Where’s the beef, Mr. Enrile?
Of all the possible responses to the “retelling” of martial law history by former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the most improbable would have to be the boycott of a brand of canned meat products.
The Enrile family happens to own the Delimondo brand of canned meats—luncheon meat, liver spread, and most famously, corned beef. By many accounts, Delimondo happens to be the purveyor of some of the tastiest canned meats locally. And some avid patrons heaved a sigh of dismay on hearing news that a boycott of the brand had been launched to “punish” Enrile for his revisionism. He was, after all, the enforcer of the more dreaded and sinister expressions of military and police power during those years. And, certainly, he knows or remembers more than he lets on today.
The story peddled by Enrile, however, has set off a far more primal and important reaction: the provocation of many survivors of martial law arrest, detention, torture and other human rights violations. Years, decades after surviving incarceration and all the indignities inflicted on them, ex-detainees, including their families and the surviving loved ones of the “disappeared,” have found once more the courage to come out in the open and retell the suffering they endured at the hands of soldiers and police. This, years and decades after they had hoped to put the nightmare behind them.
The reason they have had to revisit that horrible time was the two-part video interview conducted by losing vice-presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos of Enrile, whose rehashed, warmed-over version of the events preceding and during martial law provoked the pushback we see today.
If, by the interview with Enrile the younger Marcos hoped to revise the people’s largely negative view of martial law—and by extension that of the Marcos family—he has instead produced the opposite effect.
People have begun remembering again, and telling young people who have but blurry memories of martial law or who know nothing about it, how things were really like during those days of darkness.
Timed for the anniversary of the declaration of martial law, the staged interview played out like an inane take on the theater of the absurd. This theater form has been described as “employing disjointed, repetitious, and meaningless dialogue, purposeless and confusing situations, and plots that lack realistic or logical development.”
How else to characterize Enrile’s assertion that no one “was arrested because of political or religious beliefs”? Or that no one “was arrested simply because they criticized President Marcos”?
The responses of many who were indeed arrested, detained, interrogated and repeatedly tortured—some of them prominent political figures—give a lie to Enrile’s account. And if one were to look for written records of their suffering, one need search no further than the volumes of paperwork painstakingly compiled by the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board. A total of 75,749 claims were filed, but only 11,103 were indemnified due to lack of “substantial evidence” from the other claimants.
Still, 11,000 is certainly a far cry from zero. And whether he gets his comeuppance by way of the failure of his family’s canned meat business or the eternal fires of hell, Enrile certainly has a lot to answer for.
To be sure, the former Senate president, under whose term in that office the law creating the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board was passed, has had many chances to tell the “real” story. These range from the press conference over which he and then Vice Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos presided at the opening salvo of the Edsa People Power Revolt, to his published biography. He has peddled so many versions of the role he played during martial law, his involvement with the failed coup d’etat of his RAMboys, and the extent of his knowledge of the subsequent coup attempts against President Cory Aquino, that maybe his own mind has been addled by having to keep so many balls in the air.
And so, Mr. Enrile, we wish you a clear mind, a clear conscience, and the guiltless enjoyment of corned beef before you shuffle off this mortal coil.
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