Now that two of the three Philippine Senators charged with offenses related to the ‘malversation’ of their pork barrel funds through bogus non-government organisations associated with alleged ‘scam’ mastermind Janet Lim Napoles are in prison, it is Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s turn to get his wrists cuffed. But this is no ordinary suspect. Enrile is a former Senate President, and he is old. At 90 years old, Enrile is unlikely to cope well with the lack of creature comforts in the already souped-up jail cells occupied by his colleagues Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada.
Even President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III thinks so, wistfully encouraging the government in between meetings with big shots in Tokyo yesterday to be “considerate” to the elderly statesman.
It is, of course, easy to quote the letter of the law while facing the cameras and fail to uphold its spirit while facing one’s own subordinates. Hundreds of thousands of Filipino inmates languishing in the Philippines’ squalid prison facilities will attest to the big gap between their society’s trumpeted principles and actual practice.
“It seems there should be consideration to that, that is an established fact … I’m sure the courts are cognizant of fulfilling the obligations but at the same time, having as a factor the advanced age of Senator Enrile,” the President said at a press conference.
Aquino recalled that when he was in the Senate with Enrile, the latter was already reading with a magnifying glass and constantly used eye drops.
The Constitution itself, under the Bill of Rights, states that “cruel, degrading or inhumane punishment” should not be inflicted on a person, the President said.
So it is understandable that every two-bit activist and various “cause-oriented” groups would be salivating over the prospect of seeing Enrile sweating out his years in a Philippine prison. Enrile, after all, is quite the piece of work. In the 1970s, he served the regime of then President Ferdinand E Marcos as Defense Minister and is regarded as the key architect of Marcos’s authoritarian rule. He is widely-believed to have staged an assassination attempt on himself (amidst many other terrorist activities at the time) to pave the way for the justification of the implementation of martial law in 1972.
As such, Enrile is linked to many alleged atrocities perpetrated under the watch of the Marocs regime. While it is widely agreed that these atrocities did happen, Enrile’s direct involvement and ability to influence the alleged crimes remains debatable. That whole episode has become even more muddled after Enrile published his memoirs in 2012 where he pinned accountability for all these on then First Lady Imelda Marcos and then Army Chief-of-Staff General Fabian Ver.
Many people do not buy Enrile’s version of the story, however. Susan Quimpo author of the book Subversive Lives : A family memoir of the Marcos years wrote in a GMA News article in 2012 how Enrile’s book gave her “sleepless nights”. She further writes…
It is surreal how Enrile fondly says that the typewriter he used to type out the implementing orders of martial law is still in his study. In his memoir, he writes: “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.”
Was he referring to the typewriter he used to craft the blueprint of Martial Law, dish out general orders and the letters of instruction? Did these include the order to arrest 70,000 political prisoners, and to hold them indefinitely in Marcos jails without charge or bail, to torture 34,000, and kill 3,240 as reported by Amnesty International? Whether or not Enrile foresaw these atrocities when he crafted the Martial Law decrees and administered Martial Law itself, cannot be proved, but it cannot be denied that such horrific acts were the practical result of his work. It would have been good to have heard even a few words of regret from him.
So it is not uncommon to hear shout-outs referring to Enrile’s past as a Marcos henchman coming from the torch-bearing mob gathering around the Philippines’ Sandiganbayan (the Philippines’ “People’s Advocate” court) as it deliberates on whether the weight of evidence is enough to prosecute Enrile today for pork barrel thievery. Indeed, the decision on whether or not Enrile should be thrown in prison today is only about that — the pork barrel case. Filipinos and their popularly-elected representatives and leaders had more than enough time and opportunity to prosecute and try Enrile for the crimes he allegedly perpetrated in the 1970s since 1986 when they supposedly “regained their freedom” in that “revolution” of that year. History, however, is the harsher judge in this instance and one can easily now judge Filipinos as a sorry collective of pushovers for squandering the opportunity to do just that — even giving Enrile a solid enough mandate not just to serve as Senator for many years but to also rise to the top of the pile as Senate President.
So does the now 90-year old relic of the Philippines’ martial law years deserve to be thrown in prison? That is now up to the lawyers.
During the hearing on Friday, members of the Third Division—Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang (chair) and Associate Justices Samuel Martires and Alex Quiroz—listened to Enrile’s lawyer Estelito Mendoza challenge the more than 9,000 pages of documents submitted by the Ombudsman as any proof that Enrile received kickbacks from the pork barrel scam.
Martires assured Mendoza that the division read all the documents.
“I will read the 9,000 sheets (of paper). I don’t care what the lawyers, the media think. This court will base its decision on the evidence,” Martires said.
That sounds fair enough now, doesn’t it?
[Note to all metaphorically-challenged readers: There is no torch-bearing mob actually gathering around the Sandiganbayan today as of this writing.]
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.