Rogue Magazine: An Unfinished Portrait

Rogue Magazine, December 2012 issue

An Unfinished Portrait

by Manuel L. Quezon III

In late September, Juan Ponce Enrile launched a personal biography—and a political bombshell that had his detractors accusing him of attempting to rewrite history. Manuel Quezon III reads between the lines for the real motives behind this seemingly disingenuous memoir

POUND for pound, and page for page, the only rival to current Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s autobiography was penned, it so happens, by a former Senate President associated with the Marcos administration: Arturo M. Tolentino’s Voice of Dissent,  penned when the author was also an octogenarian. At 885 pages, it’s a little bit longer than Enrile’s 740 page opus; and while extensive in scope, both were written, not in retirement, but with their authors still active in public life. Tolentino’s 1990 book, published when he was 80, came out when Tolentino still had a successful election bid for the senate before him (he was elected in 1992, although he would lose his final reelection bid in 1995). Enrile is still holding his position and shows every sign of serving out his term, which ends in 2016: when he will be 92—the age, incidentally, when Tolentino passed away.

The difference between the two autobiographies is instructive. Tolentino’s story begins with his participation in student politics in the University of the Philippines: it is the chronicle of a public career, and only incidentally mentions details of his private life. Close to a hundred pages of Enrile’s memoir chronicle, in detail, his early life in Cagayan, his reunification with his father, and his remarkable self-discipline (and some lucky breaks) throughout. It is an undeniably interesting—and illuminating—story, and the best part of the book.

Both books, though their authors don’t say it, are not only their justifications before history; they belong to the genre of campaign biographies. Tolentino wrote his book at a time when, events subsequently proved, he still nursed ambitions of returning to the Senate. While the probability is slim that Enrile will seek another term in 2016, the timing of his book coincided with the formal filing of the candidacy of his son for the senate. Enrile dispenses with two accusations leveled against his son: the first, a direct accusation of murder, led to the exoneration of his son without any intervention on his part besides providing the best legal assistance to his son, he says; the second, by chronicling the last hours of the life of Alfie Anido, from his getting drunk at his birthday party, to his fight with his girlfriend, Enrile’s daughter, a lover’s quarrel, and Anido’s then going home and committing suicide—leaving a suicide note that Anido’s father gave to Enrile’s daughter, who in turn handed it to the National Bureau of Investigation.

In contrast Tolentino resorts to extravagant quotes from press reports along the lines of one which quipped, “Tolentino has the principles, but he does not have the principal,” to explain every setback. The real fundamental difference between the two books, lies in the personal circumstances of their authors, in terms of their public standing when they published their books. By the most relevant measure of political standing—the surveys—Enrile came out with his book with his political stock higher than it has ever been in his career; while Tolentino’s was published when his carefully-nurtured reputation for independence and integrity had been tarnished by having been Marcos’s running mate in the 1986 Snap Elections, and the farce that was his attempt to proclaim himself Acting President in defiance of the Aquino government. Tolentino’s book was meant to help revive his prospects; Enrile’s book caps his career—and leaves it as legacy for his son.

The two autobiographies intersect at certain points and it is interesting to examine where they agree and where they differ.

One such intersection was that farcical proclamation as “Acting President” which turned Tolentino into a subject of ridicule and the rocky road that would culminate in Enrile’s being asked to leave the Aquino Cabinet in November, 1986.

Tolentino writes that when the Batasan Pambansa adjourned in February 1986, it passed a motion to reconvene on April 14, 1986. On March 25, 1986, President Aquino issued Proclamation No. 3, promulgating a provisional, “Freedom Constitution,” which abolished the Batasan Pambansa. On April 13, Tolentino writes, a “big crowd of loyalists —estimated from 20,000 to 1,000,000, depending on who made the estimate, ‘proclaimed’ me as the legitimate Vice-President.” They egged him on to take his oath, though Tolentino noted that he had actually taken his oath of office, in secret, on February 16, 1986.

On April 14, supposedly in fulfillment of the defunct Batasan’s resolution to reconvene on that date, a rump session of 96 assemblymen (2 more than the 92 the old Batasan rules required for a quorum) convened, and were addressed by Tolentino, who laid down the legal arguments of the Marcos loyalists for refusing to recognize the legality of the Aquino government. More rallies followed, although Tolentino claims people refused to rent out venues to the loyalists, which prevented the Batasan’s rump from finding a place to meet again.

