As if Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile did not have enough on his plate this month from Senators Miriam Santiago, Antonio Trillanes, and Alan Peter Cayetano. As was reported a few days ago, he also has to deal with the counterclaim of Campaigns & Grey chairperson and Philippine Star columnist Yoly Villanueva-Ong. Ms. Ong filed the counterclaim in response to the damage suit Enrile filed against her last December 2012 following her October 16, 2012 column “Like Father, Like Son”. Enrile claims that the article was libelous and that it “besmirched his reputation”, and caused him “mental anguish, serious anxiety, wounded feelings, moral shock, and social humiliation.”
To read the column in its entirety, follow either of the links below:
According to the complaint, “The article characterizes JPE [Enrile] as liar, fraud, and manipulator. It accuses JPE of attempting to “revise history” with a devious purpose of enticing the electorate to support his only son, Juan Castañer Ponce Enrile, Jr (popularly known as Jack Enrile), an incumbent congressman in the province of Cagayan and a candidate in the upcoming senatorial elections.”
Enrile took exception to the following excerpts:
Just when we were about to forgive-and-forget Juan Ponce Enrile’s checkered past, he himself reminded us of what a wily, shifty chameleon he truly and naturally is. In Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir, and bio-documentary ‘Johnny’ that aired in ABS-CBN — he recants his previous recantation of the assassination attempt on him, which Marcos used as one more reason to justify Martial Law…Did he expect national amnesia to afflict Filipinos who know the truth?
In his attempt to leave an acceptable legacy for posterity and bequeath a Senate seat for junior, the nonagenarian is sanitizing his recollections instead of asking for absolution. Stem cell therapy can deter dementia but it cannot regenerate an innocent man.
We are being wooed to perpetuate the 40-years-running Enrile saga. Every night we should pray: Dear God, Make all who want our vote, be the men we want them to be.
Another misdeed associated with father-and-son is the alleged rampant car smuggling in Port Irene. In 1995, the Cagayan Export Zone Authority (CEZA) was established through Republic Act 7922, authored by Cagayan native JPE…Despite EO156 issued in 2008, which prohibited such importations, smuggling continued. Enrile countered the CEZA is not covered by the prohibition because the importers pay the correct duties and taxes. Ford reportedly pulled out its manufacturing business to protest the nefarious activities in CEZA.
For her part, Ms. Ong stands by her column, and insists she acted without malice.
According to the counterclaim:
“The statements contained in that column were made honestly, in good faith, and to protect the interest of the community and the public.”
“Plaintiff’s reputation is not the untarnished and good one that he alleges in the Complaint. It has been marred and tainted by his role in the Marcos dictatorship, his own declarations, and his other public acts and conduct.”
“Plaintiff’s act of prosecuting Defendant Ong alone constitutes harassment, malice and evident bad faith. It is meant to intimidate and silence defendant Ong and other journalists, and to place a chilling effect on their ability to write about plaintiff’s public conduct on matters of public concern.”
“Plaintiff’s above-mentioned acts have directly and/or indirectly obstructed, defeated, violated, impeded or impaired Defendant Ong’s freedom of speech and freedom to write for the press, and continue to do so; and have caused defendant damages….”
The following quotes also came from Ong:
“Initially I was unnerved because this is the first time I was ever sued for anything. But after reflecting and processing, I know I spoke the truth and that made me a bit braver,” “All the lawyers I’ve consulted said there was no libel. Many wrote about Enrile’s latest version of the real or fake assassination attempt. But as far as I know I’m the only one he sued. As a friend said, I have ‘arrived,'”
Ong also said that she would donate whatever amounts she recovers from Enrile to the victims of the Marcos dictatorship. She added that the P88 million in damages was not exorbitant considering Enrile’s amount of financial resources and standing, substantial business interests, and net worth of over P100 million based on his latest Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth.
All right then, Ms. Ong, so if you’re quick to say that P88 million is not exorbitant for Enrile, what are you really after here? Are you truly after “defending the right to freedom of speech”, or are you just milking a politician who is perceived to be corrupt for whatever it’s worth? Or worse, are you just hoping to get a bite by riding on the wave of momentum currently against Enrile?
Yoly Ong has a history of not being able to take criticism well. Perhaps that is why she was “unnerved” when Enrile sued her. Perhaps this time, with Enrile, she may have bitten off more than she can chew.
To be fair to Yoly Ong, there’s nothing wrong with calling out Enrile regarding the veracity of the details of the assassination attempt. But despite it being known that Enrile was responsible for deaths during the Marcos regime, the people kept putting him back into power anyway. In the bigger scheme of things, whether the attempt on Enrile’s life was real or not, and Enrile’s inconsistencies in his versions of it do not pass the So What? test.
And neither do the other items mentioned in Yoly Ong’s column. Focusing as well on Enrile’s son Jack Enrile, who is running in the elections this year, Ong also mentioned the case with Alfie Anido. The death of Anido has been an urban legend linked to Jack, but it has never been proven that he had anything to do with it. The Port Irene smuggling, in Ong’s own words, is also merely alleged; although it is linked to the Enrile’s, presumably because it happened in their neck of the woods, Cagayan province, once again, it has not been proven conclusively that they have direct links to it.
I don’t know if Yoly Ong sees the irony in her statement about “exposing the truth” by using allegations that have not been proven in court. Freedom of speech of course is important, but as with all other freedoms, it has corresponding responsibilities.
I don’t know about you, but the more times I read the words “allegedly” and “intrigue”, it starts to feel more like a gossip column than a proper journalistic opinion piece. Recall also that Ong wrote in a similar style in her column following the fallout of the “Pilipinas kay Ganda” tourism slogan flop.
Enrile himself isn’t squeaky clean. The recent events that transpired in the Senate are indicative of this. His role during the Marcos years will always be pointed out by both his critics and allies. That he remained an influential force in Philippine politics and national affairs is a testament to his being a wily and clever politician. Filipinos keep putting him back in government, despite being aware of his track record. So is it entirely Enrile’s fault that he’s survived up to this time without answering for any of the things he’s been accused of in the past?
Does it look like Yoly Ong’s countersuit will prosper? One thing’s for sure; despite this brouhaha being merely a sideshow to the events in the Senate, it makes for good entertainment in the circus that is Philippine politics.
We’ll need more popcorn.
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