'Coward'

By LITO BANAYO
Ang Pahayagang Malaya
January 26, 2010


‘Is it perhaps because Enrile knows more? Or is it plain and simple cowardice?’
WHAT would you do when someone calls you, publicly and openly, a "coward"? What ought you do if the one assailing your character is a fellow senator?

Which brings to mind the legendary politician and statesman, Jose Bayani Laurel Jr., eldest son of the wartime president. Tio Pito with whom I was extremely privileged to be associated, was not only an astute political player, but more so, a principled man with the courage of his convictions.

After years of martial law, when it became quite clear that the allegedly "noble" ends of authoritarianism were being abused, and after Marcos had declared his Kilusang Bagong Lipunan not just a movement but a political party, effectively condemning the NP and LP into political limbo, Speaker Laurel spoke openly against authoritarian rule. "Sobra na. Nais pa yatang maugatan sa kapangyarihan" (This is too much. He wants to be rooted in power), said the man who swore Ferdinand Marcos into the Nacionalista Party and from there win the presidency from Diosdado Macapagal in 1965.

In a speech at the Manila Hotel, Speaker Laurel perorated against "the narcissistic effects of absolute power", and thereafter, he and his younger brother Salvador (Doy), began to unite the opposition under a political umbrella called UNIDO. I became UNIDO’s backroom worker; by title, its deputy secretary-general.

I recall a story one of his associates in the law office told me about how then Rep. Jose B. Laurel Jr. went straight to the Senate offices in the upper floor of the Old Congress Building (now the National Museum) and sought out a Nacionalista who voted against the party line. Upon seeing the unfortunate fellow, dimunitive Pepito charged at the man, and slapped him in full view of astonished Senate staffers and reporters. The politician turned pale, froze, and simply walked away, even as Pepito challenged him – "Ano? Magpaka-lalaki ka!"

Why do I recall Pepito Laurel in this article? Because his heirs sold the ancestral home called Villa Paciencia on Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong to the man whom Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile called a "coward".

Pepito inherited the stately manse built by his father, the wartime president. And he lived there until his own death. There it was where Doy Laurel in December of 1985 announced after weeks of agonizing that in the higher interest of the nation and the people, he was giving way to the wife of his bosom friend Ninoy Aquino, as presidential candidate of the United Opposition against Ferdinand Marcos in the snap elections of 1986. Thus was history writ --- the Cory Aquino-Doy Laurel tandem became a juggernaut against the dictatorship and neither armor nor artillery could stop the surge of People Power in the fateful days of February 22-25 when Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Valdez Ramos mutinied against Marcos.

Villa Paciencia has thus become part of our contemporary history --- citadel of brave men who did not flinch, and principled statesmen who took to heart what their once proud and noble party proudly emblazoned in its escutcheon --- "Ang Bayan, Higit sa Lahat".

Juan Ponce Enrile was himself once a Nacionalista. Marcos’ lust for political hegemony drove Enrile to the KBL and EDSA drove him out of it, when he staked his own life against his political patron, knowing fully well that Marcos was no coward, and frontal clash could mean his own mortal end. But God willed, and the people prevailed. Enrile’s courage paid off. Clashing political ambitions kept him out of the Nacionalista Party he could have rejoined. Whatever his detractors may say of the man --- never, ever has he been a coward. So when he publicly calls someone a "coward", know that it is not judgment so easily made. Brave men do not easily condemn another for cowardice. It is easy enough to call someone a dolt, even a crook, but when one summons his convictions to publicly call somebody else a coward, he is prepared for the worst.

And what wore Enrile’s patience thin?

Villar was ousted by his peers because of the stink that his suspected "taga" in C-5 wrought, and they chose Enrile the new Senate President in late 2008. A lady with balls, Senadora Jamby Madrigal, produced documents to prove that Villar made a killing by self-dealing within the chambers of the Senate, as Chair of the Committee on Finance which oversees the general appropriations law, and even as Senate President. These were referred to the Senate Committee on Ethics chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who discovered the double appropriation for the same stretch of road in the previous year’s budget. When Lacson started to investigate, Villar and his loyal acolytes charged that Lacson was into a political lynching of a fellow "presidentiality". Villar summoned enough courage to stand on the floor in early 2009, after weeks and months of hiding behind the petticoats of Alan Cayetano and their media chorus line. And there he hurled his "immortal" challenge --- that he would answer these "unfounded charges and fabrications" not before Lacson’s "hang" jury, but before his peers, all of them, on the floor of the Senate.

