By Anthony Divinagracia
SEPTEMBER 21, 2019 – Juan Ponce Enrile is talking about history – or at least, his story.
On Thursday (September 20, 2018), the former defense minister and veteran lawmaker whipped a hornet’s nest through a series of “revelations” on what he claimed were hidden truths behind the late president Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law declaration 46 years ago.
Enrile’s claims were buzzing and biting on three fronts: One, a denial of the massive killings and arrests during the martial law years. Two, Marcos’ losing the battle against the oligarchs. And three, the real purpose of the military uprising that led to the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986.
In a tete-a-tete with the late strongman’s son and namesake Bongbong Marcos and posted on social media as “Witness to History,” Enrile insisted that the killings and arrests blamed on the late president’s nine-year military rule were untrue.
“They claimed that we killed a lot of people. It’s not true that we arrested 70 thousand people. If you include those who violated the curfew or the jaywalkers, maybe we can reach that number. People are free. If you violated criminal law, you have to be arrested whether you violated martial law or not,” he said in the interview uploaded over social media on the eve of the 46th commemoration of Martial Law.
“Name me one person who was arrested for their political or religious beliefs. None. Name me one person that was arrested simply because he criticized President Marcos. None.”
But those who outlived Martial Law quickly disputed the claim of Marcos’ former defense minister. One of them was former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, then a human rights lawyer who was imprisoned alongside Jose W. Diokno, Rene Saguisag, Joker Arroyo, Jovito Salonga and many others.
Amnesty International (AI) reports were likewise cited to debunk Enrile. Contrary to the 94-year old former lawmaker’s statement, AI said around 3,420 people died, 34,000 tortured, and 70,000 were arrested during the Martial Law years. AI said the figures were culled from documented sources and personal or eyewitness accounts of the alleged Marcos-time atrocities.
Former president Fidel V. Ramos, an Enrile contemporary and commander of the Philippine Constabulary which carried the bulk of the operations targeting actual and perceived enemies of the Marcos regime, is yet to speak on the matter.
Curiously, as Senate President in 2013, Enrile also shepherded and co-signed Republic Act 10368, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act, which recognized the existence of human rights violations during the Marcos years, and provided for a mechanism to compensate the victims. A total of 11,103 Martial Law victims have since received indemnity from the government under this law.
Fighting the oligarchs
Enrile did not mince words in blaming the country’s oligarchs, the landed gentry whom he accused of scheming and conspiring to frustrate the economic plans of the Marcos regime.
“They control the economy. They controlled the agriculture because they have the haciendas. They control the communication. They want to control even government. You had to talk to interest groups to be able to run for public office in those days. They control Meralco. They control the media. They control the newspapers, the radio. Many facets of industry, the industrialization of the country is controlled by the so-called oligarchs of the land,” he said.
Authors Salvador Escalante and Augustus Y. Dela Paz echoed Enrile in their collaborative work titled “The EDSA uprising? The five-percent revolution (EDSA in Retrospect: A Deconstruction) published in 2000. They called EDSA a fitting venue to mount the “revenge of the oligarchs.”
“EDSA wasn’t just about abstract ideals like justice, freedom, democracy, and morality. A great deal of it was about money and power. Predictably, many of the prominent figures at EDSA fully intended their material investments to produce profits. Cory (Aquino) being a businesswoman herself, fully understood. She was all sympathy for the patriotic rich who helped her get rid of their common tormentors — the Marcoses and their cronies,” Escalante and Dela Paz wrote. The two authors also wrote the book “Hubris: When States and Men Dare God: The Persecution of the Marcoses.”
Interestingly, one of those Marcos cronies was Cory’s first cousin Danding Cojuangco, who was a family rival in both business and politics.
Escalante and Dela Paz also noted how the elite families deemed Marcos as a pariah in elite social circles, an outsider whose “standing was considered inferior to that of the sugar barons, the shipping magnates, the captains of industry, the lords of utilities, the owners of the press, the loggers and the ranchers, or even the nobles of smuggling and gambling.”
They added: “…when President Marcos started using Martial Law to undertake economic reforms, the oligarchs balked.”
Like Enrile, Escalante and Dela Paz shared the view that EDSA restored the old elite which Marcos thought were the “social causes of rebellion” and stumbling blocks to the nationalization of key industries and sectors. But Enrile made no mention of the Marcos cronies who actually had strong oligarchic roots like Cojuangco whose name continues to prop up in the P84 billion coco levy fund scam. Nearly P9.8 billion were taxed from the coconut farmers during Marcos’ time but the entire amount was allegedly spent to buy the San Miguel Corporation and the United Coconut Planters’ Bank among others. Enrile was also said to have benefitted from the coco levy funds as head of the Philippine Coconut Authority during the Marcos regime, but he has since denied the allegations.
The New York Times, in a February 26, 1986 report, hit Marcos’ own king-making tendency, saying: “Many of his associates grew richer and richer, profiting one way or another from Government and personal ties. He and his wife, Imelda, grew enormously rich, amassing, by some accounts, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of real estate and antiques in the New York area alone.”
