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JPE Set to Tell All

 

By Rodney JalecoBy Rodney Jaleco

Juan Ponce Enrile is ready to tell his story. A former ABS-CBN colleague, Ces Orena-Drilon, got the scoop on a forthcoming bio of one of the pillars of Philippine politics, a man once dreaded then adulated then distrusted and now celebrated. “After 5 decades, he is now ready to tell his story,” Ces declared.

The man many like to call JPE (“Manong Johnny” to Ilocano peers and fans) was one of the architects of Martial Law and the ultimate Malacanang insider for much of the 14-year Marcos dictatorship.

He’s always practiced a disciplined silence of what transpired in the cold, dark shadows of power and now that he’s promised a glimpse, I’m very excited.

One teaser  the declaration of Martial Law which Marcos announced on the morning of Sept. 22, 1972 (actually dated Sept. 21) was actually ready in June 1971. Enrile, then Marcos’ Defense Secretary, couldn’t be wrong with the date. He said he typed the proclamation himself  complete with Marcos’ edits and corrections  because he didn’t trust anyone.

 

The gathering storm of dictatorship was stirred by two men who were widely regarded as among the most brilliant of their generation.

Born on Valentines Day, he was able to overcome squalid beginnings through a combination of native genius, hard work and luck. He was an illegitimate son of a fisherman’s daughter in Gonzaga, Cagayan. Nearly in his teens, he set off to find his father  a powerful politician and renowned lawyer Alfonso Ponce Enrile who quickly took the boy under his wings.

He graduated cum laude at Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines College of Law.

Marcos, then a Senator with a keen eye for talent, spotted the young lawyer and charged Enrile with his personal legal affairs in 1964, about a year before Marcos won his first term as President.

He was named Secretary of Justice in 1968 and in 1970 Marcos appointed him to head the Department of National Defense (leaving briefly in 1971 for an unsuccessful Senate run).

One of Marcos’ justifications for declaring Martial Law was a fabricated communist attempt to bomb Enrile’s car on Sept. 21, 1972. He now claims that he went along with Marcos’ plot on the understanding that he would lift Martial Law after a year. True or not, it took Enrile over a decade to finally sever ties with Marcos, leading a putsch after he claimed Marcos tried to kill him.

The people rallied around Enrile and then military chief Fidel V. Ramos, protecting them from Marcos tanks and finally scuttling his dictatorship. But after helping to win back the country’s freedom, he was forced to retreat and abort what many believed was his ultimate ambition to be President  after losing a high-stakes political game with President Corazon Aquino.

Most expected him to ride into the political sunset. But he was still capable of springing surprises such as when he divorced his wife Cristina Castaner who was then appointed Philippine ambassador to the Vatican in 2008.

Forced to resign as Defense Secretary in 1986, he ran for various congressional posts. He won the Senate Presidency in 2008 and most likely unknown to him at the time that thrust him to another appointment with destiny.

His conduct during the televised impeachment trial of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona not only reminded people of his mastery of law, he also offered an image of a man unbent by the storms of life, a sharpness belying his 88 years and succumbing to the temptation of conjuring a Philippines led by someone like JPE.

With an aura built in large part by the phantoms of martial dealings, Enrile’s motives have always been surrounded by doubt and uncertainty. “Whether the people believe it or not, I have always thought of the country first,” he told Ces.

JPE is an enviable position. Most see him as too old to become president (he’ll be 92 when the next elections roll along) but still healthy, intellectual and admired  he seems ready for his ultimate role, a statesman with the opportunity to tell the real story that defined a generation.

I can’t wait to hear it.

 

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