The Last War
After alighting from the tricycle, Edelita Bayo walked towards the shaded shelter of mango trees that sandwiched a small private road.
She traced the edge of the shade avoiding the muddy puddles of the dirt road, Edelita is 41, her graying hair and wrinkled, weather-tanned face gave her the appearance of a 50-year old woman.
For a living she peddled nilagang saging (boiled bananas) along downtown Davao, her industriousness would earn her three hundred pesos a day barely enough to feed a family of five. When her youngest was five months old, her husband Roger abandoned the family.
Julius the eldest at 23 is a construction worker living in Bunawan with his family, 21-year old Vilma works as a household helper for a Chinese family in Tagum City, 20-year Joel or Tikboy works as an all-around boy in Big Mike’s bar, Sheryl is 16 and is a Grade 9 student, Dennis at 15 years old is a Grade 6 student.
Edelita could see Big Mike’s distinctive picket fences, it accentuated a drab white bungalow house where the bar was located. The bungalow sits upon a ridge along Shrine Hills. From the main Shrine Hills Road, Big Mike is hidden by a fruit orchard where mature santol and mango trees grow, a small private road bisects the orchard connecting it to the main road. From the Shrine Hills road the landmark is the lighted San Miguel Beer signage, which tells visitors to take the turn to the bar.
“Hey there. Kah-mustah” A familiar American greeted her.
It was Mike Mueller, the owner of the bar, Tikboy’s boss. Edelita had not noticed the American supervising two workers placing gravel over some of the muddy puddles in the parking area underneath the mango trees.
“ Good morning ser.”
“How are you?” The hulking Mike put his arms around the frail Edelita.
“These are for you ser Mike,” Edelita handed the plastic bag filled with boiled bananas.
“Hey this looks good. Thank you dear, got an idea this would be my merienda great to pair with bago-ong. How much is this?”
“Oh no sir, do not pay. This is my thanks for taking care of Tikboy.”
“Ey come on, I’ll pay.”
“No sir, no sir, This is gift.”
“Ahhhh, really, so nice of you. I really appreciate this Lita. Your son is inside the stockroom, come go inside,” Mike clasps Edelita’s hands and leads her to the patio.
Edelita saw his son inside the storage area, re-arranging the boxes of newly arrived stocks of craft beer. Seeing his mother Tikboy led Edelita to the small room where is currently staying.
His small room had a sleeping cot, electric fan, several carton boxes containing his clothes and other belongings, a small table with two monobloc chairs. A rhum calendar with a sexy lingerie photo of Ellen Adarna adorned the wall.
Its been a little over two years since he started working for Mike Mueller, he is paid one-hundred sixty pesos a day, as a stay-in all-around helper in the bar.
“I am sorry Joel, I wasn’t able to come to your graduation. Your auntie Ising told me to extend my visit for a few days, Its been years since I last visited Monkayo, I haven’t seen my relatives for ages.”
“It alright ma, I understand, sir Mike treated me, Sheryl and DenDen to buffet at Vikings.”
“Yes they told me about it. They told me the food was so delicious. I told them to study well, that’s the only way they can have good jobs and eat in restaurants and order those delicious food.”
“I hope they are listening to you Ma, particularly Dennis, I scolded him recently, Sheryl told me his friends are gang members. He told me he hadn’t joined the gang yet, I do not believe him, I know he’s lying.”
“DenDen is hard-headed just like you Tikboy.”
“If not for you ma, I would have been dead by now.”
“That is why I always thank God, that you had changed your life. Anyway what is your plan after high school?”
“I’ve talked to sir Mike, he plans to enroll me in a vocational school for senior high. If I can get skills I would be employable and can get bigger pay. If I do well he can give me college scholarship in UM (University of Mindanao), I was planning to take a hotel and restaurant management course ma.”
“Sir Mike is very good man, he is God’s gift to you. I really hope you would pursue your dreams, this is your chance to leave the life you once had.”
