Juan Ponce Enrile is indisputably the only Filipino politician who has held power at its apex for 46 years, bridging six presidential regimes since the 1960s.
Enrile’s grip of power shuttled two extreme systems of government—the dictatorship installed by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972 and the restoration of the democratic regime by the Edsa People Power Revolution of 1986. These two pivotal events bracketed the most tumultuous period of political and social change that ever visited this country after World War II.
In both upheavals, Enrile was never far from the center of power, whoever was in charge, either as a front man of the existing regime, a conspirator of coup plots lurking behind the scenes, or as a catalyst of political change.
He assisted Marcos in planning the legal nomenclature of the clampdown of martial law in Proclamation No. 1081, acted as Marcos’ martial law administrator for nearly 14 years, and leader of a military coup that sparked the 1986 civil-military rising that toppled the dictatorship.
On Thursday, Enrile launched at the grand ballroom of the Manila Peninsula Hotel his autobiography, “Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir,” the first authoritative account of what went on behind the inner sanctum of Marcos’ secretive establishment and Enrile’s own key role in the events of the darkest 20 years of Philippine democracy, in the words of Enrile, a first-hand story of an insider, not hearsay.
This is what makes the book tremendously important and gripping as a historical document.
The massive volume of 754 pages, which was trimmed to size and edited by journalist Nelson Navarro, was launched significantly just six days after the 40th anniversary of the proclamation of martial law, officially signed on Sept. 21, 1972, but announced on national television only two days later.
The book should be read less as a story of the life of Enrile but more as a chronicle of the travails of the nation in the transition between authoritarian rule and open, plural government.
It presents Enrile’s perspective of the events in which he had been a central player—a circumstance that makes his account more credible and that gives it life and a human dimension.
Revision of history
Make no mistake that in the book, Enrile justifies Marcos’ decision to impose martial law. This book is, therefore, a serious attempt of revision of the history of the dictatorship and the libertarian people power movement that followed it.
In his speech at the launching of the book, Enrile said, revealing his agenda:
“I have been judged and condemned many times. But I fear only the ultimate judgment of God and history. My survival over the vicissitudes of my difficult life, over injustice, cruelty and betrayal, and my successes, great or small, I can only attribute to God or guts.
“I have seen how poverty, squalor stalked the land, and how injustice and discord divided our people. … I have been privileged to have known and worked with some of the best and the brightest minds and leaders of the nation who earnestly endeavored to unshackle the people from the grip of poverty and foreign domination. We tried to reverse the national backwardness and to make it more humane and prosperous so that the lot of the downtrodden could be alleviated.
“But we failed miserably, not for lack of good intentions but for lack of a strong will to resist the temptations and corruptive influences of power, money and privilege. I have witnessed how the selfish and avarice of some have incessantly obstructed the road to meaningful change and reform.
“Since many of the events in this book are events that not only I but the whole nation witnessed and experienced, I lay no claim to a monopoly of the truth. This book is simply my own rendition for what I know to be true because I was there, and I lived through and survived these events.”
Story of survival
How Enrile survived these dangerous events is what this book is all about—his resiliency, his longevity in power while coming through on top of the heap of tortured victims of the martial law regime, to which he is now spreading the blame for its excesses.
The text of this book promises to reveal the details of this narrative.
Let Enrile’s tale of this oral history speak for him for us to determine whether he exercised these delegated powers to soften the rigors and abuses of the martial law dictatorship in the manner that the wartime government of President Jose P. Laurel during the Japanese occupation claimed that he shielded the population from the cruelty and atrocities of the occupation forces. For what is martial law but an exercise of arbitrary rule unrestrained by constitutional safeguards suspended by decrees of a native ruling elite.
In his introduction, the book’s editor, Navarro, gives a preview of some of the intense power struggle between Enrile, Marcos’ defense secretary, and a faction identified with the then First Lady Imelda Marcos and Gen. Fabian Ver, then chief of staff of the Armed Forces, and Enrile’s disagreement with Ver over the latter’s version of the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.
These episodes suggested the undercutting of the powers of Enrile. Navarro also revealed the cleavages in the people power movement between the civilian segment and the military leaders (Enrile and Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos), after their breakaway from Marcos.
Navarro wrote: “Enrile’s very detailed minute-by-minute account of the four days of Edsa presents another view of history that sharply differs with the yellow school of history, which understandably casts Enrile in a most unfavorable light.”
On the issue of whether he is trying to revise history to tilt it in his favor, Enrile says, “Let them read it first. If there is a revision, they can write their own version. I don’t have a monopoly of truth.”
But he speaks from the standpoint of rewriting history with the muzzle of the gun. The memoir seeks to depict him not as a lackey of either Jaime Cardinal Sin and Cory Aquino, or his mentor in power, Marcos, but as the sorcerer’s apprentice.