The long night after Wack Wack
Juan Ponce Enrile’s memoir dismantles one of the enduring myths of the declaration of martial law 40 years ago—that he staged an ambush on his own convoy at the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club in the evening of Sept. 22, 1972, at the behest of President Ferdinand Marcos to justify the clampdown of emergency rule.
Enrile writes in the memoir released last week that the ambush was not faked, but that although it did take place, he and his driver and military aide survived the attack unscathed. This new version of that ambush stood on its head a public statement he made on radio and television on Feb. 22, 1986, in Camp Aguinaldo, when he and Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, chief of the Philippine Constabulary and Integrated National Police, staged a revolt against the Marcos dictatorship, culminating in its overthrow four days later. Fourteen years later, Enrile ate his own words.
In his memoir, which refurbishes his controversial and central role as Marcos’ administrator of martial law for 14 years (three years longer than Hitler’s dictatorship in Nazi Germany, 1933-1945), Enrile recalls: “[A] speeding car rushed and passed the escort car where I was riding [inside Wack Wack]. Suddenly, it opened several bursts of gunfire toward my car and sped away.”
According to the autobiography, normally Enrile’s car was driven between two security vehicles but that on that night, he decided to ride in the vehicle following his car. “The attack was sudden that it caught everyone by surprise. No one in the convoy was able to fire back,” he writes. His car was “ditched on the right side of the road. Its left rear door was riddled with bullet holes and its left back tire was punctured and disabled.” Enrile’s driver and military aide, who were in the car, were unhurt. To whom he attributes the multiple good luck, he does not say. It took 14 years after the attack for Enrile to find words to explain the ambush. When he and Ramos were under a life-and-death siege at Camp Aguinaldo after withdrawing their loyalty to their Commander in Chief, Enrile says, his political opponents spread word that the ambush was faked to justify the declaration of martial law.
But Enrile dismisses this as “ridiculous and preposterous,” saying that Marcos had “postponed the declaration of martial law several times” (a claim I verified as true in records). “Whether I was ambushed or not, martial law in the country was already an irreversible fact,” Enrile says. “So what was the need to fake my own ambush?”
There are other versions of this episode from other sources. Since we are now in a mode to get to the truth of that incident—which served to trigger the proclamation of martial law—it is well worth our time to hear these other versions. One of these is the speech of Oscar Lopez, head of the politically influential Lopez family, at the book launch. Lopez is not exactly a hero worshipper of Enrile, as his family was among the first victims of the crackdown unleashed by the then defense minister to crush the enemies tagged by the dictator as the greedy “oligarchy”—and yet the Lopez media network ABS-CBN published the memoir and celebrated the launch of Enrile’s apologia. How the Lopez family members came to terms with their erstwhile tormentor is one of the intriguing paradoxes of the launch. It is also an astonishing demonstration of the capacity for cohabitation of members of the Philippine political elite contending for power even after a member had been murdered (i.e., the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr.) and another imprisoned (the detention of Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr., Oscar’s brother, in Fort Bonifacio) and held hostage by Marcos to leverage the seizure of the Lopez assets.
Lopez noted in his speech at the book launch that Enrile wrote that “even he was a victim of the Marcos dictatorship, having been used as the pretense for the issuance of Proclamation 1081, as his car was supposedly ambushed in front of my house in Wack Wack Village. Enrile also wrote about how his life was placed in danger as a military clique under General [Fabian] Ver who plotted to assassinate him weeks before People Power finally erupted.” In the eyes of Oscar Lopez, who is a serious history scholar, Enrile is perceived as sending a message that like a revolution, a dictatorship devours its own children, except that the latter is more vicious and treacherous. Thus, Enrile appears to have no qualms in betraying his benefactor and patron, as if to rationalize his own coup and desertion as part of the territory of the struggle for power.
Marcos has his own version of the Wack Wack ambush. On Sept. 22, 1972, Marcos wrote this entry in his diary at 9:55 p.m.: “Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile was ambushed near Wack Wack at 8 p.m. tonight. It’s a good thing that he was riding in his security car as a protective measure. His first car, which he usually uses, was riddled by bullets from a car parked in ambush. He is now at the DND office and have advised him to stay there. This makes martial law a necessity.”
“Imelda arrived at 11:35 p.m. in my Electra bulletproof car to be told ‘It’s all over the radio. The reports didn’t say who were responsible for the attack.’”
Close to midnight on Sept. 22, I got a call at home in Blue Ridge, Quezon City, from a close friend, after I had put the Manila Chronicle (as editor in chief) to bed. “Secretary Enrile was ambushed,” he said. “That’s it,” I said. I immediately rang up the graveyard shift of the Chronicle. No one answered. I switched on the radio and TV. They were all dead. That was the beginning of the long night after the Wack Wack ambush.