Ver: Enrile suffers from memory lapse

(UPDATED) Irwin Ver, former chief of the presidential guards and son of the late AFP chief Fabian Ver, talks about the Marcos regime and its key players

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED WITH CORRECTIONS) – Juan Ponce Enrile was the second most powerful man under the Marcos regime. So for him to accuse the military boss at the time, Fabian Ver, of hatching a plot to bring him down is proof of Enrile’s “lapse in memory.”

On Rappler’s #TalkThursday on February 27, Irwin Ver, the second to the eldest son of the late Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen Fabian Ver, finally broke his silence on the stories that Enrile and another Marcos crony, businessman Roberto Ongpin, have been weaving the past few months about their roles in the Marcos administration. (Editor’s note: We earlier said Irwin is the eldest Ver son; it’s the late Rexor. We regret the error.)

The 64-year-old Ver, who now lives in California, was in Manila for a short visit and told Rappler he got agitated by a story on Ongpin that the Inquirer published last Sunday, February 24, in time for the 27th anniversary of the Edsa revolution.

Before this, he read Enrile’s controversial memoir, published last year, in which the Senate President spoke about his conflict with the late Ver and how — according to Enrile — the former AFP boss sowed intrigue about his (Enrile’s) own son Jack. Ver, according to Enrile, peddled the story that it was Jack (now running for senator) who killed actor Alfie Anido in December 1981. The Anido family said he committed suicide. (Read: Can Jack Enrile bury the past?)

Short of calling Enrile and Ongpin liars, Irwin Ver pointed out inconsistencies in the two men’s versions of the past.

A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, Irwin was the commander of the presidential guards of the Presidential Security Command (now renamed Presidential Security Group) up to Feb 25, 1986 when Ferdinand Marcos, his family, advisers and cronies, including the Vers, were forced to leave the country. Irwin’s two other brothers – late Rexor and Wirlo – are also former soldiers. They have been living abroad since Edsa 1; their father died in Bangkok in 1998 and was buried in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte.

On Enrile’s claims that Fabian Ver and Imelda Marcos were plotting against him in the latter years of the Marcos regime, Irwin said that on the contrary, his father was so deferential to Enrile that he managed to convince him (Irwin) to get the then defense minister as his wedding ninong.

Next president

Irwin recalled: “‘Aksyon’ [This is how the late Ver referred to Enrile] will be the next president of the Philippines, I guarantee you that, he told me. In fact he showed me a letter from President Marcos then…[that] in the event of his death, it was going to be a committee [that will rule the country]…headed by Minister Virata, then number two was immediately the Defense Minister….Minister Enrile then was really the second most powerful man, next to the president, he was perceived as that. And we all actually revered him for his brilliance.”

Irwin also said Enrile earned his father’s (Fabian) respect because of the martial law years. “The way my father told me, he (Enrile) was actually the architect of martial law, chief designer… because Minister Enrile…was the only one who knew martial law was going to be staged. He was the one who knew then that you had to prepare the correct environment for people to accept martial law. And my father said that was really the key, you cannot just suddenly impose martial law overnight, you cannot just suddenly put the checkpoints and everything. You have to prepare the people. Those ambuscades, whatever things happened then…my father said these were all part of the preparations for martial law.”

Watch the full interview below:

Whether Enrile staged his own ambush or not is unclear to Irwin. What he knows, he said, was that after Enrile told the President he had been ambushed, Marcos declared martial law. (Enrile admitted during the Edsa revolt that he faked his ambush, but in his memoir he stressed his ambush was for real.)

To Fabian Ver, Enrile was the inevitable next president. He wanted to be on his good side.

Could this have changed as protests against Marcos mounted?

Irwin Ver said of this father: “To fight against somebody more powerful than him? It’s not in his nature.”

Ver, after all, rose from the ranks as a soldier in the military — used to receiving and obeying orders. And he was loyal only to one man: his commander-in-chief, former President Ferdinand Marcos.

But in his memoir, Enrile accused the late Ver of spreading the rumor about Jack Enrile’s supposed involvement in the death of Alfie Anido, who was then the boyfriend of his sister Katrina. Enrile said Ver did this because he (Ver) was threatened by him. (Read: Enrile’s tale: Hypocrisy and contradictions)

Irwin Ver said, “It was all over the newspapers as soon as Alfie Anido died. [The rumor about Jack Enrile’s involvement] was not… kept. It was already in the newspapers — that there were rumors.” (Read: Enrile files damage suit vs columnist)

Irwin said he didn’t see Enrile again, although “he is still my ninong.” He added, “I’d like to think it’s more…[a case of] mistaken memory or lapse in memory. My recollection is certainly different from what he had written.”

On Sunday, February 24, in an Inquirer story, Ongpin recalled that Ver was out to kill him. “It’s not true,” Irwin said. Ongpin was Marcos’ finance minister.

