When I was a kid, my playmate Edo Boy baptized every cop on the block in the small town of Quezon. There’s that old Batangueno Tata Kariong Supot whose service de sabog was never used the whole time the cop was in employment. Then there’s that Sergeant Saripang Duling who never looked straight. When these two cops were on patrol, they always missed their target. Being on the heavy side, they would rather shoot their quarry rather than run after them. The trouble was Tata Kario’s bullets were duds, while that of Sarge Saripa had the tag of “to whom this may concern”. There was that famous exchange between Iskong Bulag and Sergeant Saripang Duling whenever they crossed path in the poblacion. Iskong Bulag was blind in one eye and the Sarge was of course hopelessly crosseyed. Sarge: “Isko anong Bulagwit mo?” Isko: “Dulingyan po Sarge!”
Edo Boy’s childhood hero was the late Ariston Matriano who was known as Stone, the anglicised Iston, short for Ariston. Stone was his fitting name for he never buckled in whichever fix.
Stone’s exploits were legend. He was a toughie before he was appointed cop. In the 1950s, cops were picked by Mayors from nowhere, given badges and service revolvers, and presto, sworn in as agents of the law.
On days on end, Stone was involved in youthful fracas that invariably landed him in jail or the town’s Clinica de Sanidad ministering to his bumps and cuts right after a free-for-all. Maybe Stone was just enamoured to his Hero Without a Cause then, the late James Dean. Stone had no resemblance with his idol. He was built like a cop ready to grapple suspects eluding arrests. Just like natives of the Island, his skin was burned like the abuhan. But Stone gained that instant fame or notoriety owing to his vaunted tapang. Old folks attribute it to gilas, losing all inhibitions when inebriated. But whatever ascription to his famous temper or pluck, even the Mayor allowed himself to be a fan of Stone and while under arrest, he was appointed the youngest cabo of the town. With the cop’s badge inside his pocket and the bulky magnum .38 6-shooter under his belt, the lanky 19-year old went home to break the news of his employment at last. His grandmother nearly died upon seeing her grandson toting what appeared to her to be an Anti-aircraft Corregidor Cannon.
Stone’s first order of business was to arrest all shadowy characters of the town: the pantalan pickpockets, the goat and cattle rustlers, the magpapalusot ng lukad, and of course his pet peeves: his equally rambunctious karibal ng barkada. He threatened his karibal sa pag-ibig of warrantless arrest where the latter persist of courting Stone’s love of his life. One after the other Stone arrested them and packed them all in the tiny stinking calaboose. One can bet on Stone’s cop’s hunch. One kilometre away he can smell a criminal mind.
At 6 am in the morning, he patiently sat at the farthest point of the pantalan waiting for the criminal visitors to disembark from the boats of Calauag and Gumaca and gave them ultimatums to ship out or be thrown into the kitimkitiman across Guitis.
One story flew that one sibiran powered by the mighty Briggs and Stratton tigib with new arrivals docked alongside the pantalan only to be turned back by the lonesome Stone. The boat was filled with roaming thieves and conmen. Iston knew all these crooks even before he became a cop. Never in the history of the small town of Quezon had it experienced what appeared to be an unbroken peace and quiet.
Stone was hailed as the local hero, and of course by my impressionable kalaro, Edo Boy. Edo Boy mimicked Stone in every which way: his idol’s gait, the tilted unbuckled holster set for easy draw, the slur, and of course the famous gilas. But Edo Boy, instead of being recruited as a junior cop, was a regular jail guest along with the nakursunadahan ni Stone.
Early on, when Stone heard that one Alabat policeman was hunting him for an imagined slight, Stone travelled all the way to Alabat in a tiny de katig all by his lonesome and went straight to the town cockpit where his quarry was a habitué and right there and then in the middle of the rueda challenged the tough guy of Alabat, the late Egar Jugueta to a gunfight. Had Egar accepted the dare, it would have been High Noon in OK Corral redux. Cooler heads intervened since the protagonists were armed and they were after all brother-cops.
When Stone retired, I heard the now middle aged Edo Boy called his idol Boy Graba. When I asked him why he called him that, Edo Boy said the NPAs did that to Stone, he was crushed to pieces.
In one balmy August dusk in 1982, an NPA battalion descended in the sleepy town of Quezon and herded the policemen on duty in the small municipio. Stone was nearing his retirement at that time. Stone was on duty, and he even welcomed the visitors who were in complete Army combat uniform. He thought there was an unannounced visitation since Stone heard that a new Army provincial chief was designated.
One partisan who was a native of the Island aware of the legend of Stone promptly disarmed him and pleaded not to resist anymore for fear that the young communist cadres from other regions who led the raid might mistake Stone’s defiance as empty braggadocio and death was the inevitable result. The NPA combatant recounted later soon after he returned to the fold of the law that he saw the cascading tears of Stone when his service .45 was forcibly snatched from him while being held on both hands by the rebels. Stone begged the chief cadre to kill him that minute because in his 35 years of service as law enforcer nobody had forcibly taken his firearm away from him. The rebel returnee recalled the respect accorded by their youthful leader on Stone.
Unbeknownst to Stone, Sgt. Augusto Bayan, a member of the defunct Philippine Constabulary who was a destino in the town of Quezon, arrived from Gumaca and ready to report for duty in the municipio. Alighting from his boat at the pantalan, the PC trooper noticed that the camino real was deserted. Straight from the pantalan, he could see a throng of military men massed in front of the gate of the municipio. Bayan went ahead without harbouring any suspicion that the municipio was already under siege by the communist rebels.
Thirty meters from the gate, Bayan sensed that the soldiers inside the municipio were impostors. Bayan, another legendary brave trooper who had seen actions in the past, put up a fight. Stone tried to dissuade Bayan to give it up knowing the futility at last of resistance and at the top of his voice pleaded Bayan surrender to his firearm. Bayan exchanged gunfire. But being in an inferior position against the vantage point of the rebels who were in an elevated and fortified spot, Bayan was a sitting duck. When the rebels abandoned the town of Quezon carting with them useful appurtenances and firearms, Bayan was dead with four fatal gunshot wounds.
Stone was literally crushed. Soon after, he retired, and life to him was never the same again. Edo Boy again christened him a third time, calling him Noche or Notsi the reverse of Iston. When I asked Edo Boy why he called Stone that, he said, “my idol is in the evening of his life, his noche de su vida.”
Stone, now Noche, tried politics and ran for town councilman. He nearly made it. Diabetes soon downed him, and its complications killed him.
Edo Boy never left him in his wake, keeping vigil until his midday funeral.