“FIRESTORM: GO!” Tony heard the order given.
“Yes, sir!” Master Sergeant Tony Rodriguez replied.
Pressing end to terminate the call, Sergeant Rodriguez turned to the four men under his command and issued orders. They started unloading half a dozen homemade RPGs confiscated from Abu Sayyaf terrorist group from behind their white Toyota pickup and evenly distributing them unto two speed-boats berthed along Cavite province shoreline. The weapons, Rodriguez knew, conveniently disappeared from the Armed Forces Military locker right before the election of 2010.
PAGASA, the Philippines’ weather bureau had warned that a typhoon as powerful as 2010’s super typhoon Juan (Meji) was about to make landfall east of Aurora province. Storm track from the weather bureau, from Japan, from NOAA and the Chinese confirmed with great degree of accuracy that it would strike Manila. It was why the weather had started to sour. The rain began to pour, and the sea was rough.
Rodriguez and his men knew the risks. It would be an hour’s job and they would make it. Kissing the cross that his wife had given him a year after they got married, Rodriguez was the last one to come aboard the speedboat Little Mermaid. Nodding to his helmsman, they were off. Their second speedboat quickly followed.
Everything was proceeding according to plan.
FROM A SAFE HOUSE in the slums of Tondo, Corporal Teves had received the order over prepaid phone to move out. Each member of the operation were given the phones to communicate. Prepaid is untraceable after all. To the men sitting in the house, he gave the order: “let’s go.”
In silence, the men quickly gathered their gear and started loading RPGs and rifles unto a parked Starex van.
Roland Raymundo was Teves’ brother-in-law. He was also a house driver that recently got sacked. When Teves approached him with this job with a big pay day, how couldn’t he readily agree? Raymundo was to drive their Starex and get 10,000 pesos for the night’s job.
Five minutes later they were speeding down Abad Santos on their way to Nagtahan Bridge.
OSCAR NAVARRO WAS a man accustomed to power. For more than eight years he served as National Security Advisor. In the election of 2010, for the first time in history, the Philippines chose to automate the election counting. Using machines to count the ballot.
Confident that he would win, Navarro resigned his position and ran for Congress in his home town of Cagayan de Oro City. Navarro found himself humiliated. His opponent won by a landslide.
Navarro couldn’t believe the result.
His closest advisors had given him positive feedback throughout the campaign. “We were winning boss.” Barangay Captains, and the local mayor and police chief all took money from him. They all assured him that the district was pro-Navarro.
With majority of his party members, and those close to the former president found themselves defeated in the last election, and his subsequent fall from grace, Navarro was in search of revenge.
Navarro had lost millions! His war chest from nine years in office, and then some from the former president, had gone down the drain. Oh, he wasn’t entirely cash strapped. He had hidden businesses funneling money back into his war chest, and his investments around the world were making money, but not in the same speed as when he was in power.
Ever since that upstart President won the election, Navarro couldn’t believe they had lost. Somehow the liberals found a way to cheat. To game the system. How else to explain that of all the former president’s men, none of them won? The former presidential family won seats in congress or retained them by high degree. Everyone else suffered defeat!
Navarro vowed to get even! These liberals cheated! The so-called automated election was a sham. Navarro believed this was an illegitimate government.
The former National Security Advisor vowed to be a thorn on the side of these so called, Liberals. They had made enemies after achieving power. Days after the liberal president had fired Armed Forces Chief Custodio, Navarro had asked the former general to meet with him. They would wait and plan and prepare.
The nation needed men like him to lead. Not that weak and spineless president whose only claim to power was a dead mother. This liberal president didn’t know anything at all! How could the nation elect someone with his lack of credentials? Can’t the fools see how inept the man was?
Navarro believed that in time the country would see it his way. After all, Presidential approval rating was at an all time low 51 percent after that rice fiasco a few weeks before. It was down from an all time high was 80 percent.
The country, Navarro believed needed a change. It could not survive five more years of this illegitimate government.
Custodio came up with the plan. He had men loyal to him. Navarro would provide for the funds. He pushed every penny he had into the endeavor.
When the typhoon approached, Custodio said, this was the moment they would strike. Everyone’s attention was elsewhere.
On the phone now with Custodio, and the former general reported that all units were in place. The moment to strike was about to begin.
ON THE SECOND floor of the Presidential Palace, was the official Office of the Philippine President. Inside a visitor would find the Presidential desk. It was first brought into the Philippines by American governor-generals. It was subsequently used by the leaders of the Philippines dating back to the Commonwealth era.
The President strode through the room and settled himself behind the desk. It wasn’t the first time, not he mussed would be the last since he took the oath of office did he feel the weight of his responsibilities. However, it was his first time, in the long day to have a moment to himself.