Irwin recalled, “At the time when we had a financial crisis and apparently because of the dollar exchange problem… there were some Chinese traders who were controlling, instead of the Central Bank setting the dollar-to-peso rate, it was these Chinese. And Minister Ongpin proposed that we should control that, the Philippine government should control that. And he headed an operation to talk to these Chinese traders. I think 6 or 8 of them, I forgot the number. My father’s role there was this: Bobby Ongpin requested for security to make sure that, since there were transactions and these involved Chinese traders. And so, NISA [National Intelligence and Security Authority], I believe, put up a Task Force Luntian…It’s funny that in Bobby Ongpin’s revelation, he said that my father was out to kill him. But a year ago I believe he made this declaration in court exonerating the role of the NISA-Task Force Luntian — that they really just supported the trading…In fact, in that article, he said, my father did not know anything about trading, which is probably true, and now he says he was out to kill him.”

Irwin continued, “But then he (Ongpin) contradicts. What I feel was a contradiction is that at one point he felt not safe so he drove from his house on his own and went to Malacañang and talked to the President. Malacañang is protected with concentric layers of perimeter security. You have the mobile security, transcon, and all that. Before, he could have crossed Jones bridge, his car would’ve been sighted, and if my father were out to kill him, he could’ve been stopped there. He was on his own. Then the second layer would be the Philippine Marine checkpoints. They always report who is in there. My father would have known, they could’ve stopped them. You had to contend with the guards…all those were under my father. He (Ongpin) could’ve been stopped. He was not.”

Kidneys and Ninoy

On Marcos, Irwin said the former dictator had a succession plan.

Unknown to many during that period, Marcos had been sick when then senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr arrived in Manila on Aug 21, 1983, Irwin said. The president had a clandestine kidney transplant at the National Kidney Institute, according to Irwin. (The NKI was then still under construction, Irwin revealed to us off-cam. He said he had first-hand knowledge of this since he guarded Marcos for at least two weeks at the time.)

“Maybe we can say that the return of Ninoy Aquino was prompted by that transplant…That perhaps he (Aquino) had knowledge of when the transplant occurred and that he probably wanted to be here just in case President Marcos did not survive. And of course there will be this struggle for a successor of Marcos…There were American doctors. It could easily be monitored.”

The succession plan included the creation of a committee to rule the country in case Marcos got incapacitated. The committee members were identified in a list that was put in a sealed envelope, which Irwin Ver said, his father showed to him when he was trying to convince him to get Enrile as his ninong.

“He showed to me that it was (Prime) Minister (Cesar) Virata who would be the head of a 7-man committee. Number one would be Minister Virata, number two would be Minister Enrile and then there were other ministers below.” Fabian Ver as chief of staff was also on the list, Irwin said.

Aquino was shot dead at an airport tarmac on Aug 21, 1983, triggering massive protests that culminated in the 4-day Edsa people power revolution in February 1986.

Fabian Ver was accused of masterminding the Aquino assassination. But Irwin insisted his father was innocent. A fact-finding commission also eventually cleared Fabian Ver of involvement in the plot.

“Let me say I believed he was not involved at all,” Irwin said. He’s convinced of this because of what he said were the events that transpired on the fateful day.

“I was in the barracks nursing a feverish baby. And my father barged in, he was in slippers. Get your troops on red alert, something happened at the airport. I learned later on it was the assassination. If he were the mastermind, I think he would be in an operations room, with all the communication [gadgets], monitoring every detail, maybe the flight arrival, [checking if the] troops were in place. But he was there in slippers, in our quarters. I learned later on from my sister that he and my mother were supposed to go to L.A. because he was invited by one of his former classmates from the, I guess, Kentucky Police College. And so then I realized it was also a surprise to him. The second thing I remember is, when a couple of hours later General Custodio, Luther Custodio, who was the commanding general of the Aviation Security Command, the one in charge of the security of the airport, who was a former officer of the Presidential Security Command [was asked to report to my father]. In the office, I was there behind the door, I could hear that my father was asking, ‘What happened, what happened?’ And the words that struck me, why I knew my father did not know anything, [were]… if I may in Tagalog, “Naloko na, ginawa nyong martir si Ninoy. Nalintikan na tayong lahat.” And to me that was a significant statement — that my father knows the effect of assassinating Ninoy Aquino.”

So who killed Aquino? His father never told him, Irwin said.

“We like to think there’s a big honcho out there that orchestrated all of this. I’d like to think that they were only really from below and that they did it on their own because they wanted to get rid of (Aquino). Those were loyal officers, they were acting… maybe colonels only, and there was no one big honcho who wanted to…eliminate Ninoy. And it’s hard to accept that. What I’m trying to say is, it could happen that an assassination can take place [through] just one person, maybe two or three persons…”

Irwin added: “There could be 4 or 5 people. But it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s someone higher than these people. Looks like there’s a colonel who’s involved there. Maybe one general and maybe two more soldiers. 

Did Irwin think his father — called then as the butcher by anti-Marcos activists — made mistakes?

Irwin said: “If you think about not being able to contain the coup of 1986, yes, there were military mistakes. He (Fabian Ver) could’ve been more forceful in neutralizing [the rebels] because I reported to him when I discovered it as early as December (1985) and we did not [do anything]. I can only think in military terms.” –