Meanwhile, rumors of Marcos’s return in May, 1986 swept Manila, and Tolentino writes that on April 29, 1986, he met then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile “to sound him out on this information.” According to Tolentino, Enrile replied, “He cannot come home… I will have him arrested the moment he sets foot on Philippine soil. But I cannot guarantee his safety, and somebody might kill him before he reaches jail.”

Tolentino says that during their conversation, Enrile disclosed “a scenario that was to be enacted if the Marcos government had not fallen.” Tolentino quotes Enrile as telling him, “If Marcos had prevailed and continued in office, you would not have become President anyway. You could have been assassinated.” The scenario would have been: Imelda would have been appointed Prime Minister, then Tolentino would have been “eliminated,” leaving Imelda as next in line in the absence of a vice-president.

Tolentino says the scenario seemed plausible, but was in the past; more relevant to himself, Tolentino recounts, is that Marcos knew it would be unsafe to come home. Then, in the last of week of April, a letter dated April 21 reached Tolentino: hand-written by Marcos, it said he was designating Tolentino Acting President. This was followed, a couple of days later, by a phone call from Mr. Marcos urging his veep to establish “a separate government.” Tolentino announced, on May 24, in a rally he intended to take his oath. But Tolentino says he didn’t believe Marcos had the power, under the 1973 Constitution, to designate him Acting President: the proper procedure would be to inform the Speaker of the Batasan that the President would be unable to discharge his responsibilities.

And so, things creaked along, until Batasan Speaker Nicanor Yñiguez received a letter dated June 2, from Mr. Marcos, informing him that Tolentino could “now act as Acting President.”In the meantime, loyalist rallies continued, but Tolentino noticed they were getting smaller and smaller. He writes that he decided he had to take his oath soon—and before the rallies got too small. On July 1, 1986 he revealed he had already taken the vice-presidential oath in February, and privately told Speaker Yñiguez and Rafael Recto he would take his oath as Acting President on July 6.

A couple of days before the 6th, Tolentino writes that in the Yñiguez residence, he met military officers who “assured Yñiguez, Recto and me that their ‘mission’ had the blessings of Minister Juan Ponce Enrile.” Thus unfolded the ill-fated occupation of the Manila Hotel, where Tolentino writes that due to the clamor of the excited loyalists, “It was decided that I take the oath right then and there. I was told by Yñiguez and Recto that Minister Enrile was on his way to the hotel. I wanted to wait for him. But the people kept shouting that I go ahead with the oath-taking, and Yñiguez and Recto excitedly insisted that I go ahead, as Enrile would surely come.”

Justice Serafin Cuevas was fetched by Tolentino’s daughter to administer the oath, although “There was no prepared form to be read, and we extemporized.” Tolentino made a speech, and appointed his “Cabinet,” including Enrile as Defense Minister. By dinner-time, the whole thing had deflated, and after dinner, Tolentino went home.

In his memoirs, Enrile does not mention any contact with Tolentino concerning either a possible Marcos return or the “Manila Hotel incident.” What he says is that things were not all hunky-dory with Cory at that time; and that the “attempted coup fizzled out after the Manila Hotel presented to the coup plotters a huge restaurant bill. Some suspected me of being involved in the attempted coup, after I meted out 30 push-ups as punishment for the officers and soldiers who were involved.” Enrile then writes that in November of that year, the papers began to speculate about “a so-called ‘God Save the Queen’ plot,” which he personally denied any knowledge of, to President Corazon Aquino, when he was called to the Palace because the President wanted his resignation. He resigned, after warning her: “Your real problem … are the young military officers. You better deal with them rightly.”

Enrile was conferred the Philippine Legion of Honor. He ran for the Senate in the same opposition slate as Tolentino, but only Enrile and Joseph Estrada survived the Cory landslide. Tolentino dispenses with the 1989 coup attempt –the most serious faced by the Aquino government—with a denial of any participation, spending more time discussing his failed effort to keep the Nacionalista Party united in the face of rival factions led by the Laurels and Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. In 1992, he ran for the House; in 1995 he returned to the Senate; he stood by Estrada in the impeachment of 2001, voting to suppress the famous Second Envelope—and lost his bid for reelection that May.