Outside his door his staff was scrambling to execute his orders. The nation’s capital needed to be locked down as the super typhoon approached. Disaster management teams were being prepared. The weather bureau was on red alert.
It was going to be a long night. He straightened himself up as his secretary knocked on the door and showed herself in. They were five minutes to departure. His bags for the night and for a few days were packed and in the Presidental car. The PSG was already outside ready to take him to Camp Aguinaldo.
At Aguinaldo, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council was holding court. The President thought that it was better to be situated there as the storm struck the metropolis. At Aguinaldo would be the site where he could monitor the activities and resources of the government. Knowing how the metropolis was, it would likely suffer heavy flooding, and if he was to direct the resources of the government, the president knew he couldn’t do it trapped in his own presidential palace.
SARAH DE VEGA waited outside the Office of the Communications Group. A classic Filipina-Spanish beauty, with long black hair cascading behind her back. Sarah was dressed in jeans and casual dark blue polo shirt. While waiting for her fiance, David Bernardo to finish locking up his office. Bernardo worked with the Presidential Communications Group as a speech writer.
Sarah was playing around with her new iPhone. She didn’t mind at all that her future husband was taking his sweet time locking up. At least this side of the Presidential Palace Compound had public wifi. What couldn’t you do with public wifi and iPhone?
Just the night before she had finished moving her apps and her data from her previous iPhone to the new one. Foursquare, Qik, Twitter and WordPress app of course were the first ones on it. After so many visits, Sarah was already the “Mayor of Malacanang Palace.”
It was her luck of course that no one on the president’s staff had turned on their location based apps. It was deemed a security risk by the PSG.
After her social networking tools, it was quickly followed by her generous music collection and her books.
So engrossed was she on twitter that David was able to snuck behind her. Only a kiss on her cheek was he able to break Twitter’s spell on her.
“Hey, honey,” ready to go?
Sarah nodded, as she put her phone on standby.
David wasn’t a handsome man, nor muscular. He and Sarah were about the same height. He had dressed down from his customary Barong Tagalog— the traditional Filipino dress, to a pair of jeans and polo. David for the life of him, could never figure out how he was able to get someone as beautiful and smart as Sarah to fall in love with him.
“So what’s new on Twitter?”
“Everyone is worried about the storm. “Karen,” is trending. Trending is a term used to see what was popular and being talked about on Twitter. They’re taking precautions. Oh, you remember Jane right?”
Jane had recently married, had migrated to Australia with her husband. Jane was also Sarah’s best friend.
Wide-eyed and expressing her joy, “She’s pregnant!”
The couple strode down the corridor animatedly catching up with each other’s day as they headed for the parking lot.
STELLA ANN BALTASAR drove an aging Honda Civic into Arlegui street. Seated beside her was May Hidalgo. Naturally, they were stopped by the guard post. Stella turned off her lights.
May looked out the windshield and spied five meters away, three more uniformed PSG guards stood watch.
Stella readied her Berretta with silencer. With a nod, May signaled to her partner that she was ready. In May’s right hand was a duplicate copy of Stella’s Berretta.
She slowly rolled down the window to her car and smiled sweetly to the guard who had to bend over to get a good look at the driver behind the wheel.
“Ma’am this is a restricted area.” The soldier wearing the uniform of the Presidential Security Group said.
It happened like a blur. All five PSG soldiers lay dead.
Stella picked up her prepaid call and reported in, “Guard house secure.”
From nearby buildings, about thirty men descended the stairs and got on the parked cars that were situated along the street.
Colonel Andres de Silvia of the 11th Infantry Division kissed Stella passionately. He then ordered his men to proceed with the assault.
An armored SUV was to lead the charge, speeding down Arlegui and into the Presidential Palace Compound.
THE PRESIDENTIAL DETAIL radioed that their boss was headed to the parked BMW by the Entrance Hall of the Palace. Outside rain was pouring hard, but not yet that hard to cause a flood.
The detail led and followed the President from his study.
When the President ran into David by the hallway, he had asked the couple to join him in his car. They had to discuss a statement that he had to give upon arriving at Aguinaldo. Seeing the hesitance in the couple as they exchanged glances. He made a quick presidential decision. David and Sarah would be riding with the President. A security aide would be driving the couple’s car to Aguinaldo.
Being President had its perks. No one really said, “No” to him.
What was it about a rapidly changing situation?
Just then, all hell broke loose.
LITTLE MERMAID CRUISED down the Pasig River and banked closed to the Coast Guard station that stood near the Presidential palace. Rodriguez dialed Ortega who was onboard the second speedboat. “Weapons free.”
Ortega’s speedboat accelerated. Their target was Pandacan Oil Depot just past Nagtahan Bridge.
