Enrile at peace with self, sees vindication
(Editor’s note: Shortly after his release on bail from more than a year of detention on charges of graft and plunder involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), 91-year-old Senator Juan Ponce Enrile gave The Manila Times chairman a glimpse into what life in confinement has been for him, his thoughts on his detention, freedom and politics ahead of the 2016 elections, in this exclusive interview at a hotel in Makati City.)
Senator Juan Ponce Enrile holds no grudge or rancor against his detractors, more particularly those responsible for his 14-month incarceration at Camp Crame. He is at peace with himself and feels confident he will ultimately be acquitted of the plunder charges against him.
“I have never entertained any ill-will against them. They are my competitors for political power. Your enemies would naturally want to shackle you for their own interests,” he said. “I’ve developed a stoical attitude towards them.”
He has refused requests for meetings with Administration officials because he did not want them to think that he wanted a favor from them.
When asked if he would act to get even with his detractors, Enrile replied in the negative, but was quick to add, he will perform the role of a wrongdoing exposer, a moral voice, a champion of competence and diligence in the Senate.
“I will perform my function as ‘fiscalizer,’ he said, using a coinage unique to Filipino English.
The Senator said he has no agenda except to bring into life in a clear manner the issues affecting people’s lives. He said he will serve the interests of the people and that if in doing so, the interests of his detractors are prejudiced, then “so be it.”
Enrile is not bothered at all by his fall from the pinnacle of public esteem. “I know what I did. In time, I will show the people I did not do anything illegal and morally reprehensible,” he said. “I kept quiet all the time while in Crame. I will be vindicated.”
He said that the burden of proof rests on the prosecution and that for a person to be deprived of his freedom without bail, the evidence must be strong. He emphasized that conviction for a criminal offense requires guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
For the moment, he is relishing his new-found freedom. “When you come from a condition of lack of freedom to move around, you appreciate being free. You begin to appreciate the feeling of freedom,” he said. “Like a bird in a cage, you fly within a small space but you know there’s a world out there.”
“Freedom,” Enrile said, “should be guarded by the people because once they are deprived of liberty, only then will they appreciate the essence of freedom.”
Enrile who has experienced imprisonment four times in his career described his first detention during the Japanese War as “hell.” Camp Crame was “heavenly” compared with the sufferings and deprivations he had suffered from his Japanese captors.
His second detention came during former President Cory Aquino’s term—for rebellion complex with murder. The third, during former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time, was for sedition.
Now he is out on bail from detention at the Philippine National Police General Hospital in Camp Crame for plunder charges, under the regime of President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd, only son of Cory Aquino whom he helped install as the 11th Philippine President in 1986.
He recalled his first night in Crame: “I was fingerprinted, they took shots of my face, subjected me to a medical examination and then brought to the hospital. I did not ask to be hospitalized. I thought I would be detained like what they did to Bong [Sen. Revilla] and Jinggoy [Sen. Estrada]. The first thing I did was to pray—due to uncertainty.”
He was thankful to his attending physician, the nurses who tended to his personal and medical needs and to the guards who, he said showed generosity toward him.
“They became close to me. They were in tears when I was leaving.”
His jail, recalls the senator, is a 3 x 3-meter cell with a small bed, a toilet and bath separated by a plastic curtain.
“I pondered what I would do while in confinement, so I decided to study life from the books that I’ve read like The Proof of Heaven* written by a neurologist whose name I couldn’t remember, Asia Cauldron by Robert Kaplan, several books on China written by Lyn Bildner and several other books,” he said.
His daily routine in Crame included a one-hour morning exercise, a brief period outdoors for some sunshine, breakfast, a check of his vital signs and taking a handful of pills.
“In the fourteen months that I was in detention, I did not pee in the regular urinals. My urine input and output were measured daily in a plastic cup by my doctors,” he added.
Legal issues of his bail
Enrile wouldn’t comment on the dissenting opinion of Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen on his release on bail. He said, being a senator, he would take care not to intrude or interfere in any other branch of government. “That is the essence of the separation of powers,” he added.
Neither would he comment on the opposition’s view that he was a victim of selective justice. “The people know what is right and wrong, who is right or wrong. They know who is telling the truth or spinning a charade,” he said.
Enrile refuses as well to issue an opinion on the administration of President Aquino. He said he will not render a judgment on the performance of Aquino. “Let history be his judge. Let the people decide. Historians will dissect his performance.”
He said he, too, believes in “Daang Matuwid” but that it must not only be straight, it must also be clean and well-lighted. The “Daang Matuwid” can be full of holes. The straight path must be open to light and not covered by shadows. “This is not a new invention,” he added.
Enrile is still undecided on supporting Vice President Jojo Binay in his presidential bid. “I do not know yet,” he said. “It is the first time an Ibanag is running for President. The least I can do is not to say anything against him.
Binay, according to the Senator, has not talked to him since he got out of detention.
He said Secretary Mar Roxas, who has been endorsed by President Aquino as standard bearer of the Liberal Party, is his friend, but that in politics friendship is one thing and party affiliation is another.
“Mar will understand this,” Enrile added.
To the senator, reports that former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada is supporting Sen. Grace Poe for President are not signs that UNA is breaking up.
“UNA will not break up. A consultation among its leaders and members will be held,” he said, confidently.
*Enrile must be talking about the book Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, in which author Dr. Eben Alexander describes his 2008 near-death experience and asserts that science can determine that heaven really does exist.