In between, Edsa Tres took place, including rumors of a coup—and again, Enrile states, for the record, “I had no idea about such plot, if any,” except for what he describes as a “strange meeting” involving Honasan, Lacson, a call to the late “Ka Erdie” Manalo of the Iglesia ni Cristo, another call to then-Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, and Enrile writing that at the end of all this, “I merely understood that the Iglesia will send their members to Makati the next morning.” Two days later, Enrile says former President Estrada asked him to appeal to the crowd not to march on the Palace, but the people did so, anyway. Enrile was arrested; Miriam Defensor Santiago, “showing she had a gun beside her,” dared the government to arrest her; Lacson and Honasan went into hiding, and Enrile lost his reelection bid later that month.

Yet we know what happened next. Enrile made a comeback, and unlike quite a few politicians, showed a constant capacity to learn. To compare and contrast the Enrile of the 2001 and 2012 impeachment trials is a task beyond the scope of this review –but a book that deserves to be written.

In an autobiography what the author decides to leave out is as illuminating as what the author decides to include—at times, even more so. A telling omission is Enrile’s claim that he felt obligated to explain what Martial Law was, due to a paucity of information on the subject for Filipinos. This ignores Enrile’s own age, or his and his contemporaries’ experiences. Jose P. Laurel proclaimed Martial Law on September 22, 1943, effective the next day; Claro M. Recto wrote a learned apologia for those who served in the Laurel government, which extensively discussed Martial Law. Neither the older Marcos or the younger Enrile could have been expected to be ignorant of these facts.

Enrile’s chronology faces the challenge of comparison between other accounts. There are the diary entries of Ferdinand E. Marcos—written with an eye to posterity. There is the exposé by Marcos’s former political operator, Primito Mijares, published soon after the fact. There are several significant books, and even, here and there, sprinkled in other other works, the telling detail—such as Oscar Lopez, Enrile’s classmate and head of the clan that ended up publishing Enrile’s autobiography, recounting to Raul Rodrigo that according to his family’s driver, the Wack-Wack ambush of Enrile was staged.

What filled up column inches in the wake of the publication of Enrile’s memoir, is his assertion that the ambush wasn’t staged, a quarter century after he said the opposite. Yet in the end, Enrile has come full circle—returning to the justifications for Martial Law, and essentially adhering to the chronology, both official (the official documents) and unofficial (in particular, Marcos’s unpublished diaries). Of course no one can claim to know Enrile—or his motivations, or his personal narration of events—better than Enrile, whose memoir serves to formally disclaim his earlier 1986 testimony about 1972.

A fruitful exercise for historians will be scrutinizing Enrile’s recollection of the events leading up to, and during, Martial Law, with other published accounts. For example, he says that before New Year, 1972, he handed 16 documents, including the draft for Martial Law, to President Marcos. We can infer from Marcos’s January, 1971 diary entries —a full year before Enrile says he handed over the paperwork—that Marcos was well on his way to formulating the ideological basis, and the political arguments, for Martial Law. So far, so good, there is no inherent contradiction between what Enrile recalls and Marcos set down: with the added fact that on January 4, 1972 Enrile became Secretary of National Defense.

As for Martial Law itself; Enrile in his memoir gives the following chronology, for September 22. Shortly before 6 P.M., he gets an envelope from Marcos, with the Martial Law proclamation and other orders (three days before, Marcos had told Enrile he was in charge of implementing Martial Law). On or before 7 P.M., Enrile is in Camp Aguinaldo, to present the documents to a gathered group of generals, and to convey Marcos’s instructions and the information Martial Law would be imposed at 9 P.M. After that, on his way home, Enrile gets ambushed. What Enrile does not detail is what happened next, except for his implementing the orders later that night, including stopping a showdown with the Iglesia ni Cristo’s armed guards.

And there lies the disappointment and the tantalizing prospects future, perhaps fuller, editions of the memoir will hopefully contain. Because it is precisely at this point –when Enrile is ambushed—that published accounts begin to diverge and even contradict each other. And Enrile does not weigh in on this and many other thorny points of chronology —and responsibility—concerning Martial Law.

This book, then, is a first draft. It is a teaser. Its main purpose—at least for now—has been served. We can only hope he will finish his self-portrait and fill in what he has printed thus far, which, despite the girth of the tome, are only broad strokes.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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