“Yes ma. I know that, I am really working hard.” He handed out two-thousand pesos to his mother, a substantial portion of his salary working for Big Mike’s.
In the stilt shack near the seawall, in the edge of the city’s coastal barangay, 16-year old Tikboy is butt-naked, standing, thrusting his pelvis to a naked girl lying in monobloc table her legs eagle-spread.
The thrusts became more rapid, The girl let out a squeal. After it was finished. Tikboy put on his underwear and shorts then quickly went out of the shack.
In the rough graveled street flanked by wooden stilt houses made up of marine plywood and tarpaulins, stench of excreta and uncollected trash wafted through the air, the shirtless Tikboy walked confidently like it was his kingdom. He was the leader of Mangtas Boys, a gang who marked the area as their territory.
In the shade of a young Talisay tree he found some of his gangmates playing hantak a game of heads or tails played by three coins.
“Tikboy” A tall gangly teen acknowledged the gang leader
“Where you’ve been?”
“I just came from the house,” Tikboy lied, he just had sex with Boyet’s girlfriend at the gang's hideout, an unoccupied stilt shack that juts out to the garbage strewn beach.
“Kugmo, unsay balita? (what’ the news?)” Tikboy asked the scrawny shirtless kid whom he named after a booger.
“We saw some Diablos lurking near Kitoy’s house,” Kugmo reported
“That’s part of our territory,” Tikboy retorted to the news
“Tikboy, they’re gearing for another war. This would be another riot” Boyet one of his chief lieutenants apprised him of the recent intrusions by the diablos into their territory.
“I’ll talk to Jacky.” He told the two.
Later in the afternoon, at the seawall a few meters from the stilt houses, Tikboy met with Jacky, one of the Mangtas Boys leaders.
“No war at this point with the Diablos. We don’t want unnecessary attention,” Jacky told Tikboy.
Tikboy had half-agreed with Jacky’s decision. The recent riot was bloody and costly, one of their gangmates died and led to a police crackdown; thirteen of their members were arrested and put in the City’s social welfare halfway home.
Edelita had a nervous breakdown, when she saw Tikboy being hauled away by the police. He spent a month in the halfway facility.
Yet, a part of Tikboy was aching for vengeance, to avenge the death of Tyson, one of the Mangtas, he was stabbed by an ice pick during the melee.
The Mangtas boys so named because of their ferocity during riots were actually a confederation of different cliques living in the same seaside neighborhood. From the pack emerged Tikboy and Jacky as leaders of the gang. But Jacky had his exclusive clique in the gang.
Jacky and his group of about ten gang members were called Kwartahan (moneyed) so-called because they had cash, the gang was engaged in the illicit drug trade acting as drug couriers running shipments of crystal meth or shabu from contacts to the pushers in the neighborhood.
Tikboy believed that Jacky was no longer interested in the petty matters which had preoccupied the Mangtas Boys. He was keen on running his business.
“Do you think we should avenge Tyson?” Tikboy asked Jacky.
“Not at this time, we can’t have the police snooping in this area again. Its bad for us, its bad for our business.”
“So its really about your business? Soon we’ll find our area being taken over by the Diablos,” Tikboy answered Jacky’s pragmatism.
“It won’t happen bai. I had backers. Soon we’ll get guns. The diablos will be eating bullets in no time, relaks lang,” Jacky said before leaving him sitting in the seawall.
Two weeks later Tikboy sat nervously in an iron wrought chair in the middle of a garden in a middle-class home. He had accompanied his mother for a house visit.
They were in the home of high-ranking police official assigned at the Davao City Police Office. Edelita had personally known the policeman as her suki, every afternoon she would come to his office to peddle boiled bananas.
“Sir I begged of you please spare my son’s life,” She pleaded to the police officer.
In a brutal anti-drug crackdown, armed vigilantes had gunned down four of the Kwartahans. One of them was Jacky, Edelita knew the only way out of the death squads was to seek protection from the police.
