The Enrile I Remember (First of a Series)-A A +A
By Jun Sula
Sunday, September 23, 2012
ONE evening in September 1972, Ninoy Aquino casually called his Senate staff to a brief huddle. Staring at the low ceiling of his Senate office outside his inner sanctum, his neat, massive head almost touching it, Ninoy's boyish face looked grim.
The downcast bigger-than-life figure, usually loud and loquacious, muttered with the tone of resignation that martial law would soon fall down upon the nation.
“If that would mean we have to go to the hills, then we'll do it,” he said, his eyes panning the glass-paneled room until he stopped at someone directly in front of him. It was Ric Cabrera, his long-time photographer from Apalit.
“Nanu tuki ka? (Will you join us?),” Ninoy asked.
But before Tang Carding could utter a word, Ninoy stopped him on his tracks.
“Eka malyari, matalote ka (You can't because you're a coward),” the senator boomed, breaking into a wide, naughty grin and bringing everybody into a chorus of nervous laughter that, unknowingly, ominously presaged the gloomy times ahead him.
In the days that followed, when rumors of his impending arrest spread like wildfire, it was quickly squelched on television by another fast-rising powerful man in the country. It was Juan Ponce Enrile, then Secretary of National Defense, whose former office as Secretary of Finance could be seen from the window of Ninoy's office on the 4th floor of Congress.
“As long as I am the Secretary of National Defense,” I remember Enrile saying on television – I think it was on Channel 5, then owned by the Roces family and where Ninoy had his own program -- “Ninoy will not be arrested.”
I was working at Ninoy's Senate office at the time and I was relieved to hear Enrile give the assurance. I thought he really meant it. Nor there was any reason to doubt he meant it.
An earlier incident lent a political nuance to that impressionable and naïve thinking.
One day, a looker of a woman visited Ninoy in his Senate office. She was “tall, tan and lovely” like the Ipanema girl from a Brazilian song.
In whispers, Ninoy's staff quickly found out who she was.
She was, they said, Enrile's relative from Cagayan – in fact, she was said to be her aunt.
No wonder, a mestizo political aide remarked, Enrile's father fell for Johnny's mom.
But on that fateful evening of September in 1972, Enrile's word was ultimately tested, to my dismay and shock. My boss was suddenly arrested while supposedly in a caucus at Manila Hilton not too far from the Senate.
Either Enrile conveniently forgot his public pledge or he was simply overruled by more powerful men in his political cabal and historic time, principally Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Sometime in the early 80s, a few years before the EDSA Revolution, a close friend and office mate of mine approached me with a family problem.
They hadn't seen his father for a long time now. He was in the custody of the military. And my friend feared that he could be dead.
The father, from Concepcion, Tarlac, was Ninoy's chief security officer. When martial law was declared, as Ninoy's close aides were being arrested – and tortured – one after another, my friend's father went into hiding. He succeeded for a time until one day the military was able to track him down in a cockpit arena somewhere in Marikina.
My friend, who was every muscle and motion like his father, was deeply worried. I told him we could try someone very powerful who could possibly help him.
“Who?,” he asked.
Enrile, I answered.
“How?,” was his next question.
I laid out the simple plan: We would write Enrile a letter, citing the father's circumstance and would ask another influential person to bring the letter to Enrile. Then we would wait as if for an answered prayer.
In a week's time, my friend got Enrile's response. He had directed someone to look into the case and will hear from them any good or bad news.
It didn't take long when the news came. Luckily, it turned out to be a good one. The father was alive, for a start, and locked up in a nondescript safe house somewhere in Quezon City. He was thin, weak and older. But he was alive and kicking.
Thanks to Enrile, who probably signed the father's arrest warrant, my friend's family and his father were reunited. Eventually – I'm not sure if it was during Enrile's time or after the EDSA Revolution, the father was released from prison.
My friend's father, I learned a few months back, died about three or four years ago. Pnoy even went to the wake, my friend told me.
I forgot to ask if Enrile was informed about his once-upon-a-time prisoner's death.
I don't think he could recall him from the many whose sad and tragic fate during martial law may have had his official stamp and signature.
(To be continued)
Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on September 24, 2012.