Last year, Asian Dragon magazine asked my hubby Alan to write a speculative story answering the question, “could things be possibly worse than they already are under this government?” He decided to have a little fun and write a political sci fi thriller. It involved a virus. Coming from China. Ending up in the Philippines. Does any of this sound familiar?
Last week the editor of the magazine emailed Alan and said “holy shit your story is coming true.” You can be the judge. Keep in mind, this is just FICTION. Pure fantasy.
I am posting this with the kind permission of Asian Dragon.
By Alan Robles
Since 2016, the country’s been been led by a president whose “war on drugs” has slaughtered thousands, if not tens of thousands, of citizens.
Operating like a gangster syndicate, Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has used government power for its own ends, treating the military and the police as if they were private armies. The legislature and the judiciary, branches that are supposed to check the president, have become willing conspirators in abusing and perverting the law and keeping quiet while the president does as he pleases. With their eager assistance the criminal Marcos family has been rehabilitated, the economy carved up among cronies.
For all his bluster, Duterte bows and scrapes before China, which has encroached on Philippine territory and sent a horde of illegal mainland workers to flood the country. Duterte’s foreign minister, a blatant fascist who glorifies murder, Hitler and the Holocaust, spends most of his time praising himself on Twitter and crudely cursing critics.
This is the Philippines now.
Could things be possibly worse? Is this the lowest things can get? Can we imagine a more dire scenario?
It’s a tall scriptwriting order, but let’s give political fantasy a shot.
Who could have guessed the fate of the Philippines would lie buried in ancient permafrost?
As reconstructed later by investigators, it was a Chinese tourist, joyriding in a snowmobile in the Tibetan plateau, who was the key. He was chasing endangered deer when he crashed his vehicle into a snowdrift.
Shaken but uninjured, he found the accident had pitched him into a depression. The hollow was actually frozen ground melted by rising temperatures. In the soft but dry soil, the tourist discovered glinting white objects. When he brushed the dirt aside, they were revealed to be perfectly preserved fossils of tiny dinosaurs. Excitedly scooping, he found a complete set of bones and then stealthily pocketed it in a bag, intending to sell it to collectors.
Unfortunately, in his eager clawing, he literally unearthed a virus that had been entombed deep in the ground for millenia. Coming back to life, the virus hopped into the tourist’s respiratory system.
The microorganism, which tabloids would inevitably dub the Abominable Zombie Virus (AZV), turned out to have four unfortunate characteristics: it spread through the air, it had a long incubation period and it could easily mutate. The fourth characteristic? It usually killed its human hosts via a messy hemorrhagic fever.
But months would pass before all of this became clear, weeks before the bug was even detected. By that time, it had already killed its first host and had started to mutate. Before patient zero succumbed, he had already passed the bug on to several dozen people in China.
One of them was a young man, fresh from the provinces, on his way to a new job – in the Philippines.
Arriving in Manila, he lied and declared he was a “tourist”, as had hundreds of thousands of his countrymen before him. His lie was blandly accepted by complaisant Filipino immigration officials who had been winking at this sort of thing for several years now. The truth was, he was going straight to work at one of many illegal online gambling centers – a Pogo
He lasted exactly six weeks on the job. Then, in the words of his terrified companions in the illegal gambling operation, he just “dissolved” in his seat. Though nobody knew it at that time, it was a sign the virus was already mutating.
The Chinese and Filipino gambling syndicate running the Pogo, along with the authorities they were paying off, tried to suppress news but a garbled story somehow leaked out and spread via social media. A few picketers showed up at the Pogo to demand that it be opened for investigation. They got into a shoving match with security guards and some aggressive mainlander employees who made rude gestures.
When this scene was played on TV news and social media, the next day a much bigger crowd appeared. This time the demonstration became violent and several people were severely injured – including a few Chinese citizens.
This was enough to outrage Beijing, which strongly condemned the action and announced it would send a team of “security consultants” to “help” Philippine authorities “protect” Chinese citizens. The Philippine foreign secretary tweeted that this was a “noble gesture” affirming “the strong, warm ties between the two countries.”
Things were already spinning out of control by then. Given there were probably close to a million illegal Chinese workers in the Philippines, many of whom had the habit of spitting and coughing everywhere, even in elevators, it was just a matter of time before AZV spread in the places the workers were staying, mainly the well-heeled districts of Makati and Alabang. The first gruesome deaths of Filipinos, residents of high-rise condos, were covered intensively by the media.
China, of course, “vigorously denied” it was the source of the virus, although it was even then beginning to secretly mobilizing to fight the outbreak in its own territory. As a sign of “goodwill”, Beijing announced it was sending antiviral drugs to the Philippines. Later the drugs would turn out to be either useless or fake.
How did the Philippine government react to this growing catastrophe? The administration had just slashed the health budget and finished a systematic politically motivated attack to rubbish the dengue vaccination program. The result was to create a crazed public fear of vaccines, leading to an upsurge not just of dengue, but also of polio and measles.
