Thursday, September 5, 2013

Juan Ponce Enrile and His Memoir: A Critical Consideration

Former Philippine Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile is almost 90 now. Given his advanced age, it’s understandable that Enrile would want to strike an autobiographical pose and finally tell his life story in his own, differentiated and protean eloquence. However, Richard Nixon once said that it would depend on who is writing the history in response to the question of how he would be ultimately judged by historians. But when the subject himself is the author, his narcissistic entitlement to protect his image obviously must be factored in Nixon’s perspicacious treatment of personal historiography.

This is especially true of contemporary public figures whose opponents have preached their downfall for a litany of high crimes. Juan Ponce Enrile has never been able break out of the moral and ethical chains that his detractors have tried to bring him down with from the height of power and influence he once stood on. But that hasn’t stopped the former defense minister and confidant of Ferdinand Marcos from attempting to piously soar above his direct culpability in the Marcos dictatorship and live the life of a respected, elder statesman.

My first reaction to the publication of “Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir” was that the defense minister and former senator’s words, remarks, genuflections, and reprise of his self-imagined role as patriot and moral guide would not escape his remarkable facility for generating controversy. I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. This more than 800-page tome of a memoir, if you look past the author’s unconcealed alacrity in sharing intimate details about his life from the time he was born, caters more to those inclined to vindicate Enrile’s actions as defense minister during the Philippines’ slide into martial law than to those who saw the man for what he really was: a crassly self-serving, ministerial autocrat, a political manipulator of the highest grade, a monopolistic plunderer of national treasure, and a dominant and ruthless figure during Ferdinand Marcos’s martial law regime.

Over the years, there has been enough meaningful evidence to at least warrant an organized, mainline investigation into Enrile’s conduct during the martial law years. To the great extent to which he was a key subject in the Marcos regime, Enrile is alleged---not without basis---to have enriched himself at the country’s expense and to have taken great pains in facilitating the incarceration, sometimes the elimination, of the regime’s opponents. That he was more than in a fair position of power to do what he is accused of only makes it that much more unpalatable and outrageous that Enrile has approached his future requiem of a memoir with all the irreproachability and innocence he can muster.

To the good Filipinos whose lives were repressed by martial law, the added burden of swallowing Enrile’s distorted balance sheet of responsibility is too much to ask for. The victims of martial law deserve better than they have gotten. Enrile has done them absolutely no favor in suppressing history for the sake of posterity and for the benefit of his own millstone legacy.

Is Enrile strictly writing his long-awaited memoir as a prejudicial cultivation of his self-portrait or out of a primal fear that the sands of time are running out for him and that he must express some noble sentiments and helpful commentary while he still can, before the furies of oblivion can transport him to the land of just desserts? The probable answer is both: Enrile is whitewashing his public past in a considered appeal not only to the derivations of public opinion but also to the deferment of a celestial justice.

Thus inspired, Enrile has perceptibly overstretched his unlimited appetite for frequently imagining Philippine socio-political history over the last forty years on his own sustained terms. To the point, Enrile has up until now gotten away with casting his offenses out of the social consciousness and into the dustbin of history. It’s a tad ironic though that his memoir, the memoir that was supposed to settle his accounts with history and with the victims of martial law, has reopened the proverbial can of worms that is Enrile’s overt and covert record as defense minister.

Indeed, there is much opprobrium, great and small, in his known file that catches the circumspect eye. With an extreme emphasis on that shamelessly sinister account of his professional career, “Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir” as far as moral documents go, isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.


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