 people back to Camp Capinpin during the escape and evasion phase. At a given signal, we are going to break free from our “holding area” in a deep valley and recover our clothes up here. I don't think I could do that in utter confusion. But I marked where my uniforms lay and I don't have to go far. I have to think fast.
Up ahead is a clump of grass surviving in the middle of the road going down to that valley. It is almost shoulder high and I believe no one could imagine that it could hide a big guy in there. But first, I would retrieve what my grandfather taught me many years ago: to sit still like a rock and harness my mind to confuse the “enemy” before I could reunite with my uniform and boots.
Then a rifle shot cracked in the air and everyone stampeded down the road. I ran with the other “captives” and crouched low when I ran past the grass. Stealthily, I eased back into its protection. More shots were heard and more footsteps came hurrying down until there were no more. Then silence.
I bent my head between my knees, closed my eyes and willed my mind to go blank. I heard nothing except the wind and crunch of heavy boots and one of the “enemy” came close. Then the grass danced before a strong breeze and it is reassuring.
I could feel an “enemy” standing just a meter beside me unmindful of my presence. Warm exhaled air lightly touched my skin pores as it is carried by the breeze but I am a rock today and I am invisible. Discovery meant hard butt strokes from an Armalite or from an M14 and indescribable disgrace.
The “enemy” took three steps forward and I heard a loud metallic action as a round is loaded into the firing chamber. Then a burst of gunfire is fired into the air. Warm empty brass shells landed on my head and my back. Another burst is fired again. The “enemy” gave last-minute instructions and I could understand it clearly well.
Once the transport trucks leave, I opened my eyes. I looked around the surroundings and cautiously approach the mound of uniforms in a wide circle and found my boots and my army fatigues. By the time I was tying up the shoe lace for my last shoe, the first “captive” arrived, followed by another until all 499 milled around the mound. Everyone were grabbing for himself clothes and shoes, fitting this and that.
I just could not believe two guys fighting over the same shirt and a sleeve almost got separated. Elbows flew. Raised agitated voices rang in the cold morning. Wrong pairs of shoes scattered everywhere. Pants seesawed back and forth. Discipline learned the hard way evaporated. It took almost an hour before the crowd settled down and donned their uniforms in the best way they can.
I regrouped my 100 and I stifled a laugh at their appearance. Each group is on its own and we are five in all. Then the whole 500 traveled as if it is one group and that is insane. I decide to break away for I know the “enemy” will be waiting and laughing. From here to the camp are “enemy” checkpoints and discovery meant physical humiliation.
Half of my group questioned my logic and it is torn apart. I am left with fellow “captives” from the Visayas and Mindanao regions, to include my Moslem brothers. My ragtag group evaded several checkpoints over a land that I am not familiar with. I led them by studying the terrain and chose where my route would take with a characteristic cunning taught by grandpa.
My group arrived first at half past noon inside Camp Capinpin undetected and I reported to my training officer. Half of my command is found missing during headcount and I bore the brunt of the punishment but that is nothing compared to the ignominy of being “recaptured” at the checkpoints which the rest were, several times.
Really, it is nothing for I found solace in the fact that I have outwitted the veteran Scout Rangers at their own game and turf.
Document done in Libre Office 3
Sketch in ballpoint pen by PinoyApache