One of these associates was businessman Herminio Disini, whose wife was a cousin of Imelda Marcos. Disini helped broker the $2 billion Bataan Nuclear Power Plant for the late president. The Supreme Court ordered his prosecution for allegedly receiving a $1 million commission as an agent for the mothballed nuclear plant. The New York Times also described Disini as a “Marcos golf partner” who “advanced in five years from a tobacco-company post to the proprietorship of a conglomerate with assets worth more than $500 million.”
Junta vs. Marcos
The EDSA People Power Revolution that gave rise to Cory deviated from the original plan made by then defense minister Enrile and the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM). Enrile told Marcos’ son Bongbong that the uprising was actually meant to counter a looming military junta hatched by the Armed Forces’ top generals.
“According to the information I received, if your father died, they were not supposed to announce it at all. They will keep it away from the knowledge of the public they will invite all the members of the cabinet in the name of your father for a cabinet meeting and once we are in the Palace we will be quarantined but in my case I will have to be executed,” Enrile told Bongbong.
In his memoirs, Enrile named the alleged members of the junta: AFP chief of staff Fabian Ver, Army commanding general Josephus Ramas, Air Force commanding general Vicente Piccio, Navy Rear Admiral Simeon Alejandro, and Coast Guard Commodore Brillante Ochoco. These names were related to him by one Edna Camcam whom Enrile described as “a woman who was very close to General Ver and who was widely believed to have had amorous links to him.”
Enrile also revealed he was on top of the junta’s kill list, with the generals seeing him as a “hindrance to their political objective.” Criselda Yabes in her work “Boys from the Barracks” first published in 1991, depicted Ver as a virtual Enrile rival, a “stumbling block” to the former defense chief’s “climb to the top.”
“As Marcos’ chief of staff, Ver ran the Armed Forces at his whim. He promoted any officer who offered him blind loyalty because that was the only way he knew how to lead an army, having been himself a lowly driver to Marcos who rose through the ranks by his sheer loyalty to his patron,” Yabes wrote.
The former senator also stressed the pre-Edsa uprising was not a “break” from Marcos and the mutineers did not intend to harm the First Family. But in his memories, Enrile quoted Marcos about his knowledge of the “aborted coup and the plot to assassinate him and the first lady.”
“There is evidence now that from the very beginning, Enrile was out to grab power and rule the country through a junta. Enrile would become the chairman of the council that would take over the government. The council would be composed of representatives of different sectors such as the clergy, which would most probably be represented by Cardinal Sin, the opposition represented by Mrs. Aquino, the military represented by General Ramos and a representative of the business sector,” Marcos said in a press conference at the height of the EDSA People Power.
Bongbong then asked Enrile why he did not assume the presidency when Marcos was actually ready to hand him the reins of power on February 25, 1986.
“You know Bongbong, I did not intend to take over power in the first place. But while I was inside Camp Aguinaldo, Camp Crame, I was thinking about what will happen. If the military will take over, I will involve the country into a possible civil war because the election was just finished,” Enrile answered.
“I’m sure that if I did and the military took over and I assumed power, I will have enemies inside my military organization also. There is a possibility that the two forces that fought in that election will combine.”
Enrile, who was also the Aquino defense minister, rued Cory’s lack of government experience.
“I was dismayed in my first cabinet meeting with Cory. She did not make any decision. She’ll say “Oh Tito Guingona… tito. Ikaw naman magsalita. Mon, ikaw magsalita… Oh Doy,” he recalled.
“I’m sorry to say this but I realized in that first meeting that I had in that cabinet that the president that succeeded your dad did not know anything about governance. The ones governing the country was not Cory, (it’s the) other people who were around her.”
Yabes also cited Aquino’s inexperience in dealing with the military, particularly the hierarchy and dynamics between the top brass and the junior officers, who were loyal to Enrile.
“As commander-in-chief, Cory Aquino had no idea about leading a politicized armed force. Her early lessons at the palace were times spent learning how to salute and march. She relied on her political advisers to deal with the military, which made very little difference because they, too, had no idea how deeply factionalized the army was,” she wrote.
But the final straw that urged Enrile to cut ties with the Aquino government – and launch a series of coup attempts with RAM – was the late president’s decision to free the so-called enemies of the state.
“We were able to arrest the leaders, including (Communist Party founder) Joma Sison, Juliet the wife and several of the leading commanders of the communist party. We emasculated the organization until later on, after EDSA, Cory restored the problem because she released all the leaders of the Communist Party, including Father (Conrado) Balweg of the Cordilleras and then brought back (Nur) Misuari from exile to revive the MNLF problem. That is where I parted ways with Cory,” he said.
Sison remains in exile in the Netherlands and has since been critical of the Duterte administration’s peace policies with the communist rebels. Misuari meanwhile has voiced his opposition to the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
As for Enrile, the brickbats that followed his statements to “correct the distortions of history” were nothing new. It was expected. But the 94-year old “witness to history” according to the Marcoses, remained unfazed.
“Little by little, the truth will come out… I do not manufacture facts. I have not lied to the people. I have not manipulated events. I dealt with them as I face them,” he said. “And I’m willing to challenge anybody here in this country to debate about the events.”
Anthony Divinagracia is a senior producer of News 5 and One News. He also teaches at the Department of Political Science in the University of Santo Tomas.