Enrile on fake ambush: ‘For real’
Call it luck, but then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile’s decision to ride in the security vehicle behind his car one fateful night in September 1972 saved his life in an ambush that President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. used to justify martial law.
Then again, his life was probably never in danger that night, as he himself suggested 14 years later as he and his fellow putschists faced real danger, that of an attack by Marcos’ troops on their stronghold at Camp Aguinaldo.
In his newly released memoir, Enrile insists the ambush was real and took place in Wack Wack Subdivision where “a speeding car rushed and passed the escort car where I was riding. Suddenly, it opened several bursts of gunfire toward my car and sped away.”
Normally, Enrile’s car was driven between two security vehicles. On that night, however, he decided to ride in the security vehicle following his car.
“The attack was sudden that it caught everyone by surprise. No one in the convoy was able to fire back,” Enrile writes.
His car was “ditched on the right side of the road. Its left rear door was riddled with bullet holes and its left back tire was punctured and disabled.”
His driver and military aide, both of whom were in the car, were unhurt.
After the 1986 People Power Revolution, Enrile says his political opponents spread word that the ambush was faked to justify the imposition of martial law.
He dismisses it as “ridiculous and preposterous,” saying Marcos had postponed the declaration of martial rule several times.
“Whether I was ambushed or not, martial law in the country was already an irreversible fact. So what was the need to fake my own ambush?” Enrile writes.
Enrile, now the Senate President, says he was surprised that time when Marcos used the incident to justify the imposition of martial law.
He still wonders if those behind the ambush carried it out “to achieve whatever purpose they had.”
But didn’t he himself tell the public on Feb. 22, 1986, as he and Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police chief Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos barricaded themselves at Camp Aguinaldo after the discovery of their coup plot against Marcos, that the ambush was fake?
Together with Ramos and military troops that formed the Reform the AFP Movement (RAM), Enrile, speaking on radio, confessed, among other things, that Marcos ordered the staging of the ambush to contrive a final act by his opponents that forced him to place the country under martial law.
The Filipinos forgave him, and trooped to Edsa by the millions to shield him and Ramos and their troops against an assault by Marcos’ military.
Martial law blueprint
Looking back, Enrile says Marcos “spelled out the blueprint” for martial law in his inaugural speech on December 30, 1965.
Marcos “decried the prevalence of venality in government” and called for a genuine return to the rule of law, Enrile writes.
“And [Marcos] pledged to execute the law, preserve the Constitution, and, if need be, to direct ‘the forcible if legal elimination of all lawless elements,’” says Enrile, who joined Marcos’ administration as undersecretary of justice early in the would-be dictator’s presidency.
The speech was met with thunderous applause and people were so carried away with Marcos’ delivery that not many noticed or realized what he meant.
“Many took for granted what he really said. They did not bother to analyze it,” Enrile says.
He recalls that it was in early December 1969 when he was summoned to Malacañang and ordered to study “discreetly and confidentially” the President’s powers under the commander in chief provisions of the Constitution.
“[Marcos] said he was foreseeing an escalation of violence and disorder in the country…He stressed that whoever would participate in the study must be cautioned not to talk about it to others,” Enrile writes.
Enrile chose two young legal staffers at the Department of Justice—Efren Plana and Minerva Gonzaga Reyes—to help him in the study. They helped him “ransack” law libraries for material on martial law. (President Corazon Aquino later appointed Gonzaga Reyes justice of the Supreme Court.)
“We read and reviewed the cases decided here and abroad on the subject. We ended up with a large volume of legal literature and jurisprudence on the nature and extent of the commander in chief powers of the President,” Enrile says.
Marcos received the voluminous study in late January 1970. Enrile says that only one copy was made and that he “never saw or heard of it again.”
Martial law architect
A week later, Enrile was again called to the Palace. Marcos instructed him to prepare the documents for the imposition of martial law.
“I was faced with the problem of how or where to start. There was no model to begin with. I had to literally start from scratch. I had to improvise everything,” Enrile writes.
He visualized in his mind the process from start to end. “I began with a description of the national security situation which became the basis of the proclamation,” he recalls.
“Then, I went on with the problems to be addressed and the government agencies to be involved. These became the subjects later on of the general orders and letters of instruction that were issued,” he writes.
When Enrile was appointed defense minister, it was a time of growing unrest. In 1971, he resigned after Marcos and wife Imelda pressured him to run for senator under the Nacionalista Party.
Then, two things happened: the Plaza Miranda bombing in August and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
Enrile was campaigning in Bulacan when a supporter pulled him aside and directed him to the nearest black and white TV where he watched pictures of the carnage.
On the ride to Caloocan, where another rally awaited, Enrile says he “ominously felt the full weight of the…bombing fall on my shoulders.”
The opposition trained its guns on Marcos and wife Imelda. The Nacionalista senatorial candidates, by association, also suffered the public’s wrath.
It did not help at all that Marcos gave Enrile the job of publicly defending the suspension of the privilege of habeas corpus.
Worse, the signature of Enrile as defense secretary was required on all arrest warrants for Malacañang’s perceived enemies.
Enrile recalls a rally in Palawan where a young girl gave him a puppy, an obvious reference to accusations that he was a “tuta” (puppy) of Malacañang.
It did not come as a surprise to Enrile that he and most other Nacionalistas lost the election.
Enrile says that weeks before martial law was declared, Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. talked to him about a meeting with communist leader Jose Ma. “Joma” Sison in Dasmariñas Village.
Aquino, whom Enrile describes as “a glib talker,” said the meeting was supposed to explore a possible alliance between the senator’s Liberal Party and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Alliance with Reds
Aquino told Enrile that the CPP believed Marcos would place the country under martial law. Forging an alliance between the LP and the CPP would mean “a common effort in funding, propaganda, logistics and an armed struggle” against Marcos, according to Aquino.
