In a wide-ranging interview with radio station dzBB Sunday, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago accused Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile of plunder and challenged him to explain his role as martial law administrator in the disappearances of opponents of the Ferdinand Marcos regime.
Santiago also took Enrile to task for allegedly funding coup attempts against President Corazon Aquino after the ouster of Marcos in the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.
The feisty former judge was continuing a word war that followed revelations of alleged improprieties in Enrile’s distribution of savings from the Senate’s operating expenses as Christmas gift of P1.6 million to each of 18 “nice” senators and P250,000 to their four “naughty” colleagues.
The Commission on Audit has said that Enrile’s action was aboveboard and provided for under the General Appropriations Act.
Santiago, who got the lower amount and returned it to Enrile, said the Senate President “profited” as defense minister during the martial law years, using the term “namunini.” She said this word meant that Enrile “profited, he enjoyed himself, he was master of the universe during martial law.”
She said Enrile must now answer for his role in that dark side of Philippine history. She added that Enrile “should now answer for the crime of plunder. Why is he that wealthy? He should answer for the crime of causing what the Spanish call ‘desaparecidos’ … He should be held accountable for that.”
The radio station later interviewed Enrile for his reaction to Santiago’s statements. Enrile said he was investigated by the Corazon Aquino administration, but no plunder charges were ever brought against him.
“I will probably not reply to what she had said. We will just let the public decide who is right,” Enrile told dzBB.
Pressed about the plunder charge, he said that whatever wealth he had was a result of his private law practice before he joined the government, which he added could not be true of Santiago, whose income was derived from the government service.
Enrile said Santiago herself has some explaining to do. He pointed out that Santiago had worked for the late Ambassador Kokoy Romualdez, brother of former First Lady Imelda Marcos. The Marcoses have been accused of having amassed ill-gotten wealth while in power.
The Senate President also dismissed Santiago’s claims that he harbored a grudge against her for not supporting him even though he stood as a godfather during her wedding. He said this had nothing to do with the issues she had raised.
In the radio interview, Santiago accused Enrile of harboring a personal agenda when he played a role in Marcos’ ouster in February 1986. “He wanted to get rid of Marcos because he was hoping that he would replace him. But the public wanted Cory Aquino.”
Santiago said Enrile financed coup attempts against Corazon Aquino and that this was why she fired him as her defense secretary. He said Enrile was turning 89 years old in February and was still in power, profiting from his position as Senate President.
Santiago also referred to the controversy surrounding the supposed ambush of Enrile on the night Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Upon the ouster of Marcos, Enrile in a news conference revealed that the ambush was staged to justify the imposition of the emergency, but in his book released last year, he said that the incident indeed happened and was not faked.
Question of credibility
Santiago reminded Enrile that the Supreme Court considered a retraction “more credible than the original testimony” because it accommodated the possibility that the witness could have been tortured or confused when he gave his first story.
However, she also noted that the tribunal regarded “a person who makes a retraction of the reaction [as] absolutely incredible … What kind of person is he?”
Enrile said investigations showed that he had not stolen from the government.
He referred to accusations that he benefited from the coconut levy imposed during the martial law years. He said that the levy resulted in the collection of P9.6 billion of which the government spent P7.1 billion and another P2.5 billion was invested by him and businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco.
He said this investment expanded and reached P130 billion and was now the object of so much controversy, referring to returns from shares of stock of San Miguel Corp.
“I’m not saying this so I will look handsome in the eyes of the people, but that is the truth. I don’t want to reply to this. But this issue keeps coming back … I don’t want this to get out of hand.”
Enrile said Santiago “as a brilliant lawyer seeking a new career in the International Criminal Court” should instead charge him before the global juridical body or the Office of the Ombudsman if she believed he was guilty.
Santiago said in an earlier interview she would not spearhead any move to have Enrile investigated so as not to “sink to the level of the vulgar.”