Book Review: Enrile's revenge

It should be expected, of course, that Juan Ponce Enrile comes out well in his 753-page memoir, titled, appropriately enough, “Juan Ponce Enrile – A Memoir.”

Politicians write books to justify themselves and secure a place in history. After all, it is said that “history is determined by who gets to define it.”

Enrile, according to Enrile, is loyal (only up to a point), a brilliant lawyer, problem-solver and reformist. If President Ferdinand Marcos had listened to his advice to “hit the [secessionist] rebels while they’re still weak and finish them off once and for all,” the conflict in Mindanao would not have led to so much bloodshed.

While head of the customs bureau, he increased revenues significantly and started reforms in the graft-ridden office. What is striking is his compromise with the corrupt personnel of the bureau: he asked them to increase the government’s share in their collections to 80% (from 50%) and he promised not to question where the rest of the money went. As justice secretary, and later defense minister, he stood his ground against politicians with vested interests, including allies of Marcos.

His main regret was not spending more time with his wife, Cristina, and children. “I realized later in my life that I failed my wife as a husband and both my children as a father…When I realized my mistake, it was too late for me to make amends.”

Those who expect him to say mea culpa for martial law are in for a huge disappointment. In fact, he justifies it. In Enrile’s world view, martial law was necessary because of the “widespread violence” caused by the communist insurgency, tribal conflicts in Mindanao, internecine political wars, and lawlessness. Remember that Enrile became the most powerful person in the country at the time, second to Marcos.

He shows little remorse about this phase in his life. He says that if he knew that martial law would be used to suppress freedoms, he would not have agreed to its imposition. That’s hard to believe because on day one of martial law, several opposition politicians and activists, including journalists, were arrested and detained. Newspaper offices and broadcast stations were shut down.


The nagging question is: why did he stay throughout martial law and become its administrator and continue to work with Marcos, serving him for two decades?

Enrile offered to resign a few times but Marcos always said no. Unlike his friend, Rafael Salas, who was decisive and parted ways with Marcos early in his first term, Enrile seemed to enjoy being in power.

The answer thus begins in 1965, when Enrile campaigned for Marcos’s first presidential bid. “I decided to hitch my future and that of my family to the single goal of ensuring Marcos’s victory for it was a matter of make or break for me.” This was the time his law partners asked him to leave the thriving firm because of political differences; only he was for Marcos, the rest were for Diosdado Macapagal.

In 1983, Gen. Fabian Ver had already dislodged Enrile as Marcos’s favorite (Enrile describes Ver’s loyalty to Marcos as “blind”) and the power struggle between the two men was intense. Enrile asked to leave government but Marcos refused. “I knew that I could not extricate myself from his regime without endangering my life and my family,” writes Enrile. “ So I stayed on in the government and waited for an opportune time to get out of my entrapment.”

(To read the rest of the review, go to’s-revenge)