Eraser Senator?

by Juan L. Mercado

“What gnaws at the guts of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile?” a colleague asked during a journalists’ lunch on Saturday. JPE turns 90 on Valentine’s Day—and twists in the wind over pork barrel  plunder raps.

“Intimations of mortality?” we replied. “Or outcome of Ruby Chan Tuason appearing before the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing Thursday? She’ll probably be in a Witness Protection Program bulletproof vest. There, she’d ‘slam dunk’ answers to  questions Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago must be itching to lob.”

“No,” the editor replied. “It’s the need to rewrite memoirs he launched two years ago, before the country’s glitterati. Titled ‘Juan Ponce Enrile,’ this 754-page book, which recalls JPE’s  relationship with the past six presidents, blacked out incidents like kickbacks and shaving (dagdag-bawas) votes in 1995,” he added. “Can he do it before his term peters out in 2016?”

Born in Cagayan, as Juanito Furagganan, JPE was adopted by his father, lawyer Alfonso Ponce Enrile. After graduating from the University of the Philippines and Harvard law schools, he rose to political prominence. His career oscillated from pillar of the Marcos dictatorship to co-leader of the 1986 People Power Revolution.

The late President Corazon Aquino sacked him for plotting coups. He towered over the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona. And in June last year, he was toppled as Senate president—only to bog down in the pork barrel scam.

Upon return from the United States Friday, Tuason submitted an affidavit to the Ombudsman, saying that she served as a conduit, from 2004 to 2007, for “cuts” delivered to Senators Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada. The going rate was 40 percent for every project assigned to dummy nongovernment organizations.

Tuason’s sworn statement admits she personally handed cash, intended for Enrile, to his chief of staff:  lawyer Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes. She’d hand the mazuma to Reyes, in her home or restaurants like Tsukiji or L’Opera. On occasions “Enrile would join us when we were almost done for a cup of coffee. And sometimes he would just come to pick up Gigi,” Tuason added. She stopped being a conduit for Enrile in 2007.

Sorry. But Ms Gigi won’t be there for Thursday’s Senate probe. She stopped answering her phone after quitting over a spat with senators critical of Enrile’s Christmas bonuses. That was after whistle-blower No. 10, Merlina Suñas, testified that couriers Fernando Ramirez and John Raymund de Asis ladled cash, from a duffel bag, in front of “Attorney Gigi. There was no one else in the living room… I stood at the door and from there I could see.”

Last September, she flew to Macau, on Cebu Pacific Flight 5J362. Bureau of Immigration records show she booked a return flight for two days later. But she vanished. Nor did she leave a contact address. Isn’t that a reprise of how Joseph Estrada’s accountant-auditor Yolanda Ricaforte fled the country, when the Senate impeachment case erupted?

After the 1995 elections, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. wedged into the Filipino political vocabulary a new term for vote shaving: dagdag-bawas. In his complaint lodged before the Senate Electoral Tribunal, he charged that there had been a systematic campaign to gut his votes and credit them to JPE.

The tribunal confirmed Pimentel’s charges. In a tally, JPE, who had squeezed into a winning 11th slot, nose-dived into the losers club as No. 15. He raised the issue to the Supreme Court where, like far too many cases, it was overtaken by events. Pimentel went on to win the next elections. And the Court, seven years later, ruled the case had become “moot and academic.”

A rewrite of JPE’s memoirs would call for end-to-end revision of what Rappler editor Chay Hofileña calls a tale of “hypocrisy and contradictions.” In his book, JPE claims he was surprised that Marcos used his alleged ambush as the trigger for martial law imposition.

“I honestly did not know why Marcos suddenly decided to cite my ambush in justifying the declaration of martial law when he made his public statement on September 23,” wrote JPE. “There was absolutely no need for it.”

Yet, the Official Gazette quotes Enrile, after the People Power Revolution, saying “it had been staged by Marcos to justify martial law.” The Inquirer’s front page, on Feb. 23, 1986, reported that Enrile’s ambush was “fake.” Indeed, “the Inquirer was not a crony paper and was supportive of Enrile and People Power. It had no reason to fabricate a report on events of the previous day.”

The Age, published in Australia, reported:  “Enrile told a media conference at Camp Crame that an alleged assassination attempt on himself—one of the factors which led to the imposition of martial law—was staged.”

“People have different impressions about me, about you and about others,” Enrile wrote. “So let it be.” Hofileña, however, wonders: “Question is, will the truth-tellers just let it be?”

Most likely not. And they’ll probably focus on the denial, by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s spokesperson Monday, that she was the “unidentified principal of Ruby Chan Tuason.” Her husband was a cousin of former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.

Lawyer Raul Lambino defended GMA’s decision to tap P900 million in Malampaya Funds to help storm victims. She used Marcos’ Presidential Decree 910. “President Aquino used the same decree to tap the Malampaya Funds for the purchase of ships for the Philippine Navy.”

At 90, Enrile has the task of rewriting his flawed  memoirs—if he is so minded. “Every autobiography is concerned with two characters,”  W.H. Auden wrote in “Selected Essays.” That is “a Don Quixote, the Ego, and a Sancho Panza, the Self.” Was that why they put erasers on pencils?


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