Faced with AZV, Philippine politicians reacted in their usual inimitable way. Congressmen announced they were “prioritizing” a “medical emergency bill” that would, by an amazing coincidence, give themselves unlimited terms and bigger pork barrels. Senators promptly held a series of investigations, which, mysteriously, seemed to focus on defending the administration as well as clearing China of any blame. The investigators proceeded to invite an assortment of public health officials and “exposed” their alleged corruption, leading to fear, disorganization and paralysis in the units which should have been leading the fight against AZV.
For his part, Duterte delivered one of his patented speeches where, apart from the usual crude and demented attacks on critics, he mockingly spurned offers of international medical aid, and threatened to kill the virus by biting it.
As expected, Duterte’s legion of social media trolls mounted mass attacks accusing “dilawan” and government critics, working together with drug syndicates, of creating and spreading the virus. As expected, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube did nothing to spread the wave of lies, coordinated hate and disinformation.
Distrusting health authorities and vaccines, their ignorance and hate stoked by trolls, the public turned to prayers, religious frauds and pseudo science quacks. Most people took to wearing medical face masks and bringing around hand sanitizers – poor defenses against a rapidly changing virus. It soon became clear that this was a bug like no other when the first major mutation manifested itself. The new strain didn’t just kill hosts, it shrank their bodies to a twisted, ugly blackened carcass. This was promptly called the “Sonza Strain.”
Gradually, despite the efforts of administration officials, anger mounted against illegal mainland workers. Fistfights and brawls started becoming more frequent. Somebody tried to burn down a pogo center, fortunately the blaze was swiftly put out.
Since dispatching its “security consultants” ,Beijing had been strangely silent. This was because China was even then trying to deal with its own growing AZV epidemic. However, given the growing wave of violence against its nationals in Manila, somebody in Beijing decided the problem had to be addressed. They announced that there would be an emergency operation to rescue citizens.
A giant PLA military aircraft. an Ilyushin IL-76, arrived in Manila from Hainan, but when its cargo doors opened, it disgorged a heavily armed contingent of troops and light vehicles. They proceeded to guard the Chinese embassy and certain buildings in Manila.
It soon transpired that many of the stocky, muscular crewcut mainlanders working in the Pogos were actually Chinese military special forces. Also, many Filipinos didn’t realize there was already a sizable colony of Chinese gangsters in the city. These men, together with local “muscle” composed of renegade Philippine police and soldiers, amounted to a sizable force that, when given weapons shipped aboard the transport, multiplied the numbers of the People’s Liberation Army soldiers that had flown in.
The Chinese troops efficiently concentrated on evacuating mainlanders, doing so by controlling access routes, roads, directing traffic. This highhandedness caused tension but what really set matters off was the incident where Chinese soldiers in front of the embassy fired rubber bullets at demonstrators.
This was too much even for a public constantly duped by Facebook trolls: what followed were rallies which saw angry crowds throwing bottles and stones. The Chinese soldiers responded by firing rubber bullets, while local police lobbed tear gas grenades at the crowds. The violence was somehow controlled – then like a bolt out of the blue came the news that “terrorists” had somehow gotten close to the giant Chinese transport and had set it on fire, seriously damaging the aircraft.
The next day, the lights suddenly went out all over the Philippines.
Then people found they couldn’t access the internet anymore.
Beijing “vigorously and steadfastly” denied having anything to do with it, and after one day the utilities were restored. The rumor was that the administration had begged Beijing to restore power and connectivity, pointing out that blackouts would only make things much worse and that looting was already breaking out.
With electricity largely restored, Duterte appeared in a special emergency live broadcast. After a tirade against the opposition that even for him was exceptionally foul, he announced he was declaring martial law in the whole country.
As he was working himself into another foaming rant, he collapsed in front of the cameras. The telecast was hastily cut, and minutes later the spokesperson appeared and announced the president had tripped on the podium because of “sheer exhaustion” of working “so hard” for the country. He would need rest, but martial law would be implemented.
Soon enough, soldiers deployed to take over media companies – only those critical of Duterte. The military avoided taking over public utilities because, strangely, these had suddenly sprouted Chinese guards.
In fact, though Philippine military and police rounded up several hundred known critics of the government, they seemed indecisive and irresolute implementing martial law. Also there was a lot of hesitation on the part of soldiers going into certain areas without protective suits.
Contributing to their uncertainty was the growing rumor that Duterte was totally incapacitated, maybe comatose, and was being sustained only by artificial means. Despite frantic efforts of trolls to twist facts and fabricate news, the rumor took hold. When news came that a monster earthquake had all leveled parts of Davao City, Filipinos started to feel some cosmic judgment was being rendered.
Faced with a growing epidemic, violence on the street, a lack of power, water and telecommunications, powerful families and businessmen started making their own arrangements. Some paid to contract companies of mercenaries and ex-soldiers; others tapped a paramilitary resource that has just been waiting to be mobilized – security guards. With their private armies the new factions fortified themselves in their subdivisions and waited to see what would happen.
That’s another fantasy story.