[PHOTO -Author Nelson Navarro holds a copy of Juan Ponce Enrile : A Memoir which was launched last Thursday at the Peninsula Manila .The book is available at National Book Store.]

MANILA, OCTOBER 1, 2012 (PHILSTAR) By Nelson A. Navarro - Juan Ponce Enrile was, never — repeat, never — my jailer. As Secretary of National Defense, he did issue an order for my arrest on Aug. 21, 1971 for alleged complicity in the Plaza Miranda bombing. But I was 10,000 miles away attending a student conference in the United States. There I stayed for the next 17 years as an anti-Marcos exile.

Fast forward to November 2011, some 40 years later, Enrile sends me a feeler from out of the blue to edit an autobiography he was planning to publish. He’s the President of the Senate on the brink of public adulation and full political rehabilitation with the upcoming impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. I had long moved on from movement politics to journalism and the writing of biographies. The very thought that I was being enlisted for help by Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law administrator simply blew my mind.

Had Enrile succeeded in jailing me, I don’t think he would have dared to ask for my services. Nor would I have even entertained the idea of working with him. But no such rankling personal issues stood between us. I had turned my exile into the best years of my own life, lonely at first but, oddly enough, an unparalleled period of self-discovery and freedom. Indeed, I had met Enrile several times over the years after Marcos’ downfall under cordial but still guarded circumstances.

[PHOTO -President Aquino in Enrile book launch Photo by Gil Nartea, Malacañang Photo,09/28/2012 12:04 AM: President Aquino is welcomed by Lopez Group Chairman Emeritus Oscar Lopez during the launch of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile's autobiographical book on Thursday. Aquino lauded the book for its contribution to the country's historical record and lessons from the past.]

“Take a look at my manuscript,” Enrile sheepishly tells me three weeks later at a Japanese lunch arranged by mutual friends. “I am not a writer, I am just a lawyer.”

I find this tone of humility rather disarming and unusual for a man reputed to have a bad temper and a strong distaste for radicals of the past and present. Why would Enrile put his prospective rehabilitation, assuming that was his objective, in my possibly unsympathetic, if hostile, hands? Why count on the tender mercies of someone he had ordered jailed in the not-so-distant past?

Wishing to be polite and not to offend, I tell my host that I’d take a quick read of his book and see if there was a way we could work together. He sent me four huge bound volumes, some 2,000 pages of raw copy, that required two of his beefy bodyguards to bring up to my apartment.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Once I started reading, I couldn’t disengage until the morning sun was shining through my bedroom window. This was my reading fare for the next few days.

Our next meeting takes place a month later amid the furor and excitement generated by his firm and erudite handling of the impeachment trial.

[PHOTO -1972 Revisited: Imelda Marcos, Cristina Ponce Enrile, Juan Ponce Enrile, and P-Noy Aquino]

“Did you like my book?” he asks anxiously. “I know my writing style is not that good.”

I tell him flat out that, yes, I like the book and had found it a very moving story of a man who struggles against all odds and achieves his dreams. The quintessential survivor.

“It’s not the literary style that counts,” I say in all sincerity, “the important thing is that you wrote it from the heart. You touched on what you experienced and what you felt. People may disagree and have other ideas. But it’s your story and it must be told.”

We shake hands and our collaboration on his memoir begins.

Seven months later, on September 27, the book is launched in the grand manner with three Presidents of the Republic and a who’s who of society in attendance. ABS-CBN the media giant is the publisher and convenor of the event.

[PHOTO -Tri-Net: Federico Lopez, Lance Gokongwei, and MVP]

What really went into the making of Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir?

Enrile provided such a wealth of information and detail that our first task was to boil the unwieldy text down to a tighter and more digestible form. Who would care to read an autobiography the size of an encyclopedia?

My task as his editor was to get rid of the extensive press commentaries that the author had merrily tucked into the manuscript. Most were repetitive and could be condensed into a few paragraphs or eliminated outright. Enrile seemed enamored with a number of columnists who wrote long and kilometric pieces for or against him. A single incident at the Bureau of Customs, which he headed in the early years, would merit 12 or more pages of interminable coverage and debate.