As Ortega’s speed boat roared past them, Rodriguez grabbed one of the RPG launchers and fired at the Coast Guard house. The next shot was pointed by the dock at the presidential palace, taking out the patrol boat still birthed there.
TEVES ORDERED RAYMUNDO to park right along Nagtahan Bridge overlooking the Presidential Palace. They were to fire their RPGs in succession. They were to do so until they ran out of ammunition.
As they fired the first volley at the Presidential Security Group compound, he saw that Rodriguez had also launched his assault at Coast Guard station.
SHOTS WERE FIRED at the presidential detail. Two of the Guards fell. Lieutenant Jimenez quickly dragged the President back into the Entrance Hall as armed men crashed the palace gate.
Loud explosions could be heard all over the palace. It was a full scale assault at the Presidential palace that hasn’t been seen in years.
David dragged his fiance back into the compound. He could see her eyes wide with panic.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” She yelled as an RPGs shattered the parked BMW that they were suppose to take. The explosion knocked them all down. It was quickly followed by a loud, but obviously distant one.
Sarah was in tears as David practically carried her while keeping pace with the Presidential Guards. Guns were flying everywhere.
The president was being dragged up the palace.
“REPORT!” The President commanded as they made their way into the Presidential Study.
It was Lieutenant Jimenez who responded. “Mr. President, Coast guard station, and our barracks were fried upon. We’ve reports of major casualties. Pandacan was also part of the assault sir. The terrorists have blown up a silo. We don’t know anything more than that.”
“Where is Colonel de Soto?” The President asked. Colonel Edward de Soto was commander of the Presidential Guards.
“Missing in action, Mister President,” Jimenez reported. “I am in command of the Palace guards, sir.”
The President went behind his desk and opened a drawer to take out his own weapon. It was sig saucer.
“Sir, you have to stay here.”
“We can’t stay here, Lieutenant. With Pandacan exploding, and the storm coming, we need to find a better and more secure base.”
“Get Aguinaldo on the line and secure the Camp. We are transferring there. I am ordering our entire Armed Forces, and PNP to red alert.”
A few seconds later it was confirmed that the phones were dead and that the President’s guards were using their mobile phones to reach Camp Aguinaldo.
As the exchange was happening Sarah was able to compose herself. Whipping the tears from her eyes, she dug up her iPhone. The shots outside were loud. She found that the Internet was down. So she switched on to 3G.
Sarah sent a tweet. “Malacanang, Pandacan under attack. @drew send help.”
@drew was the President’s spokesperson who was already in Camp Aguinaldo.
Then she started broadcasting, via qik. “This is Sarah. We’re trapped at the Presidential palace. Armed men have broken into the Palace perimeter. The presidential guards are repelling the invaders. There is pandemonium everywhere. Send help.”
David caught Sarah’s eye. In some unspoken language, she knew he was giving her permission.
“Do it. Ask him.”
Sarah stood up and approached the President. “Sir, I am broadcasting to the Internet. Do you have something to say to our people.”
“Today, as our nation prepares to take on a super typhoon, terrorists, we don’t know yet who they are or what their plans are, have attacked Malacanang. I was almost killed not a few minutes ago. The Presidential Security Group are now repelling these terrorists. I urge everyone to stay in their homes and to prepare for the storm. I have ordered the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police to Red Alert. The full force of the nation’s military might will descend upon these terrorists.”
“Mr. President, the terrorists are in the Palace and are close. We must evac.”
A corporal strapped a bulletproof vest on the President. Another gave one to David, who was helping him wear one. Sarah saw a Private with an identical bulletproof vest and helped her wear it.
“Follow me. Stay behind the guards,” the President told David and Sarah.
Neither David nor Sarah were gun enthusiasts.
The party slowly left the Presidential Study with caution.
The next few moments Sarah thought was surreal.
The group carefully moved down the Palace corridor. It was then that Lieutenant Jimenez noticed Sarah was still broadcasting. He asked her to turn it off. The enemy could use it to determine their position, the Lieutenant argued.
As Sarah was about to turn it off, Colonel de Silvia caught sight of the presidential party, just as the President saw him, and without hesitation, the Filipino leader fired his gun as de Silvia fired his.
Colonel de Silvia took the bullet, square in his forehead and fell unceremoniously.
David cried out, as a bullet hit him in the shoulder.
The Presidential Security Guards laid down fire taking out de Silvia’s co-conspirators.
Sarah turned off broadcast, but not before the nation caught their President shoot his attacker and as a Palace guard threw a grenade at the terrorists and it exploded in their midst.
The neutral technology
This was fictional, of course. It was a story of an imagined future that captured a pivotal moment in history. It is a story that tells us of this great power that we have. This great communications tool that everyman, everywoman, every Filipino now has in his hands.
This is why the revolution will be tweeted.
