The Year of Enrile: JPE’s 2012 Legacy
MANILA, Philippines – “I was there and I lived through and survived all these events.”
On his 88th year, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is not yet done making and living history. From the impeachment court to the court of public opinion, Enrile is front and center of the events that shaped 2012.
The Senate President waged the year’s biggest and most bitter legislative and political battles. Yet his most contentious feat is releasing his memoirs, what critics call an attempt to revise history.
He is no ordinary newsmaker. One of the most enduring and controversial figures in Philippine politics, Enrile is widely seen as preparing the legacy he will leave behind. The year alone offers many moments of JPE as the consummate politician, lawyer, friend and foe.
Here’s a look at the Year of Enrile. In his words, “This is the product of my own mind.”
1. Corona trial
“Hindi ko papayagan na bastusin itong husgadong ito ng maski sinuman.” (I will not allow this court to be disrespected by anyone.)
Enrile started 2012 with a bang: presiding over the first impeachment trial of a Philippine Chief Justice. Prosecutors and lawyers of Renato Corona were one in praising his sharpness and brilliance. The man who placed 11th in the bar exam displayed his legal acumen, citing laws from memory in English, Latin and Ilocano.
The presiding officer was liberal on some days and strict on others, scolding the prosecutors for their lack of preparation and experience. He bristled when Corona suddenly walked out after testifying, ordering a Senate lockdown.
In the end, Enrile was among 20 senators who convicted Corona for failing to disclose his assets. “If we were to agree with the respondent, can we ever expect any SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth) to be filed by public officials from hereon to be more accurate and true than they are today?”
2. Survey rise
“Ang popularity, parang ice cream iyan, minsan matigas, minsan malambot, natutunaw.” (Popularity is like ice cream, sometimes it’s hard, sometimes soft and melting.)
Enrile’s performance at the televised impeachment trial was credited for his popularity. A March Pulse Asia survey ranked him as the 3rd most trusted public official, even overtaking President Benigno Aquino III in approval ratings.
The defense minister of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos said life taught him not to take fame too seriously.
“There was a time I was down. I was called a demon, butcher and all sorts of words like bastard, martial law administrator. If you are serving the public, many people will notice you. If they can, they will spit on you. That’s how it is.”
3. UNA’s birth
“Baka sakali si David magtagumpay, anong malay mo?” (David might win, who knows?)
A year before the 2013 senatorial polls, Enrile framed the campaign as David versus Goliath. In April, he compared the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) to David going up against the ruling Liberal Party which has control over bureaucracy and money.
Enrile is UNA chairman emeritus, forming part of the group’s triumvirate along with Vice President Jejomar Binay and former President Joseph Estrada.
At the height of the dispute between Sen Koko Pimentel and resigned Sen Juan Miguel Zubiri, Enrile gave this advice. “When you go together in war, you have to work together to survive and politics is some kind of war in a peaceful way. It’s a struggle for power.”
4. His heir
“If I do not believe in my son, who else will believe in him?”
Enrile’s son and namesake, Cagayan Rep Juan Ponce “Jack” Enrile Jr, is running under UNA to join his father in the Senate. The younger Enrile places in the top 5 of surveys, with pollsters admitting that respondents may confuse him with his father.
“I have faith in the capability of my son, modesty aside. That is why he is my son. I trained him from the time he came into this world,” Enrile said.
Yet father and son are not always on the same side. In the Reproductive Health (RH) law vote, the elder Enrile was staunchly against it but Jack voted for the measure.
5. Trillanes war
“I read the notes of Ambassador Brady to unmask this phantom of the opera in Philippine politics.”
While Enrile is a supportive father, he showed Sen Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV what it’s like to mess with him.
In one of the most explosive exchanges of the year, Enrile took on Trillanes who accused him of railroading the division of Camarines Sur. Enrile turned the tables, focusing on Trillanes’ backdoor negotiations with China on Scarborough Shoal.
In September, Enrile read supposed notes of then Ambassador to China Sonia Brady and said that Trillanes sided with the Chinese. While Trillanes labeled him a lackey of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Senate President shot back that Trillanes is a “coward, hypocrite and fraud.”
