Qwertyman for Monday, February 20, 2023
WHEN THE balloon was first spotted high over Boracay, some people thought it was a new ride, a welcome addition to the banana boats and paragliders that the tourists couldn’t seem to get enough of.
“How much does it cost? Where does it land?” asked Akmal from landlocked Uzbekistan, whose belly was white as fish and whose hair reminded the locals of the red seaweed that sometimes strayed into the island’s waters.
“Does it have a basket? I don’t see any people,” said Frida from icy Norway, who had actually flown on hot-air balloons where they were popular, as in Turkey’s Cappadocia and California’s Napa Valley.
“It’s not from here,” said Gordo, the boy from Manoc-Manoc whose job it was to lash the ferry boats from Caticlan to their moorings and to take the hand of passengers stepping onto the pier. He had seen everything there was to see in Boracay in all of his seventeen years, from the shameless couplings on the surf to the occasional victim washed up on the shore, and all cuts of humankind from cigar-chomping Texans to barrel-chested Samoans, and he knew what belonged and what didn’t. This silver dot in the sky definitely did not.
As if having a mind of its own, the balloon drifted north of the island to Yapak over Puka Shell Beach, then back down again over White Beach, where it attracted even more observers. Men who had been using their telescopes and cameras to focus on the usual bathing beauties turned their gear skyward to where people were pointing, and those with the longest lenses snapped pictures of the aerial intruder, for posting on Instagram and Facebook as the curiosity of the day.
Unknown to them, however, the balloon had been spotted much earlier by the government’s Aerial Surveillance Bureau, whose chief had hastily summoned his staff to an emergency meeting at the ASB’s secret command center, on the fringe of a golf course in southern Manila. The ASB’s Director O, a retired Air Force general, was still pulling off his gloves when his subordinates dropped into their seats and the lights went out. A blurry image of the drifting balloon appeared onscreen.
“This unidentified object entered our airspace above the Spratlys at 0423 hours, when it was too dark to be seen by our human spotters. It has since set course for Boracay Island, above which it has remained since 0933 hours, when it was finally spotted by one of our boys who was chasing a monkey up a coconut tree. Now the question is, what is it, who sent it, and why is it here? Is it friend or foe? The President expects me to report to him in the Palace in one hour and I need answers!”
“Sir, if I may,” said his Deputy Director M, “it looks exactly like the one they shot down over the USA and Canada. It’s a weather balloon from—from that country—equipped with advanced surveillance hardware and sophisticated communications capabilities.” It had been ordered since the previous administration not to mention “that country” by name in discussions of national security, so as not to give offense to a favored neighbor, and the habit had stuck, even in private conversations.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions!” said Director O. “There are many other countries perfectly capable of sending up these balloons. For all we know it could be a Lithuanian, a Ugandan, or a Wakandan balloon. I’m not going to upset the ambassador from that country with unproven allegations about his country’s behavior—however outrageous, obnoxious, and objectionable its actions are in the West Philippine Sea, just between you and me.”
“But why is it here, sir? And why Boracay?”
“Good question. Don’t quote me on this, but during the last National Security Council meeting, we were told that that country is preparing to reveal a new Thirteen-Dash Line map, supposedly drawn in the 16th century just before the Spanish came, that extends all the way to Boracay!”
“What?! But Stations 1, 2, and 3 are inalienable parts of our national patrimony! As Winston Churchill said, ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing ground, we shall fight on the hills, we shall never surrender!’”
“Yes, but in Boracay, people make love, not war. Imagine having to clean up all that white sand after an invasion. Another six-month lockdown! Can Philippine tourism afford it?”
“So what do we do, sir? Do we bring down this balloon?”
“With what? I already called the Air Force to see if they could fly by the object, but all of our fighters are undergoing maintenance—change oil, check battery, adjust brakes, etc.”
“What about kwitis?”
“Are you making a bad joke in a national emergency?”
“No, sir! The DOST and DND have a secret research program based in Bulacan called the Katipunan Weapons Initiative To Initiate Security, or KWITIS. It’s a multi-stage kwitis that can protect the archipelago against missiles, drones, asteroids, and UFOs like the Boracay balloon! It’s totally indigenous and sustainable, because it uses kawayan for the frame and kiping for decoration and employs out-of-work firecracker makers in the off-season—”
Just then another aide burst into the conference room, breathless with news.
“Sir! Turn on the TV! The balloon is down. The balloon came down!”
They switched to a live feed from CNN, which showed the balloon settled on the beach, its silver skin acting like a mirror for the dozens of kibitzers crowding around it, taking their selfies and groufies with gay abandon. A couple of local policemen who had tried to restrain the crowd were taking their selfies as well, flashing the “heart” hand-sign. “The balloon touched down about fifteen minutes ago on its own, and it is quickly becoming the center of what could become the biggest Boracay party ever! There are still no obvious indications of where it came from or why it is here, but this balloon seems to be totally harmless, so far, even ‘cute,’ according to Loujay, who’s visiting from London,” gushed the reporter.
And then small puffs of red, blue, and yellow smoke came out of the metal box at the bottom of the balloon, and for a minute the people shrieked and began running away, but as the smoke dispersed and the people inhaled the fumes, their faces lit up in ecstasy and they began dancing. Music also poured out of the balloon—the frenetic techno club mix that brought even the masahistas and the barbecue vendors to their feet.
“I know that, sir! That’s Stefano DJ Stoneangels!” said Deputy Director M, whose shoulders began moving up and down. “This is even more mysterious than we thought. We are under attack!”
“Indeed we are,” said Director O. “We need to investigate further. Pack up, boys, and bring your trunks, we’re going to Boracay!”
(Image from madmonkeyhostels.com)