I said it before: Juan Ponce Enrile has got to be one of the luckiest persons on earth. In at least two life-changing, or history-altering, situations, he was there at the right place at the right time.
The first was Edsa. Ferdinand Marcos uncovered his plot and sent him and his rebel group fleeing in fear of their lives to Camp Aguinaldo. Fortunately for him, the people massed at the camps to protect them. Overnight, he turned from a chief architect of martial law to a chief destroyer of martial law. Overnight, he turned from oppressor to liberator.
The second was Renato Corona’s impeachment. What are the odds that the first chief justice of this country to be impeached would be so at the very time Enrile was the Senate President thereby making him its presiding officer? A role to which he was as eminently suited to as presiding officer of martial law. A role indeed that he performed magnificently, earning rave reviews from the public itself.
With these things, he has managed to make the country forget his unsavory role at a time when a great many of the best and brightest disappeared from the face of the earth. But he wants more: He wants us in fact to remember martial law and his role in it—but so in ways removed from our experience of it. He wants us to remember him no longer as the Hermann Goering of martial law (Goering used the Reichstag fire, which the Nazis lit off themselves, to round up the communists; Marcos used Enrile’s fake ambush to round up his critics) but as the Oskar Schindler of it.
Will his luck hold?
What makes his gamble particularly stupendous is that he did it just one week after the 40th anniversary of martial law. Only a couple of weeks ago, the Edsa People Power Commission held a two-day conference on how to build a memory museum, with guests from Argentina, Chile and Peru coming over to help us find ways to help ourselves remember. Only a week ago, P-Noy was in Fort Magsaysay talking about once wanting to exact revenge on the people who oppressed his family and the nation but finding comfort instead in the struggle that ended their rule. Only a week ago, the Department of Education was locked in a debate with other groups on how best to teach martial law so that the youth would know about it and make sure it never happens again.
And now, suddenly, mind-bogglingly, depressingly, this.
I saw the photographs of Enrile’s book launching in the newspapers and found myself despairing. The only one who wasn’t there was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but give it a year or two and she’ll be there too. Indeed, the only ones who were not there, who will never be there whether it takes a year or 10, were those who were imprisoned and tortured during martial law, and the kin of those who died in the hills.
Two things rile about that event.
One is the book itself. The only thing worse than forgetting is remembering the wrong things, or recalling only an implanted memory. Enrile’s propositions, which he had been floating around months before he launched his book, were long debunked by the Nuremberg trials. Those contentions are: one, that if he hadn’t been there, martial law would have been worse; and, two, that he was a victim of martial law—if he had tried to walk away from it his life would have been forfeited.
The “what could have been” is never provable, the “what was” is, and Enrile was Marcos’ right hand in an iron-fisted rule. That was how he got rich and (in)famous, not least by razing this country’s forests. The second is easily refuted. Rafael “Rocky” Ileto never fell in league with Marcos, not even from the start when the generals of all the military branches gathered full force to prop up martial law. Marcos never jailed him or killed him, though he cast him aside and impoverished him. That was all Enrile needed to do if he violently disagreed with Marcos—endure poverty and obscurity for principle. He did neither.
While at that, he could always have done a Ninoy. Instead, he did, well, an Enrile.
But what riles even more about that affair is the horrendous message it beams to the public. Marcos used to joke in his time that he was going to let history be his judge, but just to be sure he would write history. Enrile has just turned joke into reality, with the blessings of friend and foe alike. Which makes you wonder how much of our history is really biography, or worse, PR.
But more than this, there’s the sheer injustice of it all. A couple of weeks ago, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines launched “Not In Our Watch,” which told of its members’ ordeals during martial law. Some months ago, Susan and Nathan Quimpo launched “Subversive Lives,” which told of the humongous sacrifices a family made to fight off the oppression. None of these launchings drew the crowd Enrile did, and the books told a far more truthful story of what happened.
What does all this say, particularly to the youth we are exhorting to remember?
That it doesn’t really pay to make those sacrifices, if you’re lucky your version of life will just be ignored, if you’re not, no one will even know you existed at all? That it pays instead to become rich and famous, however you become so by screwing the world, by oppressing your countrymen, if you’re lucky you can be at the right place and time, and later on make people forget, if you’re not you can always hire someone to write an alternate version of reality? Or preferably both? That at the end of all those exhortations for people to remember the horrors of the past and the heroism of the people who pushed it back, many of them perishing in the effort, nothing really happens, the bang will just go with the buck, fortune will just favor the brazen, history will just reward those who get to stay around to (re)write it?
It does rile, en or otherwise.