“This guy is teaching me about national security? My God. I’ve been 17 years in charge of national security and foreign relations of this country. I dealt with presidents of other countries, not a man like him!”
Their fight is not over, with Enrile vowing to campaign against the re-electionist senator.
6. Life story
“This accusation is ridiculous and preposterous. What would I have faked my ambush for?”
Enrile earned another title this year: best-selling author. In September, he launched Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir, gathering guests of opposing political stripes including President Aquino. While he said he does not care about public opinion, his book responds to what he termed as lies that have been “going around for too long.”
The book caused a stir, especially his denial that he faked his own ambush in 1972 to help justify martial law. Journalists and political observers noted that it was a turnaround from his 1986 admission that the ambush was staged.
He wrote, “When it happened, the military operation to impose martial law was already going on ….. I honestly did not know why Marcos suddenly decided to cite my ambush in justifying the declaration of martial law.”
7. Techie goal
“Ano ba iyong blog dahil wala akong blog? ‘Di ko alam ang blog.” (What is a blog because I don’t have one? I don’t know what a blog is.)
Writing his memoirs forced Enrile to use computers but he said that’s as far as his knowledge of gadgets goes. Enrile confessed ignorance of technology after his right hand, Senate Majority Leader Vicente "TIto" Sotto III was accused of plagiarizing bloggers. He drew flak for initially defending Sotto but he backtracked.
The man who does not know the meaning of blogging, e-mail, Google, tweet and Facebook made a plan.
“At the ripe old age of 88, I now have to take a crash course on how these new and fantastic ways of communication and publication via the Internet work.”
8. RH & ‘sin’
“Ang pinakamalaking export natin is OFW. Kaya kontra ako sa RH dahil diyan.” (Our biggest export is OFWs. That’s why I’m against the RH bill.)
What would the RH debate have been like without Enrile’s proposed amendment on “safe and satisfying sex” and perennial question, “When does life begin?” To the end, Enrile firmly opposed the passage of the RH law, saying it is the most divisive measure he has seen in all his 4 decades in government.
It was not the only heated debate he charged into. His objection to the sin tax reform law was as vigorous, arguing that it will displace tobacco farmers from his home region of Northern Luzon and worsen smuggling.
He warned pro-sin tax re-electionists, “Makikita niyo kami kung paano kami gagalaw.” (You will see how we will move.)
9. Coup rumors
“I cannot please everybody even if I said, ‘Gusto ko happy ka’ (I want you to be happy).”
Rumors of a plot to unseat Enrile as Senate President have been circulating since September. Trillanes admitted he is planning the move. Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago said in December that Enrile’s politics and opposition to the RH and sin tax laws are possible reasons for the Palace to push for his ouster.
Enrile has said he is willing to give way to whoever has the numbers. Santiago revived the coup rumors after she described ties with him as “ice-cold” and Enrile sent back her Christmas gift.
Santiago’s wedding sponsor admitted that they have had a long-running animosity. “I’m not a hypocrite. When I don’t like a person, I don’t like a person,” Enrile said.
10. Libel suit
“Defendant Yoly not only besmirched the reputation of JPE. She also caused him mental anguish, serious anxiety, wounded feelings, moral shock and social humiliation.”
The man in the media spotlight for generations ends 2012 with a shocker: a P30 million libel case against ad veteran and columnist Yolanda “Yoly” Villanueva-Ong.
Calling Enrile a “wily, shifty chameleon,” Ong wrote in her column that he “recants his previous recantation” on his ambush. She also cited reports that father and son are linked to car smuggling in Cagayan.
“The fact that it [case] was sent on December 18, to be answered on January 2 at Branch 118, Pasay Regional Trial Court, truly gives a new spin to Christmas,” Ong said in a later column.
‘Too late to say sorry’
In 2013, Enrile is focused on campaigning and finishing his last term. He will be 92 by the time he steps down in 2016.
What will his legacy be? He is fond of saying that he leaves his ultimate judgment to God and history.
“I have had the good fortune of living through my time, adversity, difficulty, triumphs and despair, struggles and defeat. I have had those things and it’s too late to regret, too late to say I was happy, I was sorry, I was sad.”
“Just be happy that you are alive yet.” – Rappler.com