Senator Juan Ponce Enrile has been a constant in the country’s life from the beginning of the first presidential term of Mr. Marcos in 1965 to the age of Twitter and Bitcoin. The longevity is not a fluke. Mr. Enrile is credited with a survival instinct – and a determination to hurdle all odds and win – that is second to none in the history of contemporary Philippine politics .
While many of the public figures younger than him have memoirs with yellowing pages at the bookstores, or have retired, or have gone to the Great Beyond, Mr. Enrile is still a senator, and just recently, the Senate President , the holder of the country’s third most powerful public office .
Mr. Enrile has accomplished that feat because he can summon what is believed to his preternatural skills to extricate himself out of dangerous places and critical spots. Proof is this simple chronology.
“Malinis ang record”
While in the pre-martial law Marcos cabinet, Mr. Enrile ran for the senate and miserably lost , a loss that could have doomed a lesser mortal. Not even the idol and most influential endorser of those times – Nora Aunor singing , “Malinis ang record ni Enrile” – had saved Enrile from electoral defeat. But instead of getting sidelined by Marcos because of his loss, Marcos placed more trust in him.
Until such time that he was in a select group that planned and implemented the imposition of martial rule in 1972.
In the dying days of the martial law regime, the key martial aide Mr. Marcos made history when he led a coup against his former boss, and for that, Enrile was reappointed defense minister in the revolutionary government of Mrs. Aquino. For a few months after the fall of Mr. Marcos in February 1986, Enrile was treated as a liberating hero, the subject of national affection and adulatio . And to some, the key figure in the ouster of the despot.
Mr. Enrile won a senate seat in the first election after martial law, though rather unconvincingly. He was one of the only two survivors of that pro-Aquino landslide that saw 22 out of 24 senatorial slots at stake go to the allies of the first President Aquino. Mr. Enrile would subsequently run for senator and president and lose, only to find glorious vindication as the Senate President of the 15th Congress.
After successfully presiding over the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Enrile was lionized as a fair and credible steward of the tough proceedings. A book was written about him, an hagiography really, to complement the slew of long form journalistic accounts on the fairness and sagacity of Juan Ponce Enrile. Just a year ago, Juan Ponce Enrile had the respect, though some of it grudgingly, of most Filipinos . This was capped by a widely viewed teleserye about his life and career on prime-time TV.
The tension between him and the second President Aquino , whose memories of Enrile , were of martial law and the coups against his mother, was gone after the impeachment of Mr. Corona.
Charmed life go in tatters
Everybody thought in 2012 that he would end his senate career in 2016 , I hate using this term, in a blaze of glory and to the chorus of alleluias. The following year, the charmed life of Mr. Enrile went up in tatters after the ghastly revelation that he was a allegedly a principal in a SARO-for-Cash exchange in which Janet Lim Napoles gave him and other prominent national politicians duffel bags of cash in exchange for ghost projects under their congressional funds .
How could he? How could he? First, the stunned citizenry asked this question. How can a man who had reinvented himself into a senate leader of sagacity and erudition – and an immensely wealthy man at that – could make patol to a scam so low and base and callow that a thinking man would readily rebuke and refuse ?
Where was the topnotch lawyer in him, the most clever and methodological mind in local politics ? Had he been deserted by his better angels and legendary mental faculties?
The question asking was brief. The public in general shortly became unforgiving of Enrile and company. It is in this context of an angry, soured and impatient public mood that Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago , a critic of Enrile unleashed fusillades of anti-Enrile rhetoric that shredded whatever remained of Enrile ‘s diminished public esteem.
Shed no tears for Enrile , Miriam was effectively saying . In fact, he was the mastermind of the Napoles scam, not the innocent bystander which Enrile said he was.
Enrile said the truth will set him free. And that evidence would extricate him out of this sordid mess. The words, though, are hardly the convincing words of a compelling man. It is all too clear that a man reputedly vested with the pre-natural powers to bounce back from the toughest of odds has been abandoned by his powers.
Under attack from Senator Santiago ‘s unrelenting ferocity, the man whose life and times have been synonymous with power, survival and tenacity, and whose name has placed fear in the hearts of many, has wilted and shrunk. We are reminded of T.S. Eliot—his lines on how the world ends.
Would Enrile’s world end like this? Not with a bang but with taint of being at the center of a scam.