Enrile told Aquino that as defense secretary, he would be forced out of duty to tell Marcos what he told him. The senator protested, saying he wanted him to keep to himself everything he had said.
Enrile eventually filed a written report about his discussion with Aquino. It was not clear how the information found its way to the press.
Aquino’s Liberal allies moved to protect him. Enrile writes that Aquino later admitted meeting him “but he twisted the facts.”
“His version was that he saw me in Urdaneta Village on September 7 ‘at his initiative to bring to [my] attention a request by Governor Faustino Dy of Isabela for government protection against what he feared was [a New People’s Army] plot aimed at him,’” Enrile says.
The defense secretary fumed at the story, branding it “completely false.” Since both Enrile and Dy were from Cagayan, wouldn’t it have been easier if Dy approached Enrile at the outset instead of seeking Aquino’s intervention?
Enrile theorizes that the animosity between Aquino and Marcos began when Aquino attacked Imelda’s pet project, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
Aquino delivered a privilege speech in 1969, claiming the CCP was constructed using P35 million from war damage payments and a P50-million loan from the National Investment and Development Corp. (NIDP).
Aquino said the loan was “illegal” because the NIDP could lend money only for “agricultural, commercial and industrial” ventures.
Marcos immediately came to Imelda’s defense, calling Aquino a “congenital liar.” Somehow, Aquino scored points with the public when he asked why Marcos was pulling his mother into the fray with that statement.
Enrile volunteers this insight: “Every time I see the Cultural Center, I [cannot] help but [think of] the edifice as a memorial to the mutual hatred between Marcos and Ninoy [Aquino’s nickname], a reminder of a political controversy that inexorably led to a series of events that rocked this nation.”
Enrile says even he was not spared from Imelda’s penchant for intervening in her husband’s business or assuming his power as hers, too.
Imelda was not even first lady yet when the Macapagal administration’s Board of Censors banned Marcos’ campaign movie “Iginuhit ng Tadhana” for historical inaccuracies.
Imelda called Enrile, who had been persuaded to join the Marcos campaign team by close friend Rafael Salas, and instructed him to file a suit against the board in the Pasig Court of First Instance specifically and make sure that it was raffled off to a judge who was Marcos’ classmate in the University of the Philippines law school.
Imelda also told Enrile to talk to the judge and convince him to hand down a decision that would allow the film to be shown immediately.
Enrile said yes but did nothing. Complying with Imelda’s wishes “was a disgrace for a lawyer to do,” he writes.
Public pressure eventually forced the censors board to allow the movie to be shown.
Enrile says Imelda always insisted that people obey her will.
One month into martial law, guests at an otherwise solemn banquet at Heroes Hall in Malacañang were shocked when six military generals, including Ramos, then head of the Philippine Constabulary, and Gen. Fabian Ver, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, appeared on the stage in Hawaiian drag.
“The six generals were all attired in artificial straw skirts and high-heeled shoes. They had garlands around their necks and they were wearing bras to complete their costumes. Their lips were painted with red lipstick,” Enrile writes.
The generals danced the hula as Imelda and her Blue Ladies clapped delightedly. But other guests, among whom were diplomats, bankers, businessmen and their wives, remained quiet.
“I felt they were neither amused nor comfortable with what was going on,” Enrile says.
Even the defense secretary squirmed in his seat and his wife Cristina noticed it. “She held my arm and cautioned me to just keep my cool and not to say anything,” he says.
Once, Imelda called Enrile and told him to allow the pregnant daughter-in-law of Raul Manglapus to return from Japan, give birth in Manila and leave the country afterward despite travel restrictions that accompanied martial rule.
When she learned that Enrile told the woman’s family that only the President could grant an exemption to the “no travel policy” outside those clearly exempted from the martial law edict, Imelda was livid.
“You’re arrogant. You have become a swellhead,” Imelda berated Enrile on the phone. But she asked Enrile not to tell her husband that she ranted at him.
He did, but Marcos brushed aside Enrile’s report on the matter.
“She does not understand what we are doing,” Marcos said.
Enrile says that his refusal to cooperate with Imelda led to “intrigues against me in the Cabinet,” especially from the “Imelda Boys” and the Blue Ladies.
“My wife, Cristina, and my children Jack and Katrina were seldom, if at all, invited to functions in Malacañang after that incident. Not that they hankered to be invited. But such was the fact,” Enrile says.
Ver, however, was more solicitous when it came to Imelda’s whims, he adds.
And while Enrile was apparently willing to forgive Ver for fawning over Imelda, he could not let go of the disgraced military chief’s “incoherent account” of how Aquino was assassinated on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport.
Enrile recalls that right after Aquino was shot, Ver called him at home to report what happened.
Enrile recounts the conversation in his book, saying Ver told him that a man “disguised as airport [employee]” shot Aquino on the tarmac. Soldiers, in turn, shot the gunman.
“After I finished my telephone conversation with General Ver, I was seized by a strong feeling of alarm. The story…was too hard to believe. It created so much doubt in my mind. The story of General Ver on its face was patently ridiculous,” Enrile writes.
“How could a lone and ordinary assassin [have known] that Ninoy would arrive [on] that particular day, at that particular time, and [on] that particular airplane?” Enrile asks.
“How [could] the assassin [have known] that the plane that would bring Ninoy to the country would park at that particular place at the airport tarmac for him to go there and wait to shoot Ninoy?” he goes on.
“And, if indeed there was an active threat to Ninoy’s life, why was he brought down from the plane to the airport tarmac ‘for security reasons,’ in the words of General Ver, without any preparatory effort done to first sanitize or clear the place of persons?”
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