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MANILA, Philippines - Last week’s big event at the Manila Peninsula saw not a few of the 70s-80s generation disconcerted or pained by what they saw.
An amazing mix of the political and business elite gathered in one room, throwing to the wind past and deep-seated animosities, to honor and celebrate a controversial man: Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile.
Enrile, the architect and implementer of martial law, had just published his memoir titled, “Juan Ponce Enrile.” A few days before, on September 23, his documentary entitled, “Johnny,” aired on ABS-CBN.
Decades ago, this would have been far from possible. After all, the Lopezes were among those badly wounded by the violence and injustices of martial law. How could one of them assist in the reinvention, if not refurbishment of a man who, prior to the impeachment trial in the Senate, was regarded with deep suspicion and wariness by all familiar with Philippine history?
No less than the patriarch of the influential Lopez family, Oscar Lopez, acknowledged it when he said during the book launch, “I know what most of you are wondering about as you listen to me now. What is the patriarch of the Lopez family doing here appearing chummy with the implementer of martial law? Why did ABS-CBN publish his autobiography when the network was the earliest casualty of the martial law regime?”
He admitted that in his memoir, Enrile’s account “offers a perspective that is significantly and obviously different from mine.”
September 1972 ambush
In a previously published book about the Lopez family, Oscar Lopez had his own account of what happened on the eve of the proclamation of martial law in 1972. It had to do with the ambush of Enrile, which Marcos himself used as a justification for the proclamation of martial law.
In “Phoenix: The Saga of the Lopez Family,” written by Raul Rodrigo and published by the Eugenio Lopez Foundation Inc in 2000, Oscar, brother of Eugenio, recalls quite vividly what happened in Wack-Wack subdivision.
“You could say that the declaration of Martial Law began right in my backyard, so to speak. That night, I was with my children in the family hall of our house. Then all of a sudden, we could hear a lot of shooting outside. We didn’t know what was happening. After the shooting died down, I went out. I took a peek at what was happening outside my fence and I saw this car riddled with bullets. Nobody was hurt; there was no blood. The car was empty.”
The car was a Ford sedan that belonged to then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile.
“Our driver happened to be bringing our car into our driveway at around that time, so he saw the whole thing. He told me that there was this car that came by and stopped beside a Meralco post. Some people got out of the car, and then there was another car that came beside it and started riddling it with bullets to make it look like it was ambushed. But nobody got killed or anything like that. My driver saw this. He was describing it to me.”
He continues his narration, saying that he then called up his newspaper, the Chronicle, which was owned by the Lopezes then.
“I told the people that there had been some shooting here in Wack Wack. They sent somebody over, but he was told that Enrile was supposedly ambushed. But I knew even then that the attack had been staged. Enrile admitted that it was all staged afterwards. But [Ferdinand] Marcos used this incident as a pretext to declare Martial Law.”
In another account by David Wurfel in “Filipino Politics: Development and Decay” published in 1988, he says that in the evening of Sept 20, 1972, Marcos signed Proclamation 1081 but “felt he needed one more incident to justify implementation. On the night of September 22, Defense Secretary Enrile’s car was allegedly ambushed, though Enrile later admitted it was all staged.”
Yet in his memoir and in the documentary that aired on ABS-CBN, Enrile refutes this. On the way home in the evening of September 22, Enrile says he decided to ride in the security escort car behind his official car. In those days, he recalls, he had a convoy of 3 cars, with another escort in front of his car.
“My convoy drove out of Camp Aguinaldo through Gate 2 in front of Camp Crame. It turned left on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue and then right to Greenhills subdivision. When it reached Ortigas Avenue, it swerved to the left, then right, to Wack-Wack subdivision,” he writes.
“While my convoy was driving through Wack-Wack subdivision, a speeding car rushed and passed the escort car where I was riding. Suddenly it opened several bursts of gunfire toward my car and sped away.”
He continues, “The attack was so sudden that it caught everyone by surprise. No one in the convoy was able to fire back. My official car was ditched on the right side of the road. Its left rear door was riddled with bullet holes, and its left back tire was punctured and disabled. Luckily, my driver and my military aide, Tirso Gador, who was seated beside the driver, were not hurt.”
“My convoy left my wrecked car on the road and returned to Camp Aguinaldo. From my office, I called President Marcos and reported what happened to him.”
Enrile also says his political enemies claimed he faked his own ambush to justify the imposition of martial law. “This accusation is ridiculous and preposterous. What would I have faked my ambush for?” By that time martial law was already an “irreversible fact” since documents had been signed and the military operation to implement it had started.
“I honestly did not know why Marcos suddenly decided to cite my ambush in justifying the declaration of martial law when he made his public statement on September 23. There was absolutely no need for it.”
Yet a story that appeared on the Inquirer’s front page on Feb 23, 1986 says that Enrile’s ambush was “fake.” The Inquirer was not a crony paper and was supportive of Enrile and the People Power uprising that sought the ouster of Marcos. It had no reason to fabricate a report on events of the previous day.
Journalists who covered the press conference at what was then called the Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Feb 22, 1986 remember Enrile saying the same thing.
