Calling a spade
Business World, 26 September 2012


I received a copy of Juan Ponce Enrile, A Memoir last Sunday afternoon, for “early review,” whatever that means. And I must say that I got hooked from the very beginning, by Nelson Navarro’s Introduction and Ponce Enrile’s (JPE) Prologue. So much so that for the next two days, the book was with me wherever I went, to be read at every opportunity, particularly while in the car in between appointments (no, I don’t get dizzy reading in a moving vehicle). Which is why I was able to finish the 740-page volume (including appendix, but excluding the intro and the prologue) in two and a half days.

Reading about what JPE had to go through in order to get an elementary and high school education moved me to tears. His family wasn’t just poor, it was dirt poor. His mother went to great lengths to ensure that he would be able to go to school — and because there was no school in their area, she approached distant relatives, offering JPE’s houseboy services in exchange for board and lodging. JPE’s narration is done without an ounce of self-pity: how he went barefoot to school, how he could sleep only five hours a day in order to be able to do his housework and his school work, how he had no books and had to depend on neighbors who had them, how he picked up movie leaflets in the street to use as scratch paper because he couldn’t afford ruled paper, how he was ganged up on by the “rich” classmates in his second year of high school, and stabbed, how his case against them was dismissed, and how he was then expelled from the school for being a trouble maker, and how all this strengthened his resolve to finish his studies — he had originally wanted to be an engineer, but the oppression and injustice he experienced made him decide to be a lawyer instead.

When he finally met his father (who apparently had no inkling that his liaison with the widow Petra had born fruit), it was after the War (during which he was imprisoned and tortured), and he was enrolled in a school run by the Maryknoll sisters, where he earned his High School Diploma at the age of 23. As a postscript, he finished his pre law (Ateneo, cum laude) and his law (UP, cum laude), and was offered scholarships in Harvard, Yale, and Columbia (he chose Harvard).

The account of his struggle to get an education has to be one of the most inspiring I have encountered, and should be widely disseminated. At this point, Ponce Enrile is enjoying tremendous popularity, and his climb out of grinding poverty through education will surely be an effective tool in the campaign to reduce the very major problem of school dropouts. Who knows? Maybe going barefoot to school will become a badge of honor rather than a cause for shame. But because the book, which is to be launched this afternoon, is going to be very costly, perhaps the first 90 pages can be excerpted and distributed with the help of some obliging philanthropist.

For the historians, and for those who lived through the martial law years, Enrile’s insider account of what went on from the time Ferdinand Marcos campaigned for the presidency (JPE apparently was asked by his partners to leave his law firm because he supported Marcos over Macapagal), through his government service as Collector of Customs and Finance undersecretary and Secretary of Justice and as Secretary and later Minister of National Defense is fascinating in its delineation of how power corrupts, and how absolute power corrupts absolutely. Marcos started out, apparently, with very good intentions — and Ponce Enrile’s story outlines how those good intentions paved the road to hell.

And many gems of information, previously unknown, are there for the picking, courtesy of the JPE memoir: Some examples:

Very early on in the martial law years, JPE earned the ire of Imelda Marcos — and he and his wife Cristina were removed from the social guest list.

The Tripoli Agreement was negotiated by Imelda and National Defense Undersecretary Carmelo Barbero without the knowledge or participation of JPE (does this sound familiar?) — an agreement which apparently was constitutionally flawed. Imelda was furious at JPE for pointing this out, but apparently Estelito Mendoza and Jose Roño backed him up. The Agreement had to be renegotiated.

Edna Camcam, the lady love of Fabian Ver,  divulged Ver’s plans about a government takeover (after allowing Imelda to sit for six months) in the event of Marcos’ death. Why she did this is not explained, except that Camcam and Enrile are comprovincianos. Maybe Nelson Navarro edited it out — the JPE book draft was 2,000 pages long, after all. I wish I could read the original.

Danding Cojuangco “acquired the 20% of the Ayalas in San Miguel, while the other shares from other stockholders were acquired for the coconut farmers and placed in the name of newly formed corporations. The 20% of the Ayalas bought by Danding and the other shares bought for the coconut farmers were paid out of funds borrowed from the remaining balance of the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund which by that time was deposited in the United Coconut Planters Bank in trust for the coconut farmers and renamed as the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF).

JPE was not aware of Marcos’s illness. Marcos kept it from him. It was Paeng Salas who told JPE that Marcos was undergoing an operation.

JPE tendered his resignation to Marcos in July 1983 (a month before the Aquino assassination) because whether he realized it or not, Marcos was no longer in control — Ver and his minions were. Marcos did not accept his resignation.

Joker Arroyo told JPE that Cory asked him (Joker) to tell JPE that he had nothing to worry about his ill-gotten wealth. JPE asked Joker to tell Cory that he (JPE) had no ill-gotten wealth and that if she had any doubts, not to hesitate to subject him to an investigation. JPE, after the falling out, was indeed subjected to nine-month investigation by BIR Commissioner Benny Tan. Nothing was found.

Cardinal Sin, among others, lied. What about? Well, you’ll have to read the book.