“Legends say that blood lures gold and for a gold mine to be full of gold, it needs blood. But a goat’s blood is not enough,” said the fifty-eight year-old Mang Berto as he shared his story to his fellow small-scale miners during siesta as they rested in a nipa hut near the Matiao River. “The mine needs blood that is pure and innocent.” Mang Berto said coldly to everyone in the hut.
Mang Berto and his family lived in Matiao, a province where the primary source of profit for most people was mining. In his early thirties, he’d worked in a large-scale mining company called King Midas Mining Corp in the Gumayan province. The boss of the company, who the employees called Supremo, believed in a legend that a sacrificial ritual that involves offering of blood every last day of the month inside a mine would lure out the elusive gold nuggets. During his stay in Gumayan, Mang Berto worked as a hired kidnapper and the one who executed the ritual along with other hired kidnappers. His job brought instant money and soon enabled him to buy a small house. However, until one incident changed the course of his life.
Later, as Mang Berto stared at the pan with only a dust of gold, he remembered vividly his job, and his son, Butchok. It was 1981 when Supremo hired Mang Berto. During that time, Mang Berto worked as a small-scale miner who only produced gold that was worth his allowance every month. The Supremo was hesitant when he hired Mang Berto as kidnapper.
“Berto, I am offering you this job so that you could improve your life,” Supremo had told Mang Berto. “This job will earn you three times the money that you’re earning every month in your small-scale mining.”
After the offer, Mang Berto contemplated whether to continue panning gold and earn a little more than a hundred-fifty pesos a day, or to earn a huge amount of money in exchange for a child’s life. Eventually, Mang Berto had to close his eyes and take a deep breath, as he accepted Supremo’s offer.
The last day of April 1981 was Mang Berto’s first day on the job. At 2:00 P.M., the crew met first in front of the Dagohoy Bar for a briefing. Beside the bar and the parking lot, there was a white van waiting for Mang Berto. As he approached the van, a man opened the window signaling at Berto to hop inside the car.
“Berto, this is your first job and it’s your big day. You have to make this count,” said Rex, a fellow kidnapper and a veteran of this job.
“You don’t want to disappoint Supremo,” Jose, the driver, added as he clicked his Colt MK IV.
“Yes, boss!” said Berto, cleanching his fist to gain a confidence.
“Every thing is set. So where are we heading, Rex?” Jose asked.
“Same place, Jose. Same place,” said Rex in a relaxed manner as he lighted a cigarette.
On their way to the place, Rex began to give Berto instructions.
“You need to find a child that you think can easily be fooled,” Rex said. “Talk to the child in a calm and soothing way. Before you approach and talk to the child you need to buy him chips first.”
“You mean a junk food?” Berto asked.
“This job is like fishing. We bring bait to catch the fish.”
“I see.” Berto looked out the window as silence filled the van.
The van pulled up at a park that Berto recognized. Immediately, he remembered happy moments in the park with his son, Butchok and his wife, Amelia who died a year before of tuberculosis.
“Oh, this park.”
“What about it?” asked Jose.
“Nothing,” said Berto. “I just remember something.”
“I know first day of job is always rough,” asseted Rex, “but you have to make this count. You’ve got the necessary information needed so better make this job clean.”
Berto took a deep breath.
“One more thing,” said Rex. “Don’t look straight into the eyes of the child.”
Berto nodded, closed his eyes for a bit, and got out of the van.
As Berto entered the park, he recalled the first time his family went to the place. All the sweet and funny moments they had together was a priceless. Every single day, when she was still alive, Amerlia’s smile always brightened up his day. As he touched an animal statue, he remembered his son’s joy riding the statue as if it were true and that made him a smile. Berto stopped by a small store owned by an old lady with a grey hair. There he bought chips for five pesos. Then he walked over to a bench and sat in front of children playing in the slides. There he began to look for a prospect. Not long after, he spotted a kid wearing a torn t-shirt and shorts, his face full grease, and Berto thought that he was probably a stray.
“Hey kid, do you want some chips?” Berto called out, offering his bait.
“Yes!” The kid answered with joy as he sat next to Berto as if he hadn’t eaten for a few days.
“What’s your name?” asked Berto.
“Eman,” said the kid as he ate a handful of chips.
“Slow down, I haven’t brought soft drinks yet.” Berto rubbed Eman’s back. “Let’s go buy some drinks.” The two got up and started to walk towards the small store.
“Where do you live, Eman?” asked Berto.
“In the squatters area,” said Eman. “Behind the Barangay Hall.” He pointed to the direction using his mouth while he continuously ate the chips.
“Ah…Where are your parents?” asked Berto, avoiding the child’s eyes.
“I don’t know,” Eman replied as he munched down the last of his chips.
Berto sighed as he started to feel pity on the Eman. “How about you come with me to my place where you can have more chips. What do you say?
“Yes!” the kid said in delight.
“Before we go to my place,” said Berto. “I want you to cover your eyes with this bandana. Are you okay with that?”