Lacson the following session day moved to convene the Senate into a Committee of the Whole, to obviate Villar’s accusations of partiality. Their peers agreed. But Cayetano and Arroyo and Pimentel, Villar’s hallelujah chorus stalled the proceedings of the SCOW by questioning every nook and cranny of every rule and procedure. Enrile prudently gave in to much, but when it was clear that obfuscation was the only intent, he called for a vote, and proceeded with investigative hearings that Villar and his acolytes snubbed. Pimentel even went to the Supreme Court for a TRO, which never came. Meanwhile, Villar and his choirboys kept stone-walling with smoke and mirrors through "cooperative" media. He was after all, the presidentiality with the "mostest" from C-5, from Capitol Bank and its successor Optimum Development, from Norzagaray and Daang Hari, with Daang Reyna to boot. And Camella, Palmera, Adelfa, Brittany, Portofino, Crown Asia, La Marea, and a long train of dispossessed or hoodwinked landowners, not to mention agencies left holding empty bags, from the graft-pockmarked housing funds to the nation’s fiduciary of financial fidelity --- mismo!, the Bangko Sentral.

And when La Loren needed a smoke and mirror legerdemain to explain why she would live in with the man she denounced months before as a virtual crook, as her vice-presidential prize catch, Villar and his acolytes produced a premature resolution mid-November last year, absolving himself, with himself, mismo!, as the 12th signatory, from Madrigal’s charges. And oh, how they went to town with it,

Enrile calmly said the resolution was premature for the SCOW had yet to make its final and formal pronouncement. Lacson called the hastily-written Villar resolution as a mere scrap of paper. But as 12 signatories constitute a majority of 22, the media chorus line proclaimed Villar as white as driven snow. That was in mid-November. Two months and a colorless Christmas season after, Enrile quietly asked his peers to review his committee report.

But confident of his 12 signatories to the premature resolution, with his acolyte Cayetano now dismissing Enrile’s report as just "a piece of paper" Villar this time set a bigger adventure for himself --- the Senate Presidency. Unknown to Enrile, Villar had been button-holing fellow senators peddling his last two-minute fast break. To one senator, he offered a cabinet position in his "future cabinet" and thereby insulted the man, who after all was running for president himself! In a Senate of 22 sitting members, such button-holing never remains a secret, and soon enough, Enrile had 12 signatures in his committee report recommending censure of Villar and reimbursement amounting to 6.2 billion pesos. Jinggoy Estrada signed, and Kiko Pangilinan forsook his Wednesday Club, invoking a "party" stand. The tables had been turned, and Villar’s gambit had become a mis-adventure.

It was at this point that Enrile pronounced not just the guilt of Villar as peer, but his cowardice as well. It has been a week since the crusty old man and eleven other peers judged the C-5 at Taga "engineer" censurable for acts unacceptable to a senator of the realm. (This article was written Monday morning, ahead of an expected showdown on the floor in the afternoon). But in Iloilo on Sunday, sashaying with the Dinagyang revellers, Villar declared that he would not face the Senate. "I don’t see any relevance on the truth (sic). I have answered the issues on the floor (really?) and I have granted more than a hundred interviews (then why not face your peers?) It’s on the website, and I have placed an advertisement regarding that," Villar said. Dinadaan sa pera-pera, as always.

Tail between his legs. Now his petticoat chorus invokes national interest to say Enrile must be replaced by one whose term shall expire in 2013 yet. But their principal, the man who bought Villa Paciencia and the Nacionalista Party from the Laurel heirs, has yet to summon what, in the words of Jose B. Laurel Jr., "magpaka-lalaki ka" connotes.

Is it perhaps because Enrile knows more? Is it because an 85-year old "enemy" could do so much damage to a carefully-laid out campaign oozing with an indecent amount of billions? Or is it plain and simple cowardice?

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