Juan Ponce Enrile and Bongbong Marcos
Then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on September 13, 2010 greets kababayan and colleague then Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. a happy birthday.

What the media described as an “apology” last October 24 from former Marcos Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile was in the same league as that of Marcos’ daughter Imee’s and son Bongbong’s.

But unlike the “apologies” of those two, Enrile’s sounded like an appeal not only to the electorate but also to the judgment of history. He’s running again for the Senate, and he certainly does not want to be remembered come Election Day as responsible for the abuses of the regime he served for two decades.

In contrast, the judgment of history was farthest from the mind of Imee Marcos, who in 2016 “apologized” to those who were “inadvertently” hurt during her father’s rule, but declared that the Marcos family will never admit guilt for any of the offenses its dead patriarch is accused of, among them extrajudicial killings, and the record-breaking theft of public funds conservatively estimated at USD 20 billion. She described all these as understandable “mistakes,” because, after all, “we’re only human.”

This year she also dismissed demands for the family to acknowledge its patriarch’s crimes and for a less than self-serving pseudo-apology by saying that the country has to “move on” — meaning to forget the martial law past, the atrocities of which her family refuses to acknowledge.

Her brother Ferdinand, Jr. had “apologized” in 2015 to those who “claim” to have suffered during their father’s 21-year (1965-1986) rule, but said that the family has “nothing to apologize for,” and that his father’s regime, had it not been overthrown in 1986 by the EDSA 1 civilian-military mutiny, would have made the country into another Singapore — which its first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. transformed from a malarial swamp into a first world city-state in less than 20 years.

The drive for even more power of both Marcos heirs has been encouraged by the support they have been getting from their ally, President Rodrigo Duterte, and the Supreme Court, which, despite the National Historical Commission’s declaration that the Marcos regime was a brutal dictatorship, nevertheless said when it allowed Marcos’ 2016 burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani that history is yet to judge it.

Compared to the Marcoses’ non-apologies, Enrile’s version of events sounded more like an apology. But it was also an attempt to once again justify Marcos, Sr.’s placing the entire country under martial rule in 1972. He also tried to make it appear that the arbitrary detention, the torture, the rapes, the enforced disappearances, the extrajudicial killings and the other human rights violations that so characterized that dark period were aberrations—exceptions, rather than the rule.

Interviewed over Cignal tv’s One News “The Chiefs” program last October 24, Enrile said “I’m sorry—if I have to apologize (emphasis mine). But it was not our intention to harm anyone but to protect society.”

What “they” (meaning Marcos, himself and their civilian and military accomplices) were trying to do, Enrile further claimed, was to “unleash (sic) a system of government control that had to be firmly established to prevent violence.”

The signs of the violence Enrile said Marcos and company supposedly wanted to prevent apparently included the demonstrations, marches, strikes and other protests against the Marcos regime that were so common in the first two years of the 1970s as well as the bombings in metro Manila and the “ambush” on Enrile’s car that he himself admitted in 1986 they staged to justify the declaration of martial law.

The violence that in many cases followed protest actions was also not so much the doing of protesters as it was that of the police, the military, and their agents. But leave it to Enrile to make it appear that the victims of state violence were responsible for their own suffering, and that the regime he served from 1966 (he was acting Secretary of Finance in the first Marcos administration) to 1986, when he joined then Armed Forces Vice-Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos at EDSA, was moved by the best of intentions.

From earlier denying, during his now infamous online chat with Marcos, Jr. last September, that anyone was arrested or killed during the Marcos regime of terror, Enrile admitted last October 24 that some people were indeed arrested and even killed.

But he described such incidents as the work of “aberrant” individuals who, he admitted, abused their power but over whom, he claimed, he had no control. Echoing the Marcos siblings, he was, he said, “only human,” and just one man who was trying to prevent others from being harmed. He also said that the regime did kill, but for a reason.

“We never killed people needlessly or without any reason — needlessly, with impunity,” a statement that suggests that rather than mean exemption from punishment, “impunity” to Enrile refers to killing “without reason.”

But even more seriously does that statement raise the question of what exactly those reasons could be. Rebellion? Sedition? Inciting to either, whether “wittingly or unwittingly” as the arrest orders Enrile signed by the thousands said? Those offenses were then punishable with prison terms, not execution. That people were killed for no other reason than on the suspicion that they committed these offenses only demonstrates that the killings were matters of policy.

The numbers in fact say that the killings, the torture, the abductions and the disappearances were far from being mere aberrations. A hundred thousand men and women, not just several, or a few dozen, or even a hundred, were arrested and detained during Enrile’s watch as the Marcos Mafia’s chief enforcer and consigliere. Over 3,000 were summarily executed (“salvaged”). Hundreds were forcibly disappeared. Thousands were tortured and abused in military camps and safe houses, about which Enrile, as the Number Two man of the dictatorship, was certainly aware.

All are clear indicators of a policy of repression, intimidation, abduction, torture and extrajudicial murder at work. The “aberrant” creatures in the then Philippine Constabulary, police, and military responsible for this attack on labor, peasant, student and opposition leaders, on journalists, academics, artists, poets and writers — on anyone the regime thought could, as Enrile himself admitted, be the rallying point of protest — cost Philippine society dearly. To simply dismiss these atrocities and the damage they inflicted on the present and future of this country as solely the work of moral deviants rather than the results intended by the policy of using State violence against its own people is the aberration.

But even if we grant his claim that only a few moral deviants were responsible for the outrage that was martial rule, more than an apology should be demanded of Enrile as he once again runs for Senator of the very Republic that he once helped destroy.

A declaration from him that precisely because an authoritarian regime inevitably empowers monsters — that it awakens the worst not only in the already criminally-inclined, and that absolute power leads not only to absolute corruption but also to total moral and intellectual bankruptcy — never should this country and its people abide despotism by whatever name. Neither should they return to power those who so loudly excuse and support it.

Such a declaration now, when the country is once again in the same grave danger as during his former boss of bosses’ rise to power, could help better history’s final verdict on Juan Ponce Enrile. But the possibility of his making such a declaration seems as unlikely as the political dynasties’ transformation into true servants of the people rather than their masters.

First published in BusinessWorld. Modified photo from the Senate website.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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