[BOOK REVIEW] Juan Ponce Enrile, A Memoir

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Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir Book Cover Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir
Juan Ponce Enrile
ABS-CBN Publishing

Juan Ponce Enrile's career spans six presidencies from Ferdinand Marcos to Benigno S. Aquino III, during which the Philippines metamorphosed from a free-wheeling republic into a brutal dictatorship that eventually gave way to a turbulent return to democratic rule. Sheer longevity, proximity to power and a forceful personality have made Enrile difficult to trivialize, much less ignore. Neither his friends nor his enemies have the power to exaggerate or misrepresent his gifts as well as his faults; they would have to reckon with the man's personal point of view, here most eloquently told from where he stood and contributed his share to the nation's narrative. Edited by Nelson A. Navarro

When Juan Ponce Enrile, A Memoir came out in 2012, I immediately bought a copy. Not that I admire the man, but because I was curious on how he would present his version of Philippine history. Juan Ponce Enrile is a prominent figure in Philippine politics. He served as Customs Chief, Justice Secretary, Defense Minister (also Secretary), Congressman and Senator. He was a protege of Ferdinand Marcos but eventually became one of the leaders of the 1986 EDSA People Power revolt that ousted Ferdinand Marcos.

The book’s editor said he was handed down a 2000 page manuscript by Juan Ponce Enrile and he had to trim it down to a manageable 700 pages. The copy that I have is a hard bound book, but nowadays a Kindle edition is available at Amazon. From my earlier posts, you probably know by now that I read books prior to going to bed. You can just imagine how unwieldy it is to read a hard cover book while in bed.

The first few chapters of the book recounts his life as a son born out of wedlock. His father, Alfonso Ponce Enrile, was a prominent lawyer during those times. Juan Ponce Enrile grew up in Cagayan and was named Juan Furagganan. He was a soldier during World War II and also became a Prisoner Of War (POW) of the Japanese.

After the war, he met his father for the first time and his name was legally changed to Juan Ponce Enrile. JPE took up law and placed 11th in the Bar exams of 1953. He then practiced law in his father’s law firm and also taught law at the Far Eastern University. Juan Ponce Enrile first became involved with Marcos when he was hired to handle the legal affairs of the then Senator Marcos in 1964.

The chapters that deal about Juan Ponce Enrile’s involvement with Marcos start to get interesting. When Marcos won the presidency in 1965, Juan Ponce Enrile became part of the inner circle. From 1966 to 1968, he was the Undersecretary and Acting Secretary of the Department of Finance and concurrently became acting Insurance Commissioner and Commissioner of the Bureau of Customs. From 1968 to 1970, he was the Secretary of Justice.

In 1970, Juan Ponce Enrile was appointed Secretary of National Defense. This made him really very close to Marcos. He now recounts how in 1971 he planned the declaration of martial law. All the presidential decrees and proclamations were ready by the time martial law was declared on September 1972. As Marcos’ defense secretary, he was the chief architect of martial law and was the second most powerful man in the country.

juan ponce enrile

In his own version, he recounts that his disenchantment with Marcos started within a month after martial law was declared, when Imelda ordered five generals to dance in drag during a party. For Juan Ponce Enrile, this was humiliating. He also recounts how he opposed, but was ignored, an internal security act patterned after Malaysia and Singapore which was imposed by Marcos. Juan Ponce Enrile tells us that the supposed “emergency rule” suddenly became an open-ended and full scale dictatorship. For Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos’ creation of the National Intelligence Security Agency under Fabian Ver was the start of him losing favor with the dictator.

He tells us that he met secretly with Ninoy Aquino and Jose Maria Sison (Communist Party of the Philippines Chairman). They were inviting him to join them in forming a communist government. Unfortunately, all of JPE’s eyewitnesses to his version of events are dead. No way to verify anymore. He insists that the trials of Ninoy and Joma for being communists was real and not politically motivated.

Juan Ponce Enrile was bypassed as Minister of Defense as Marcos directly dealt with Ver who was the AFP Chief-of-Staff when the 1980s began. This for Juan Ponce Enrile was the start of his diminishing power base. He reveals in the book plots by Imelda and Ver to get rid of him once Marcos dies. Marcos was rumored to be in bad health during those times. After the assassination of Ninoy, Juan Ponce Enrile started preparations to preserve his power by organizing the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) headed by his aide-de-camp, Gringo Honasan. The RAM was a dissident group of disgruntled junior officers of the Armed Forces, who feared that Marcos’ favoritism of his generals will limit their career advancement. At that time, favorite generals were given extensions instead of retiring at the mandatory age.

We now go on to the four days of EDSA 1986. This is when Juan Ponce Enrile’s retelling of history seems to be different from documented accounts on what happened during those four days that transitioned the Philippines into a democracy.

According to official accounts, the RAM were planning a coup attempt to depose Marcos. The coup plot was discovered and they were about to be arrested so they holed up in Camp Aguinaldo to supposedly fight their way until the end instead of being jailed. As per Juan Ponce Enrile, there was no coup plot. They just found out that they were going to be arrested on orders of Ver. This I find hard to believe. The military heroes of EDSA were in almost all the talk shows on TV right after EDSA. They freely discussed what their plans were during those times. They even gave exact details on how the coup was to be implemented. Makes me wonder why Juan Ponce Enrile has a different version.

On the first day of EDSA 1986, he told reporters live on TV that he was ordered to cheat on the vote counts for Cagayan province during the 1986 snap elections. He also told reporters that the ambush on him that prompted the declaration of Martial Law was staged. But in the book, he recants all of these. I wonder why? Is it because of old age? Selective memory?

The book continues on with his new role as Defense Secretary under Cory’s administration. He talks about how he was forced to resign due to power struggles with members of Cory’s cabinet. If I recall correctly, he was forced to resign because of his involvement in coup plots against Cory.

He continues on with his new role as a member of Congress, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate. He said that his term as Senator (2010-2016) would be his last. Which is true, because he did not run in the 2016 elections. For him the twilight of his career was being the presiding officer of the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Corona.

My take on the book? It is a very interesting read. Worth the time. Do I believe everything in the book? NO. Let me put it this way. From his early life up to 1972, I would probably believe all of it. From 1972-1986, I am 50-50 on this. Regarding his role in EDSA 1986, no way. After 1986, most of them I find difficult to accept. All in all, I would probably change the classification of this book from NON-FICTION to FICTION. But take my word for it, this is a good book to read. Not bad at all. You should try reading it too.