With friends like these…

Duterte and Enrile
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In the evening of February 22, 1986, then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Vice Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos announced that they were withdrawing their support for the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It was only a few hours after AFP Chief of Staff Fabian Ver had discovered and foiled their plan to storm Malacanang, oust Marcos, and replace him with a military junta.

Ramos said he could no longer support Marcos because he had put his and his family’s interests above those of the people, and was “no longer the duly constituted authority” in the Philippines.

In agreement with Ramos, Enrile appealed to the rest of Philippine officialdom to “heed the will of the people expressed in the last elections.” He was referring to the snap elections of February 7 that Marcos had “won” against Corazon Aquino through fraud. In acknowledgement of Aquino’s being the duly-elected President of the Philippines, Enrile revealed that “In my own region, I know that we cheated in the elections to the extent of 350,000 votes.”

The pair had earlier asked Jaime Cardinal Sin to call on the Catholic faithful to support them. The cardinal did, describing the two former, long-time Marcos bureaucrats as “our friends.”

From the AFP’s Camp Aguinaldo headquarters on EDSA, where they had announced their break from Marcos, they appealed directly to the people for protection, uncertain as they were of the extent of their support in the officers’ corps, and as sure as they were that Marcos was moving to arrest them.

But by the evening of February 25, Marcos and his family had left for Hawaii, USA, forced out of Malacanang by the tens of thousands of nuns and priests, professionals, workers, students and teachers who had defied tanks and attack helicopters to protect Enrile, Ramos and their military loyalists who had by then moved to Camp Crame. Sworn in as president in the morning of the same date, Corazon Aquino had earlier appointed Enrile Defense Secretary and Ramos AFP Chief of Staff.

Enrile later attributed the fall of Marcos to the military, and belittled the crucial role of the civilians who had risked life and limb to protect him and Ramos. But that wasn’t the only time he was to take liberties with the facts. Interviewed on February 24, 1986, Enrile revealed that the Marcos regime had staged an assassination attempt on him to help justify the declaration of martial law. But in 2012, and again last Friday, September 21, 2018, he denied ever having said so.

Last week Enrile also denied the truth of a number of well-established and well-documented facts about the Marcos dictatorship which he himself had earlier acknowledged to be true.

His claim that no one was ever killed or arrested for his or her political views is completely false. Volumes of studies as well as those who lost sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters to the Marcos killing machine, and those who survived arrest, detention, beatings, rape and torture in military camps and safe houses have proven over the last four decades how arbitrary, abusive and brutal the regime was.

As the chief implementor of martial law, Enrile knows this only too well. Every order for the arrest of a member of the political opposition, student activist, independent journalist, labor leader and other regime critics carried his signature, for example, and he certainly knew what the military was doing in its camps and safe houses. Before the events of 1986, he was also acknowledged as the number two man of the Marcos regime, responsible as he was for the campaign to silence and rid the country of all opposition.

Despite his services to the dictatorship, in 1987 Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos could hardly conceal their outrage over Enrile’s role in EDSA 1986. Interviewed by two US journalists in Hawaii that year, both had nearly unprintable words to describe him, “traitor” and “betrayer” being among the least flattering.

But there he was last Friday, disparaging the Corazon Aquino administration he had been part of, in an equally amateurish replication of the Duterte-Panelo September 11 chat fest, with no less than his former boss’ son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., whose father he had helped overthrow 32 years ago, helping him justify the declaration of martial law.

The Enrile versions of what happened during martial rule were so obviously false it isn’t even necessary to dispute them. Thousands of pages of eyewitness testimonies, documents, photographs and the government’s own records have already done so. That sorry spectacle last September 21 instead invites the question of what Enrile and Marcos, Jr.’s sudden public display of affection reveals about the character of the ruling clique that for over seven decades has monopolized political power in this rumored democracy.

What is equally of interest is the motive behind this latest attempt to paint the Marcos terror regime in glowing rather than its true, bloody colors. The answer is obvious enough. It is to reinvent martial law as the best thing that ever happened to this country and as neither an attempt to halt the democratization of Philippine governance and society nor the worst expression of the bureaucrat capitalist lust for pelf and power.

Martial law stopped the burgeoning movement for the empowerment of the marginalized and dispossessed millions and assured the continuing rule of the wing of the ruling class that had gained ascendancy through government corruption. It also enabled one man and his family to amass billions of dollars in secret bank accounts, jewelry, art work and real estate all over the globe to the detriment of the entire Filipino nation and at the cost of thousands of lives.

And yet the point of the Enrile-Marcos September 21 theatrics was to make strongman rule acceptable as a governance option today. Reimagined as the Golden Age, it would dupe the public, specially the young, into once more electing to the pinnacles of power such of its advocates as the Marcos and Duterte dynasties.

But it was also a demonstration of how handily, despite their seeming differences, the political cliques in this country can unite and forge alliances of convenience whenever it suits their short-term interest, which at this point is that of winning next year’s elections. Beyond that, however, is the long-term one of keeping things the way they are and have always been.

From 1987 onwards, Enrile and his co-conspirators in the military made sure that the changes promised by the EDSA “revolution” they had themselves helped make possible would never happen. They instigated four of the five coup attempts to restore authoritarian rule with which the Aquino administration had to contend throughout its troubled six-year term.

Conservative as the landed Aquino-Cojuangco clan already was, the Corazon Aquino government was driven even farther Right. To preserve itself it sought US help and further tightened the stranglehold on the Philippines of the very same country that supported the declaration of martial law in 1972 and where the Marcoses had found refuge in 1986.

In 1992 Aquino successor Fidel Ramos welcomed the Marcoses back to the Philippines — and back into power. In the years that followed, the supposedly contentious groups that pretend to give the electorate a choice at the polls every three years eventually made peace with each other in behalf of preserving the political and social system that has so benefited them. As the Marcoses, the Enriles, the Arroyos, the Dutertes and the rest of their ilk continue to deny them the changes they want and need, the long-suffering Filipino millions might well ask if, with “friends” like these, they still need enemies.

First published in BusinessWorld. Image based on a photo from the Senate website.

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