“Your son is not in the order of battle Lita. Based on a report given to me, the four had long been under surveillance for illegal drug activities. Davao City is a dangerous place for these kind of people. You should know that,” The police officer said.
“I fear sir my son will be involved in the drug trade if he stays long in the neighborhood. I fear he will be next.”
“Aright I’ll take Tikboy in. I do need a houseboy. The pay is not that big, but he’ll be staying in the house and everything is for free.” The police official told Edelita.
“Ma, I would like to stay with you.” Like a young kid who didn’t want to part ways with his parent, Tikboy pleaded to Edelita.
“nak, the boulevard is not safe for you anymore. With what happened to Jacky I now fear for your life. Living with sir Enteng is the only way to escape from the DDS,” Edelita implored her son to accept the offer.
Tikboy eventually agreed and served in the household of the police official, within a couple of months the initial reluctance giving way to acceptance.
The police official had often reminded Tikboy that if he remains committed to mending from his past ways, he’ll support his schooling.
The Davao City Police Office had an alternative literacy program for street kids and wayward youths which was supported by the Jaycees. The police officer decided to enroll his houseboy. In the classes, Tikboy excelled and by the following months he was already assisting the tutors in teaching the kids.
For several months, Tikboy had progressed from a gang leader to an informal learner. Studious and committed he had impressed his tutors.
Then one day, the police official told Tikboy about his promotion and upcoming assignment in the national headquarters.
“Tikboy I am being assigned to Camp Crame. I can’t bring you to Manila with me.”
Tikboy’s heart shrank, he remembered the promise of the police officer.
“You’ve been a good young man, the Jaycees have very nice words for you. I am proud of what you are doing. Even if I am gone, I’ll make sure you continue this path,” The official reminded him.
With the help of some Jaycees, the police officer connected with Mike Mueller, the former PBA import who now lives in Davao City with his Filipino wife and daughter, He has been looking for an errand boy for his resto-bar named Big Mike’s Grill.
Within a month, Tikboy began working for Mike Mueller. He let the lad stay in one of the vacant rooms in the residential bungalow which had been turned into a bar.
Mike then enrolled Tikboy to a Sunday High School program. The lad strived to make the best of what has been given to him. Edelita witnessed Tikboy’s transformation from a gang leader to a responsible young man.
Edelita took only one-thousand from the two-thousand pesos Tikboy gave to his mother.
“That’s yours buy what you want.” The woman told his son, giving him back his crisp one-thousand peso bill.
Later that afternoon. Tikboy receives a text message from his younger sister.
Kuya, si Denden, niapil na jud ug gang, sa mga mangtas, makigriot daw sila sa mga Diablo unyang gabii. Walay mi mabuhat ni mama. Bahala na daw sya ingon ni kuya Julius.
Sheryl in her text had told him that Dennis had indeed joined the Mangtas Boys and they would be engaging in a riot later tonight. The eldest brother had told the family to leave the youngest alone in his foolishness.
For the night Tikboy took a leave from his bar duty. It was a decision he did not have a second thought. The riot between the El Diablos and the Mangtas would be deadly. He remembers the last one he took part. He remembered Tyson his comrade dying sprawled on the floor, 10 stab wounds created by an ice pick.
He reached the place nine o’clock in the evening. He spent an hour searching for the gang along the numbered blocks and unnamed narrow alleys of the community.
“Paks, did you see the mangtas?” Tikboy saw a familiar friend along the area, a former gang member now a pedicab driver plying the narrow streets of the slum area.
“Hey Tikboy, long time no see. How’ve you been?” Pakoy the pedicab driver saw and acknowledged his long time friend.
“I’m fine paks, have you seen the gang? Someone said there’s going to be a riot tonight.”
“Yeah I heard of it, I think its going to be in the court. The gang has been hiding today maybe they don’t want the barangay to be alarmed.”