Although the final copy came down to 754 pages, nothing truly substantive was eliminated. Part of the magic was due to a change to a smaller typeface. All the major events and points Enrile touched on in the original manuscript were retained. If the portion on Edna Camcan seems heavily edited, the truth is that Enrile wrote tersely about subjects bordering on the personal, determined not to provide any detail that would seem salacious or libelous.

            [PHOTO -Johnny's girls: Cristina and Katrina Ponce Enrile]

I knew next to nothing about Enrile before I pored over the rough draft of his autobiography. All I knew of the man was straight out of my student activist days: he was a brilliant man who lent his time and talent to the evil Marcos regime. Ergo, why bother at all about what he has to say?

But I was soon disabused of my blatant personal bias. The Juan Ponce Enrile who emerged from the printed words was a more complex man of high personal ideals and a stubborn belief, right or wrong, in the good intentions of his chosen leader. He was loyal to a fault and he was not the type who would submit to political correctness or pander to the mob. He would never run away from a fight he considered a matter of principle. The man has character. Plenty of it.

Admittedly of illegitimate birth and raised in rural poverty, his was an uphill fight against ignorance and hopelessness complicated by war, imprisonment and torture. Only when Enrile met his father for the first time did he find a proud identity and purpose in life. He was 21 and had only finished first year high school when he set foot in Manila.

Making up for lost time and opportunity, he went on to college and became a lawyer like his father, always at the top of his class. He won a graduate scholarship to Harvard, specializing in corporate law and taxation that made him a leading Manila lawyer and a fairly wealthy man in just a couple of years. He married a beautiful and talented woman, raised two children and established a home he never had in his youth.

[PHOTO -His father's son: Jackie Ponce Enrile]

This Horatio Algeresque story of triumph over adversity extended to Enrile’s early years in government when he joined the first Marcos cabinet in 1966. For the next four years, he was counted among the “Best and the Brightest” of the technocrats in a government that consciously evoked JFK’s Camelot. There was no hint of scandal whatsoever. Media dubbed him Mr. Clean. Enrile was an honorable name marked for future advancement into elective office, possibly as a senator and even president of the realm.

[PHOTO -Aawitan Kita and more: Senator Enrile's sister, Armida Siguion-Reyna]

Harsh reversal of fortune came with the turmoil that followed Marcos’ election to a second term in 1969. A faltering economy and all-out antagonism of the opposition turned the administration into a tottering regime under siege. This provided the opening for a student rebellion that also saw the rebirth of the outlawed communist movement that called for armed overthrow of the government. In the South, the Muslim minority was restive and in no time there would come to fore a full-blown separatist movement.

As Defense Secretary, Enrile was in the direct line of fire. He was defending a presidency under direct threat of subversion and mayhem. He could not but fight with and inherit Marcos’ enemies. When he signed on for martial law, his fate was sealed.

[PHOTO -Break, break down: Enrile tears up while talking about his book]

In his memoir, Enrile makes an excruciating but honest accounting of his almost 20 years in the service of Marcos, where he thought he made positive contributions and where he made terrible mistakes. The falling-out with Marcos was inevitable, given Enrile’s personal character and the increasingly dark side of the regime.

For all that, the unavoidable question I had to ask myself was whether I believe Enrile to be an honorable man whose word I could count on.

After reading his testimony in full, I could only come to one conclusion: the man has been unfairly judged. Part of the reason, I quickly realized, was that his story has never been told in full and therefore there was no real basis for judging his life as well as his integrity. His critics and adversaries had defined him, most unfavorably of course, and he had wasted all those years without firing back, if only in self-defense.

If his memoir could only be published and read by a wider public, Enrile could be viewed in a far better light than he has been all those years under Marcos’ terrible shadow. He would not exactly come out a saint but, nonetheless, a decent man who, for almost 50 years of a remarkable but roller-coaster political career, has been trying his best to serve his country and people. It was just about time Enrile put himself on record and in his own words.

Enrile’s authentic voice must be heard and let history be the final judge.

[VIDEO -Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile hopes to share his lessons from the past with his book, “Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir”. The autobiography was launched at the Manila Peninsula with President Aquino as guest of honor. ANC’s Tony Velasquez has more. The World Tonight, ANC, September 27, 2012 ]

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved