By Manuel D. Montealegre
Should we send Lapu-lapu to fight the Chinese? The Coconut Republic, a brief, unauthorized history of the Philippines published in 2017, says we do so. It is our Book Feature. Authored by one of our colleagues, the book retells in 20 satirical fables the political and social events in the islands from Magellan to Noynoy. With the dispute in the West Philippine Sea still brewing - and as the local positions on the issue heats up - a chapter in book, The Chinese Horde, should help to cool down the conversation.
The touchy subject of a Chinese intrusion into territories of the Coconut Islands is on the table. “It’s a creeping invasion!” cries Datu Papadu, banging the table with his fist. There are a dozen chiefs in the room, many of them battle-tested veterans, and they listen with growing irritation to the arrogant Papadu. While personally handpicked by the Rajah to manage the crisis, Papadu’s lack of notable battlefield victories puts his standing among the tribal chiefs in question. Unassailable grit under fire and, yes, polish on the parade grounds are the qualities that impress them, qualities they doubt Papadu possesses.
“There’s no question about it,” he continues, “The Chinese are building fortifications on Mischief Reef. They’re invading us little by little, island by island!”
“Mischief Reef is not an island, corrects a chief with gold-lined teeth. “It’s just what its name says--a reef.”
“Oh, shut up,” Papadu hisses, glaring. The other glares back, baring more gold teeth. The Rajah clears his throat, and dagger looks are averted. Papadu backs down; Chief Gold Teeth shuts his mouth.
“Let’s hear what the Great Chief has to say about this,” Papadu says. Everybody turns to the Rajah.
The Rajah peeps over the Sudoku puzzle in his hands. “There’s nothing much to this little affair… nothing that a brave warrior chief can’t make right!” he says.
“Yea, yea!” all agree.
“Right. Only a true-blooded warrior-chief can do the job,” he continues, now inspired by his cheering audience, “…and expel these Chinese cockroaches from our land!”
“Do you mean ‘encroachers,’ oh, Great Chief?” offers one.
“Encroachers, cockroaches, what’s the difference?!” He finally lays the Sudoku puzzle on the table. “For this mission, I had in mind a chief with excellent credentials ... a mighty warrior, whose island kingdom sits beside this so-called Mischief Reef.”
The chiefs eye one another in silence. Papadu, suspecting a double cross, can’t stand the suspense: “Who could he be? Oh, Great Chief, who among us have you—?”
“He’s not here with us,” the Rajah cuts him short. “He’s retired.”
“... And whiles away the days in some far-flung island the name of which I can’t even recall.”
“Who, who?” everybody is asking.
“Hulaan ninyo. Anybody for Twenty Questions?” the Rajah dares, again playful. But there are no takers. Quite peeved that the chiefs are uncooperative, he turns serious, snarling: “Lapu-lapu, who else?”
Eyes widen and jaws drop across the room. “Is he still around? I mean, isn’t he dead or something?”
“He’s still around and very much alive!” the Rajah says merrily.
“I realize he’s a great Chief and... but isn’t he too old for this?” Datu Papadu says, recovering.
“Right. A little grey on top perhaps…but still one hell of a warrior. And one hell of a man, I must say!” The Rajah begins to giggle. “The man’s got a dozen wives and a palace-full of mistresses… and more than two hundred sons fighting by his side!” He breaks into thunderous laughter. “The old warrior gives and takes it like a twenty-year old. Ha-ha! Walang kupas talaga. What an ‘adventure’ the two of us had the last time around, ha!”
The room is still. The Rajah, still beside himself with unabashed joy, declares: “He’ll be perfect for this expedition against the cockroaches.”
Papadu shrinks in his seat.
The Rajah finally gathers himself and orders Papadu to sail post haste to Lapu-lapu’s kingdom and enlist the old chief in the expedition against the Chinese. To ensure success, Lapu-lapu and his men would play a major role in any military option. “To provide some muscle and quick thinking,” the Rajah had said. But Datu Papadu gets the Rajah to give him overall command of the expedition, and to speak in his behalf, which pleases Papadu and improves his standing among the chiefs.
A flotilla of six Karakoas, the Coconut people’s mighty man-of-wars, carrying eighty warriors each, lands at dusk in Pagasa Island, Lapu-lapu’s island kingdom. Datu Papadu debarks from his flagship, escorted by a white man, an Admiral of the Navy, whom he had brought along as military consultant and companion.
Lapu-lapu, his wives, mistresses, sons, and some villagers, meet them at the beach. Papadu introduces himself to the fabled chief, who wears a trendy salt-and-pepper hair and leans on a staff, giving him the aura of a wooden Christian saint. After the usual courtesies, the two chiefs, accompanied by the Admiral and the other chiefs, proceed to Lapu-lapu’s palace. As they walk, Papadu notices with some relief that the old chief is still pretty nimble on his feet.
“Your Grace,” Datu Papadu says to Lapu-lapu, “We’ve come here in the service of our people and of our great Rajah. Our purpose is quite simple--to reclaim the reefs and waters that are part of our territories, which the Chinese have encroached upon. The Great Chief requests that you and your warriors accompany me to expel the Chinese intruders from our land.”
“Chinese?” Lapu-lapu wonders aloud. “The only Chinese in these parts are vendors, traders and billionaires. Are you sure they are Chinese and not something else?”
“Sure, they’re Chinese. We’ve been spying on their activities for some time now,” replies Papadu. “With some help from the Admiral here, of course.” He asks the Admiral to show them the maps and pictures of Chinese-built structures jutting out of the sea, making sure that all those gathered had a good look.
“Anong ibig sabihin niyan?” asks one.
“They’re building a bridge,” the Admiral announces solemnly. “A bridge that will traverse the South China Sea and connect the Chinese mainland to the Coconut islands.”
“You cannot build a bridge across the South China Sea, imposible ‘yan!” says another.
“They can, too,” counters the Admiral. “They built the Great Wall, didn’t they?”
Heads nod. And everyone knows there and then that the Admiral isn’t somebody to be trifled with.
“Ano’ng gagawin natin?”
Lapu-lapu speaks. “What are we to do? Nothing. If the Chinese wants to build a bridge across the ocean to come to us--and for the life of me, I don’t know what for--let them come. There’s nothing much we can do about it, anyway.” He pauses then addresses Papadu directly: “We could engage them in battle, I suppose, and even win some battles, but any war with the Chinese will drag on till you and I are long gone. In the end, you know what they say, China always wins in the end.”
“But we cannot allow them to take our lands,” Papadu protests.
“We cannot give them control of the South China Sea,” says the Admiral.
“Of course not. Nobody said anything about giving anything up,” says Lapu-lapu. “If it’s the wish of the Rajah that we engage the Chinese in battle, then engage them we will. My men can run circles around their best warriors. But I tell you this--and I’ll say this for the last time--we’ll lose this war in any event.”
“It’s agreed then. At dawn tomorrow, we’ll sail for Mischief Reef. How many men and boats can you put up?” Papadu asks Lapu-lapu.
The enlarged fleet of six Karakoas and thirty of Lapu-lapu’s smaller outriggers launches the attack at dawn. With quick efficiency, Lapu-lapu’s fast boats zigzag around the half-built structures, ripping up the pilings embedded in the reef. In the first hour, they manage to cut down and collapse portions of the bridge. But Datu Papadu’s highly vaunted Karakoas do not fare as well.
Recovering from the initial attack, the Chinese now finds them easy targets. Three of the great Karakoas, including Datu Papadu’s flagship, take several hits from Chinese artillery and sink after an hour of bombardment. Bobbing in the shark-infested waters of the reef, Papadu, the Admiral, and all the survivors are picked up by Lapu-lapu’s men. After five hours of battle, three of the mighty Karakoas and two of Lapu-lapu’s boats are lost.
With Papadu and the Admiral on board, Lapu-lapu calls on his men to regroup some distance from the Chinese structures. “I think we’ll have to call it a day. We can’t do much more with night coming,” he tells Datu Papadu, who is wrapped in a blanket and dripping wet.
“Yes, yes,” a shivering Papadu agrees, “let’s go back and review our options. Admiral?”
“Yes,” says the Admiral, equally sodden and embarrassed.
The flotilla limps back to Pagasa Island. Around a campfire, a sad chief asks, “So, where do we go from here?” Datu Papadu, who has put on dry robes but still appears quite shaken from the day’s mishap, looks at Lapu-lapu.
“If you ask me,” says the old chief after some thought, “We have two options: we can go back there tomorrow and resume the attack… or we can parley with the Chinese. If we attack, we can set them back for another week or two, but we will also lose more men. Right now, this very night, I’m sure that they’ve started replacing all that we smashed earlier today. In a week, they’ll have them up as if today never happened. If we talk, we can negotiate for joint use of the bridge. I mean, if they can come to us through the bridge, we can go to them through it.”
Lapu-lapu continues: “But we can’t let the Chinese know that we’re ready to negotiate. Not right away. At first light tomorrow, my boats will resume the attack, hit-and-run style. We’ll keep this up for some time so they’ll think we’re serious. Then we’ll send out feelers that we’re willing to sit down and talk. All this time, the Admiral here will have to be very visible to the Chinese. Kailangan siya’y makita at mapansin. We’ll have to make sure that they feel his presence. That they get the message,” the old chief adds.
“You know, Admiral… that if they, the Chinese, don’t agree to some sort of a compromise, we’ll get you and your armies involved somehow.
“What do you think, Papadu?” asks the Admiral, recovering from the day’s embarrassment.
“Yes, yes. That’s a good plan,” Papadu says weakly. “Admiral, in tomorrow’s sortie at the reef, be sure to wear the white gala uniform with all the medals.”
“The Rajah will be delighted with that touch,” Lapu-lapu compliments the young chief. Papadu forces a smile.
“It’s settled then. We’ll fight for a few more days, and then negotiate. We’ll resume the attack early tomorrow. Now, everybody, get a good night’s sleep,” says the old chief.
Walking away from the meeting, Lapu-lapu puts an arm over Papadu’s shoulder. “Tell the Rajah that we’ll do everything we can. We will fight. We will talk. We’ll do what is necessary. My marines won’t let him down.” Then he whispers in Papadu’s ear: “Don’t worry. The Chinese will sit down and talk. The Rajah will be happy. Our people will go to China and be employed as construction workers, nurses, caregivers, domestic helpers, dancers and entertainers. The Chinese will in turn come to our shores to become millionaires.”
While walking away from the group, Lapu-lapu drops juicy tidbits of his famous exploits--the battles he has won under tremendous odds, his tiff with Magellan and how he has beaten him, how he has managed to sire a hundred sons, his many youthful adventures with the Rajah--but Papadu is only half-listening. The bright possibilities of commerce with the Chinese are already racing through his mind.
The Coconut Republic is available at the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. Email email@example.com for inquiries
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