Leon Worden

The circuitous trip home and back

By Leon Worden
Saturday, January 12, 2002

don't know why I was flying over Siberia.
    Wasn't the shortest distance between two points a straight line? That's what my old phys ed teacher at Placerita, Mike Allmandinger, tried to drum into me one time when I rounded the bases— and I do mean rounded the bases. Hit the bags but ignored the chalk and sort of circled the infield. I wasn't cut out to be a ballplayer. Or a mathematician.
    But now here I was, taking the coastal route to Hong Kong by way of Canada and Alaska, over the Bering Sea, across Siberia and down through Beijing into Chek Lap Kok airport.
    What kind of a name is that?
    Maybe the storm over the Pacific explains the Siberian passage. I don't remember going up and around, the last time we flew Cathay Pacific.
    I like flying Cathay Pacific. Wilma buys the tickets. I guess it's for the price. I like it regardless. What terrorist would be stupid enough to screw with the Red Chinese?
    Another two hours and we'd be in Manila. So far things had gone better than I expected. Jake was really well-behaved on the plane, considering it was 15 hours to Hong Kong and he wasn't yet 2.
    Manila is nice at Christmas. Beach weather. Seventy-five degrees fahrenheit and balmy. Not like last time. Our honeymoon a couple of Octobers ago was a bitch. The weather, I mean.
    Jake was having a blast. Lights, sounds, smells, and most of all no car seat. Funny. Back home they were raising the bar to 6 years or 60 pounds, whichever's more.
    After a few days Jake started acting up. The faith healer said he fell on a black dwarf when he tripped on the sidewalk inside Intramuros, the old Spanish walled city. I guess it put a hex on him, poor kid. The healer did a blessing and he was OK again.
    They asked me in the newsroom what a black dwarf is. You know, I said. A gnome. A pixie. Yes, I assured Stacey Klein, it's invisible.
    A writer for the Star called the Philippines “a Roman Catholic island in a Muslim sea.” I liked that. Very apt. But it's still got a million superstitions that have zero to do with the church.
    Mothers will be mothers, and mine didn't want me to go. She's fun to tease. The buildup lasted about two months. The United States sent 22 advisers to help the Philippine government go after the Abu Sayyaf, the bandits in Mindanao who were still holding two American missionaries and a French nurse. They'd abducted them from a resort off the island of Palawan.
    At least they were still holding them hostage. They'd beheaded the guy from Corona, Calif., in May, along with a dozen Filipinos.
    We'd been planning to visit the Palawan resorts. Not this trip. Teasing is one thing, recklessness another.
    Abduragak Janjalani was a veteran of the Afghan war with the Soviets and trained in the al-Qaeda camps. He's credited with founding the Abu Sayyaf, along with Abu Sabaya, said to be Osama bin Laden's cousin.
    The Philippine government under Joseph Estrada was messed up. The terrorists would kidnap hostages, demand ransom, get paid by the government and release the hostages. Then they'd turn around and take some more hostages and the cycle would start all over. The last couple of years the government paid $25 million (U.S.) straight to these al-Qaeda members.
    People Power 2, the second bloodless revolution in roughly a decade, came along just in time, and not just because Estrada was a crook. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Estrada's successor, seems to be taking a chapter from Reagan's book, “No negotiating with terrorists.” Which is ironic. Estrada was the movie actor-cum-president.
    Unfortunate that Arroyo's army missed its self-imposed Dec. 25 deadline to free the captives. But she's got more than the Abu Sayyaf Group to deal with. The ASG is the smallest of three organizations that want their own Iranian-style Islamic state in Mindanao. None is courting the sympathy vote, either. You never know which group will pull the next bombing, kidnapping, assassination.
    Tragic, yes, but the situation isn't insurmountable. Arroyo has a solid team of Harvard-educated advisors to turn the nation's economy around, and they've done a respectable job so far on this eve of her first anniversary in office. The nation's anxious. The newspapers want a swift end to the terrorist problem because it's hurting tourism.
    But not badly enough for me to heed Mother's advice and stay home. You can't live that way. Besides. Mindanao is a long way from Manila.
    Sure, there was the guy who foiled the coup plot and got gunned down by his right-wing buddies while I was there. They buried him a few blocks from Wilma's family home. But hey. My Philippine in-laws remember watching the Jake Kuredjian shootout on CNN.
    Stevenson Ranch. Manila. Hmm. Never thought of it that way.
    I guess home is wherever you are.
    Leon Worden is The Signal's city editor.

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