Juan Ponce Enrile has not been in the public eye lately. To those wondering, the former senator who is turning 94 next month appears to be quite healthy and strong for his age, and still very sharp.
When Enrile was willing to be interviewed after his hearing at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on Friday, January 12, reporters took the chance to pick his brain on the most pressing issues of the country. After all, he remains to be one of the country’s brightest legal minds despite his involvement in scandals, topped by the pork barrel scam. (READ: Enrile’s tale: Hypocrisy and contradictions)
Enrile favored President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao, even its re-extension for another year. Of course, one has to remember that Enrile, who was defense minister of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, was the architect and implementer of the nearly 10-year martial rule marked as one of the darkest era in Philippine history.
“The President was correct (in proclaiming martial law),” Enrile said. “Marawi was just a battle. The fact that the government has succeeded in controlling the situation in that battle has not solved the problem. The problem is still there. Don’t kid yourselves, if you do not have a system to control the situation it will explode again.”
As the Duterte administration worked on the shift to federalism, Enrile refused to discuss the merits of postponing the elections, or extending Duterte’s term.
“I’m not prepared to say good or not good. You cannot violate the Constitution, you have to apply it for as long as it is not amended,” Enrile said, adding that when the Charter is amended, “anything is possible provided it’s approved by the people.”
Enrile called the drafters of the 1987 Constitution “careless” as the Charter is silent on how Congress should vote if it is convened into a Constitutional Assembly (Con-Ass) to amend the Constitution.
Like other senators, Enrile believed the House of Representatives and the Senate must vote separately.
“They are two houses, they have two rules, they have two quorums, they have two presiding officers, they have to maintain their distinctness. Otherwise, you do not need the Senate to be in the Batasang Pambansa to be in the proceedings because it’s a question of numbers,” the former Senate president said.
Enrile and Mendoza
Enrile attended on Friday what was supposed to be the start of the pre-trial of his plunder charges at the Sandiganbayan but it was reset due to the unfinished marking of evidence. The Sandiganbayan’s Third Division again scheduled the whole months of March and April to get this done.
Of the 3 senators charged of plunder in the pork barrel scam, Enrile’s case was the only one at the pre-trial level, as he scored a significant Supreme Court victory that required the Sandiganbayan to provide him with specifics. The credit goes to his lawyer, veteran litigator and Marcos-time solicitor general Estelito Mendoza, who also got him out on bail despite his plunder case.
Responding to questions, Enrile said he didn’t see the need to be hands-on with his case. “I do not want to be a lawyer of my case. I leave it to my lawyers, I have full confidence in the ability of my lawyers.”
His case, of course, includes his former chief of staff, lawyer Gigi Reyes, who whistleblower Ruby Tuason pointed to as the one she transacted with in the pork barrel scam.
Reyes, who has been detained for almost 4 years, was Enrile’s girlfriend, his wife Cristina herself confirmed in a television interview in 2014. Enrile’s ex-wife said the long-time relationship with Reyes prompted her to seek a divorce.
We asked Enrile about Reyes, whose bail petition is set to be resolved by the Sandiganbayan’s Third Division.
“I will not react to the case where I am involved. It’s improper for me to make a statement one way or the other,” Enrile said.
A reporter pressed him, “But do you personally wish she be freed soon?”
Enrile gave a general answer. “Given the fact that they’ve been detained for some time now, i think there’s no way for them to escape or avoid the charge, they should be given at least temporary liberty, by way of bail.”
Enrile was referring to Reyes, former senator Bong Revilla, and other former Senate staff detained over the pork barrel scam.
On alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, who was also detained, Enrile said, “I do not know the extent of the responsibility of Napoles.”
‘I have no secret’
Finally, a reporter asked perhaps the number one question on everybody’s mind: How is his health?
“I’m still standing anyway. There is one sickness that all of us must go through, and that is aging. And whatever you may say, life is uncertain. You are alive today, tomorrow you can be dead,” Enrile said.
His secret to staying strong? Apparently nothing. “I have no secret. I eat anything. I’m very moderate in my habits,” he said.
Enrile said that he still reads a lot of books through the aid of a magnifying glass.
“My only problem is my hearing and my eyesight. I can see all of you but I have to use a magnifying glass to read. But I’m still reading books, studying the country, studying the world, studying the planet,” Enrile said. – Rappler.com