“Can you take me there bai.”
“Sure. Hop in.”
The open air basketball court was deserted, the court was illuminated by two lamp posts. Tikboy stayed in the area and waited for an hour, then he saw groups of young men scurrying around, he recognized them as gang members.
A few minutes later, he could see a large group of youth running towards the court. They were many, carrying large rocks and metal sticks and bats. A few illuminated by light had hankies covering their faces.
Minutes later, he saw the Mangtas from the opposite direction, fewer in number as compared to the attacking gang from the other side of the boulevard slum.
Tikboy hid in a dark nook opposite the court. Then he heard thuds, loud thuds, rocks and other projectiles falling from the evening sky. The riot had began.
For the first few minutes, they were throwing projectiles, some of those living in the houses shouted at the gang members to stop.
Suddenly a group disengaged from the diablos and rushed into the mangtas, many of which retreated and ran.
Hidden from their view, a bloody spectacle unfolded in front of him. He could see a familiar Mangtas trading furious blows with two Diablos, one of the diablos’ fist potent with a pitcha kurno struck the gang member’s head which knocked him off balance, falling down to the ground the fallen gang member was greeted with sustained kicks to his head and body.
Suddenly and out of nowhere, Tikboy lunged at one of the Diablos and peppered him with quick but powerful punches, the other one initially shocked with Tikboy's appearance tried to help but was greeted by Tikboy’s powerful wallop which knocked him out. The other one recovered and swung at him hitting Tikboy, who then counterattacked with powerful punches, also knocking him out.
It was over after 15 minutes, both gangs retreated when the barangay tanods along with auxiliary policemen rushed to the scene with three police mobile units following.
Tikboy had joined the Mangtas retreat into a place near the sea wall. He was looking for Denden.
“Without you Tikboy, I would have been dead.” Kugmo profusely thanked Tikboy.
The younger and newer gang members who saw the fight were in awe over Tikboy’s punching skills sort of a Manny Pacquiao, only Kugmo recognized the former gang leader.
“Where’s my brother?”
“He’s not here Tikboy.”
“Where is he, did he join the gang?”
“No he did not join,” Kugmo the gang leader replied
“My sister Sheryl told me.”
“No he did not. Hmm Joyjoy your gossipy neighbor fed the wrong info again Tikboy.” Kugmo said.
“You are looking for Denden? It's true he did not join the gang, he’s working for a 24-hour bakery in Bonifacio. He is there,” One of the gang members told Tikboy.
“Ma’am?” Denden stood up from the stool and greeted the bakery’s customer.
“How much is the pudding?” asked a female customer.
“Five pesos ma’am.”
“Give me four.”
Denden puts the pudding in a small brown paper bag and hands out to the lady- a call center agent working nearby who paid the lad with a crisp twenty peso bill.
As the lady moved away from the bakery’s glass counter, Denden sees a familiar figure. His brother Tikboy.
Along the step of the bakery, Tikboy is seated and Denden is standing next to his seated brother. Denden hands over a plastic wrapper filled with ice to Tikboy, who puts it in his swollen face.
“I thought you joined the gang, there was a riot.”
“Joyjoy again spreading false rumors.” Denden replied.
“Why are you working? Are you still in school?”
“I stopped schooling kuya.”
“Why? You should finish school.”
“I can’t 'ya.”
“You should finish elementary. Look I’ll support you to school, I got savings from working with Sir Mike. What do you need?”
“I’m going to have a baby kuya?”
“I didn’t tell you, I didn’t tell mama and the others. Sheila is pregnant, 6 months. I really need to find a job. I told the bakery I’m 18 years old so that I can be hired as a helper. ”
Tikboy felt the turbulence of his emotions. Partly he was relieved and happy his brother did not join the gang and had found work in a 24-hour bakery yet he felt his world had crashed, the 15-year old boy now an expectant father, too young, too soon.