“Sure! This is exciting!” Eman cheerfully raised his hands and slowly covered his eyes. Berto then assisted him to the van.
On the road, Berto and his colleague were quiet as Eman sang happily.
“Are we there yet?” asked Eman.
“No, but we are close,” said Berto. “Just keep singing.”
At half past six in the evening, the got to their destination.
“We are here,” said Berto. “Don’t take off the blindfold yet.”
He escorted Eman into the mines and told him to sit there and wait.
As Eman sat down on a chair in the mines, Rex and Jose followed them.
“We are almost done,” Rex said. “This is the last part of the ritual; you click the gun, pull the trigger and we are done.” He handed the over to Berto.
Berto took the gun, his heart already pounding.
As he pointed the gun at Eman’s head, Berto closed his eyes, looked away and, while Eman was still singing, he pulled the trigger, whispering, “I’m sorry!”
With a single gunshot, the child’s blood spattered over the ground and the crew walked away.
“Just leave it there,” said Jose. “Someone will take care of that.”
It had been two years since Berto got the job. Taking the lives of innocent children had become an ordinary day for him. While on an assignment, he had learned to curb his emotions. To him, it was plain slaughter. The Corporation became richer than ever. On November 1983, before Berto headed home to take a nap before the next job, Rex told him to sit this one out as ordered by Supremo.
“Take a rest,” Rex said. “I have a new trainee today. Go home and get some sleep. That’s an order by Supremo.”
“Who’s the new guy?” asked Berto.
“His name is Mario,” said Rex. “He’s also been recruited by Supremo, the same as you.”
“I’m sure the first one’s going to be a rough one,” Berto said arrogantly. “Good luck to him”
Berto walked into his house, took his hat off, and sat down on the sofa.
“Why are you so early? Don’t you have a work today?” said Maricel, Berto’s elder sister who volunteered to take care of Butchok after Amelia had died.
“I do, but my boss told me that I’ll have to take a rest day because of my good performance, so here I am sitting and watching T.V.” Berto turned on the T.V.
Maricel rolled her eyes in disgust.
“Where’s Butchok?” asked Berto.
“He asked permission that he and his friends would go to the park and play there,” said Maricel. “So I said yes and I told him that he should be back by six so don’t worry.”
“Wait, what? In the park?” shouted Berto as his heart started to pound heavily.
“Why? What’s the matter?” asked Maricel.
“I need to go,” said Berto as he jumped out of his couch and hastily tied his shoes. “No matter what, you have to stay here, okay?” he told Maricle before running out of the house.
When Berto got to the park, he saw three kids crying on the bench and recognized one of them to be Butchok’s friend.
“Hey, Jerry! This is Uncle Berto. Tell me what happened?” Berto held Jerry’s arms with urgency.
“Uncle Berto, a man took Butchok away from us. We don’t know who he is!” said Jerry as he sobbed in fear.
“Where did they take him?” Berto asked.
“I don’t know,” said Jerry.
Berto told the children to go home, and once they were gone, he ran and took a tricycle to the mines.
When he arrived at the mines, Berto heard a gunshot. He dashed to the site where he’d killed fiteen innocent children in the last two years. As he ran, tears were gliding down his face and he was livid with rage as he approached the site. By the time he got there, he found Rex and Mario, and right behind them was Butchok lying on the ground, bathed in blood. Berto’s vision dimmed.
“Stop! That is my son!” yelled Berto as he pulled his own gun and started to fire at Rex and Mario.
Rex and Mario went for cover behind some rocks, and they exchanged bullets, Berto firing and trying to get the body of his son.
“Why, Rex? Why?” Berto cried out, as he pulled the trigger and wept in anger and loss.
“This is only a job, Berto! Only a job!” Rex yelled back at Berto.
“Cease fire!” A voice shouted from a far that roared all over the mines stopping the fight.
A man wearing a suit, accompanied by three huge bodyguards, walked towards Berto.
Berto dropped his gun and hugged his son.
The man stopped and kneeled down before Berto. A bodyguard got rid of the gun
“Berto, this is Supremo.” Supremo lighted up a cigarette.
“My son died because of you!” Berto said.
“Yes, I admit. But I am only doing my job and I didn’t know, none of us knew he was your son. I apologize.”Supremo took his hat and pressed it against his chest.
“Your apology is not enough. You’ve taken my son’s life and now I will take yours!”
Berto lunged at Supremo, but the bodyguards stopped him.
“You can’t win against me,” Supremo said. “I have the resources, you don’t. This is what I want you to do; I want you to leave and transfer to another town and keep your mouth shut or else no one in your family will live. I am giving you enough money to start over with your life and live free. I will pay for your son’s burial. Don’t worry about expenses.”
Supremo stretched his hand out to Berto.
“The lives of your family and relatives are at stake here. Don’t bother telling the police. They are with me.” Supremo smirked at him.
Left without a choice, a tearful Berto shook the man’s hand.
Donn is a BS Education major at Ateneo de Davao University.