Juan Ponce Enrile: From hero to zero?

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Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile

[Editor's Note: On February 22, 1986, Minister Juan Ponce Enrile broke away from President Ferdinand Marcos, taking what he thought would be his last stand at the Ministry of National Defense In Camp Aguinaldo. Now he's back in the area, right across EDSA, at the Philippine National Police General Hospital, where he is detained on charges of plunder. In 29 years, Enrile has turned from EDSA key player to plunder case key defendant.]

(CNN Philippines) — As you may know, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, born Juanito Furugganan on Valentine's Day 1924 in Cagayan, is now in detention at the Philippine National Police (PNP) General Hospital in Camp Crame on charges of plunder in connection with a multi-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim Napoles.

The irony of his situation, I'm sure, isn't lost on the 91-year-old senator.

If he hadn't cut ties with President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the People Power Revolt, the 29th anniversary of which Filipinos are celebrating today (February 25), wouldn't have happened.

And Corazon Aquino probably not had become president and neither would her only son, the incumbent President Benigno Aquino III. But then again, his critics would argue, People Power wouldn't have been necessary if Enrile, along with then Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, hadn't implemented Marcos's martial law in the first place.

Back in September 1972, Enrile was defense minister and Ramos was chief of the Philippine Constabulary – and in those positions they were the key implementors of Presidential Decree 1081.

So, in effect, their holding out at Camp Aguinaldo starting on February 22, a Saturday, was a way of atoning for their martial law sins, as some people put it back then.

Personal context

By way of giving context, in 1972, the president of the United States was Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War was still raging (not to end until 1975), and the Watergate scandal had just broken in June, a few months before Marcos declared martial law.

On a personal level, I was then 10 years old and in fifth grade — and my wife-to-be had just been born in January of that same year. And the beef of our generation against Marcos was that martial law took away, among other things, our beloved TV cartoons, like Wacky Races and Mightor.

One joke goes that many of the people of EDSA were actually disgruntled fans of Voltes V — a popular Japanese anime series in the 70s — who never got over their resentment at Marcos for banning the series.

I mention these things only to stress the point that the Marcos regime had been in place for so long that kids of my generation thought we would grow old and senile with Macoy, as everyone called him back then, would still be in Malacañan Palace, big voice still booming with impromptu speeches sprinkled with his wisecracks.

Implicated in several coup attempts

Back to Enrile. I never imagined way back then that as a journalist years later I would write about him, which I did in a cover story for a February issue of Metro Magazine in the early 90s (when restaurateur Larry J. Cruz still owned the rag).

Because of that, someone from his staff called me at the office inviting me to Enrile's birthday party at his house in Dasmariñas Village in Makati.

"Are you sure you have the right Alex Magno?" I asked, thinking that perhaps she was actually after my namesake, the political science professor and newspaper columnist.

"You're the Alex Magno who's assistant editor at Metro, right?"

"Yes."

"Then it's you who's invited to the senator's birthday."

For some reason that I can't remember now I never made it to his party.

Incidentally, that was some three years after he was suspected of hatching the August 28, 1987, coup attempt, with then Lt. Col. Gringo Honasan, Enrile's aide de camp who also figured prominently during the People Power Revolt.

As part of the coup attempt, rebel troops attacked Malacañan, in the process wounding Benigno Aquino III. (Col. Voltaire Gazmin was then chief of the Presidential Security Group. He's now defense secretary, appointed by Cory's son and successor to the Palace.)

Enrile was jailed but released after a few days for lack of evidence.

That was not the first time he was under suspicion.

In November 1986, he was also suspected of being part of the so-called God Save the Queen coup plot, which the military was able to thwart before it was even hatched.

Of course, Enrile denied both accusations.

By that time, however, he was already at odds with the president, who announced on November 23, the day after the coup plot was quashed, that she had accepted Enrile's resignation as defense secretary.

In and out of jail

The next coup attempt – by then a commonplace occurrence during Cory's term — lasted from December 1 to 9, before the government troops foiled it again.

And again Enrile — by this time a senator — was implicated, as was his former aide, Honasan, by this time a full-fledge colonel. Honasan, now a senator, went into hiding after the coup attempt – during which 600 people were wounded and 113 were killed.

On the other hand, Enrile, along with 22 others, was jailed on charges of rebellion complexed with murder, a nonbailable crime.

While in jail, some reporters whom he were political detainees during martial law decided to return the favors Manong, as they called him, had done for them, among other things, sending food, including lechon, for occasions like Christmas Day.

That's what I heard from the late Julius Fortuna, a former student leader who figured in the First Quarter Storm of 1970, who was by then a fellow reporter for the now defunct Daily Globe.

Julius said they would send Manong some lechon (roasted pig).

The Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan, junked the case against Enrile, saying murder should not have been included in the rebellion charge, of which he would later be acquitted.

In May 2001, he would again be jailed for rebellion, for allegedly being behind the siege of Malacañan Palace, then with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as tenant, by forces sympathetic to former President Joseph Estrada, who had been ousted at EDSA Dos, shortly after his failed impeachment at the Senate.

All those times, I never had the opportunity again to meet Enrile, except in 1997, when I went to his Dasmariñas home to cover for the Manila Times his announcement of his candidacy for president.

As there were a lot of reporters at the event, I only got to shake his hand before taking my leaving to get back to the office.

He would, of course, lose the election to Joseph Estrada.

Shining moment

Enrile, a former guerrilla in World War II before working his way up to law studies at the University of the Philippines and Harvard, has had among the longest careers among Filipino politicians, spanning the administration of five presidents - from Cory Aquino to Fidel V. Ramos to Joseph Estrada to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to Benigno Aquino III.

After the 1986 People Power Revolt, Enrile's next shining moment, getting praise from even his severest critics, was his handling, as Senate president, of the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

There he displayed not only his legal expertise but also his calm in dealing with proceedings filled with potentially explosive moments.

It was the same calm he displayed, though witnesses observed his eyes looked sad, as he boarded his car for his trip to Camp Crame to turn himself in the custody of the Philippine National Police.

According to reports, all he said to his children before leaving his house was: "Don't worry I'll be okay. Just take care of your mommy."