Controversy over the unequal distribution of Christmas cash gifts by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to 22 senators has morphed into demands for the exhumation of the truth about his role as martial law administrator of the Marcos dictatorship.
The demand came from Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago in the course of her running battle with Enrile over the distribution of Senate savings. What provoked Santiago was that Enrile played favorites in gifting his colleagues: 18, classified by him as “nice,” received P1.6 million each; while four, branded as “naughty,” got only P250,000 each. Santiago was one of the four senators—the others were Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and siblings Pia and Alan Peter Cayetano.
The Commission on Audit (COA), which has oversight of the Senate funds, has declared that Enrile’s use of the funds as Christmas bonus is aboveboard and is allowed under the General Appropriations Act (the national budget). The COA did not touch on the fairness and evenhandedness of the disbursements, leaving this issue to the discretion of the Senate President. What rankled deeply among the four is the fact that Enrile was using the fund as a weapon to punish inconvenient colleagues who dared to tangle with him on a number of legislative issues and as a reward to those he deemed to be more friendly to him.
Enrile has a well-established reputation for being vindictive on those who have crossed his path. The other day he confirmed this reputation when he recalled Senate employees detailed to the offices of Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Trillanes. According to Cayetano, the recall was meant to teach him and his fellow reelectionist a lesson about the merits of toeing the line. The four who received smaller amounts of Christmas gifts have repeatedly been reported to be plotting to remove Enrile from the Senate presidency. Of the four, Santiago has been the most outspoken critic of Enrile and she has engaged him in a running debate, matching wits with him in a tit for tat marked by personal insults degrading parliamentary decorum.
In an interview with radio station dzBB on Sunday, Santiago accused Enrile of alleged plunder and challenged him to explain his role in the disappearances of opponents of the Marcos regime. She also accused Enrile of allegedly funding coup attempts against President Corazon Aquino although he was Cory’s defense secretary in her administration. She said Enrile “should now answer for the crime of plunder. Why is he that wealthy? He should answer for the crime of causing what the Spanish call ‘desaparecidos’…. He should be held accountable for that.”
In a radio interview, Enrile said he was investigated by the Corazon Aquino administration, and no plunder charges were brought against him. “I will probably not reply to what she said. We will just let the public decide who is right,” Enrile said, adding that whatever wealth he had was the result of his private law practice before he joined the government, which could not be true of Santiago, whose income was derived from government service. Enrile went on to say that Santiago had some explaining to do. He pointed out that Santiago had worked for Ambassador Kokoy Romualdez, brother of Imelda Marcos, wife of the late president.
In her interview, Santiago accused Enrile of having a personal agenda when he played a role in the overthrow of Marcos. She said Enrile, together with then Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, revolted against Marcos because he wanted to get rid of Marcos, hoping that he would replace him, “but the public wanted Cory Aquino.” In this acerbic exchange, the shift to Enrile’s martial law record all but covered up Enrile’s cash gifts.
Santiago assailed Enrile’s autobiography titled “Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir.” The book presented Enrile’s revisionist perspective of the martial law years. It presented the point of view of an insider—from the perspective of the ruling cabal.
Santiago hammered at one of the most contentious chapters of the memoir. She referred to Enrile’s claim that the ambush staged on him inside Wack Wack Golf and Country Club on the eve of martial law declaration in September 1972, took place but was not faked. The memoir contradicted a statement made by Enrile, when he defected from the Marcos dictatorship in February 1986, that the ambush was staged to justify the declaration of martial law.
Santiago has in effect given a momentum to the demand for the close scrutiny of the Enrile memoir. It seems to me, it is farthest from the mind of Santiago to set in motion a “counterrevision” of Enrile’s memoir to get into the truth of the events surrounding Edsa I. This is an unintended consequence of the furor over the Enrile Christmas gift episode. The controversy served as a catalyst of a historical question that has a more far-reaching importance to Philippine modern history.