We also seen how these tool could be used as a weapon of terror. We saw how these men would use the cheapest phones to coordinate their assault, and execute their conspiracy.
The lesson is simple, as these tools become inherently social, and as these tools can be used in different ways, we must be reminded that they are neutral.
Technology is neutral. It is in how we use it that it becomes good or evil.
This is the inexorable march of progress, and we must find a way to understand the implication of the power we have in our hands and to confront it responsibly and as Eliot s. Maggin wrote, “Not modestly. Not unselfconsciously. Not with a faith in a power greater than ours to descend from the sky and set things right despite our best efforts to screw up. We have an obligation to know who we are, and where we are and what we can do. We have an obligation to understand the ramifications of the things we do, and to choose to do them– or not– with our eyes open.”
This is why the Freedom to Connect is something that must be guaranteed, and spelled out. This is a power. It is a superpower that our technological, highly networked world has given every single human being. The devices we now hold in our hands are extensions of ourselves that reach out like an invisible hand to cyberspace.
Some call it, Augmented Humanity.
When once upon a time this was limited to having the money to build a radio or television transmitter, or even money to have a printing press, today, everyone can now exercise their constitutionally protected rights as cheaply as logging on to the Internet. It is this ability to connect to the Internet that must be protected.
We are Spider-man. We are Superman. We are Wonder Woman. We are Green Lantern. We are Iron Man. We are Batman. These technologies give us power like all the great heroes of our mythologies, we must learn how to be responsible with this power.
The freedom to connect
US Secretary Hilary Clinton described the Freedom to Connect, “As the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace.” To her, this is the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the Internet, to websites, or to each other because the freedom to connect to technology, “Can transform societies,” and is “critically important to individuals.”
This is the Freedom to Connect. In its most simplistic definition, the Freedom to Connect is the Freedom of Speech plus Freedom of Expression combined and online.
This is the core of what gives each person, superpowers. It enables an Age of Augmented Humanity.
While the Freedom to Connect is a human right that everyone can freely access websites, and the Internet, the Freedom to Connect is also a right given to each of those websites to be equally treated by the network.
By design, the Internet has already imposed this Network Neutrality. This design is inherent to how the Internet was designed and has since been implemented. Network Neutrality is the way the infrastructure treats Google.com, which isthe same as it treats this website. The website of the White House is equally seen on the network as the gov.ph as the website of the democratic republic of Congo. This fundamental principle must be recognized as a right to ensure that the Internet’s design as it always has been will go on.
Put in another way, my email gets equal treatment to the email sent by the President of the United States.
It means that if someday some Filipino kid will invent a better google then his or her website will be treated as google is treated yesterday, today and hopefully tomorrow. This is another reason why this right to Network Neutrality must be guaranteed. It makes economic sense to continue the tradition of the Internet.
The right to broadband
If the flow of the Internet is measured in bandwidth like how we measure the flow of water from the tap, then a minimum bandwidth must be determined. In Finland, which was the first country in the world to make broadband connections to the Internet, a legal right for everyone of its citizens. The telegraph reported that from the day the legislation came into effect, all Finns have a right to a 1 megabit per second broadband connection. Under that said law, telecommunications companies will be obliged to provide all Finns with broadband lines.
The Telegraph added in their article that in Great Britain the government has promised a minimum connection of at least 2 megabits per second for all homes.
In the same way tap water or electricity isn’t free, this bandwidth requirement shouldn’t be free either. People still need to apply for the service and still pay for it. Think of the right of broadband more of a default consumer right.
Clearly, there is a pressing need to define these rights. That we may identify our responsibilities as these rights are afforded to us.
How can we answer questions of privacy if we do not know what our responsibilities and what are those limitations imposed for us as we are accorded these rights?
Also clear, is this. Technology is inherently neutral. The good guys can use it. The bad guys can deploy it. As pointed out in Nina’s post, “Sex and Crime in the Time of New Media,” this technology can also be abused, and used against our people.
We may muddle that this is philosophy, but we are building for the future. This is something that tomorrow’s kids must learn. We must look to the future, and we must confront it responsibly, with our eyes open. We must set in bedrock what is everyone’s right online. That we can set the rules of what is ethical and permissive. How far are we willing to give government the power to protect and defend us in Cyberspace? Are we saying this nation is permitting our government to do exactly that? Can government do that?
In a nation such as ours connected via networks of communication, in a country searching for an asymmetric advantage to leap ahead, an Internet and Communications Bill of Rights must be drafted as part of that future blueprint.
How do we go about this?
To be continued…
“The Freedom to Connect,” is part 3 of a series, and originally published on my blog on my blog. Part 1 was “dissecting the anti-cybercrime bill“. Part 2 was “The clear and present danger of cyber war.”