Gemma Nemenzo, now based in the US, wrote on the Facebook wall of journalist Marites Vitug, “He (Enrile) said it during that fateful press con at the MND when he and FVR (Fidel V Ramos) declared their withdrawal of support for FM (Ferdinand Marcos) on 22 Feb 1986. Remember, we were holed up in that social hall of MND all night as we waited for a response from FM’s forces? Outside the gates, people started massing. I wrote down that statement of his (that it was fake) then.”
Given the stark discrepancies in the accounts of what really happened, why and how could the Lopezes bankroll Enrile’s reinvention?
In the past, the family had shown great skill in using politics to protect its business interests. Termed as “rent-seeking politics” to describe relations between the elite and the state, the latter (state) provides an entrepreneur artificial advantage through the favors its grants such as restricted market access.
In exchange, in return, or in the hope of being granted that advantage, an entrepreneur who has the resources, courts state favor by offering something useful. In the recent past, the Lopezes showed all-out support for the candidacy of then presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III after his mother Cory restored ownership over their businesses to the family after the 1986 uprising.
The senior Eugenio Lopez, father of Oscar, said way back in 1974, “To succeed in business, one must engage in politics.” He understood the importance of securing political protection, investing in elections, and collecting political favors afterwards.
His grandson Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III now at the helm of ABS-CBN took the lessons – passed from one Lopez generation to the next – to heart. Before him, Gabby’s father Eugenio Jr or “Geny” also showed tacit support for then presidential candidate Fidel Ramos in 1992.
Approaching the end of his political career at age 88, the sharp-minded Enrile who, according to the documentary, rose from being a bastard son to becoming a lawyer who placed 11th in the Bar, is looking to his son Jack to continue his legacy.
Jack – also named Juan Ponce Enrile Jr – who is seeking a senatorial post under the Nationalist People’s Coalition, will reap the benefits of a refurbished name. Even rumors about his supposed role in the killing of movie actor Alfie Anido in 1981 are refuted by Enrile, who points to Gen Fabian Ver as being behind the attempt to besmirch their reputation.
Katrina, sister of Jack and girlfriend of Anido back then, points out in the documentary that her father found it unusual there were two sets of investigators who came – one from the National Bureau of Investigation and then another one from Malacañang. He saw it as part of an attempt to obtain evidence against Jack.
In “Johnny,” Jack narrates what happened on Jan 3, 1982. He says he went with Gregorio Honasan, then the chief security aide of his father, when he went to respond to Katrina’s calls for help. “Sama ako, sama ako (I want to come along),” Jack reportedly told Honasan.
He says in Filipino that when they entered the Bel-Air house of the Anidos, he heard faint screams which became louder as they neared. Then he heard Katrina wailing and crying until he saw the still body of Anido, his face already swollen. He had shot himself in the head.
And just because he was present in the crime scene, people started to say it was he who killed Anido, says Jack. But he asserts that the Anido family “knew I had nothing to do with it.”
The documentary however does not say whether NBI records affirm the claims. Nor does it show what Bel-Air neighbors of the Anidos or even members of the Anido family had to say. No one has however come forward to challenge this version of the story.
During the launch of his memoir, former First Lady Imelda Marcos sat behind Enrile’s wife Cristina.
In “Johnny,” Enrile makes no secret of his disdain for her. In his recollection, he says, “Nagkasagutan na kami (We had exchanges)” over requests and favors she sought. Relations deteriorated as “economic kingdoms” were carved out.
She began to assert herself as the thought of being the successor of Marcos whose health was deteriorating began to be entertained. Imelda saw an ally in Gen. Fabian Ver who became Armed Forces chief of staff and a Marcos confidante. Increasingly Enrile was sidelined and disgruntled.
Besides Imelda, no less than President Aquino came to grace Enrile’s book launch. Perhaps out of gratitude for the turnout of events in the Senate impeachment court that convicted former Chief Justice Renato Corona, Aquino attended the event but managed to say that he and the Senate President will “certainly disagree” on many things.
But the son of democracy icon Cory Aquino and murdered opposition leader Ninoy added, “I assume there will be points that we can agree on.”
The Church was duly represented in the grand launch by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma and retired Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal. Even former presidents Joseph Estrada and Fidel Ramos were there to provide the final touches of glory.
It was a gathering of the country's elite who had chosen to conveniently forget -- just for one night -- what others who have less at stake, cannot.
Enrile’s book launch was covered live by the ABS-CBN News Channel and its website, while the documentary aired till the very late hours of the night before. Had it aired earlier, it would have reached and touched more viewers.
“Johnny” is cinematic in most parts, quite long because it covers a man’s colorful life of over 8 decades. It is moving and can inspire awe among those who do not know enough about Philippine history.
While the stories and revelations are engaging and compelling, there are not enough voices that challenge Enrile’s own account of history. At the very least, “Johnny” is an account of how a man can rise from being nobody to someone who matters big-time.
“Sa aking buhay, ang tanging kinatatakutan ko ay ang paghuhusga ng Diyos at ng kasaysayan (In my life, I fear only the ultimate judgment by God and of history),” Enrile says at the end of the documentary.
In his book, he however adds, “People have different impressions about me, about you and about others, so let it be.”
Question is, will the truth-tellers just let it be? – With research assistance by Clarissa Carunungan/Rappler.com
Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.