An Open Letter to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile by Sylvia Estrada Claudio

Dear Juan Ponce Enrile,

I hope that after your conviction, all those you intimidated and harmed before, during, and after martial law will find the courage to tell their stories. I hope that you live [long enough] to hear those stories.

Last year, the 41st the anniversary of the declaration of martial law, I wrote a long post about you ending with, “Old as you are, you may never be brought to justice. And I doubt your conscience bothers you, enamoured as you seem by unearned wealth and the pomp of your dishonourably gained positions.

And now, as a 90-year-old, you are confined to a hospital arrest. Let me charge you with what has been in my heart all these years. Because I do accuse you not just with the plunder charges but of torture and murder. Not just of people unknown to me, but also of my friends. I accuse you of having committed the crime of plunder long before you stole your PDAF as a senator.

I do this not out of vindictiveness, but out of a need for healing that you owe me and all those who passed through martial law. I do not do this in anger, but in order to share with those who did not go through those years. They need to understand why you and those like you should never ever be allowed to have power again.

What a relief to be able to call you names. I remember how you would punish people who criticized you, Marcos, and your cabal. This is what you did to my friend and former Philippine Collegian editor, Abraham Sarmiento, Jr. You imprisoned him for writing editorials critical of martial law. You released him only after you personally expressed displeasure over the editorials. He stuck to his principles after his release. You imprisoned him again until his health had so deteriorated he died shortly after his second release. Even as you seemed to recover your career, I comforted myself with the thought that the sacrifices of those who fought the dictatorship gave me the freedom to criticize you.

I have not forgotten my mother’s years of excruciating worry as she watched me go deeper into the anti-dictatorship struggle? Oh, how her friends would comfort my mother, “Don’t worry, Rita. If she gets caught I will agree to his advances and spend the night with him in exchange for your daughter’s freedom.” Yes, even then we knew that you were a predator as well. You were so lascivious my humble family knew of two people whom you had propositioned. You abused power to the maximum.

Detention and torture during martial law

Like many who lived through those years, I knew of your evil as a daily reality. My first job as a young doctor was with a health and human rights organization. I worked with those who had been tortured. During those days, detention and torture were a sure-fire combination. A couple of colleagues and I made the rounds of the detention centres with every new report of an arrest, hoping that, with a quick response, people would be tortured less, not killed.

We presented ourselves at the detention centres to any officer who would see us. We had to be brave because we knew at once this marked us as communist enemies. But they had to have a semblance of regularity. So our requests would be considered. If the officer was a tough psychopath, he would just say “no” outright. But this would give us ammunition to go squealing to international human rights groups.

So we had to wait for hours for someone from the Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAGO) to make a decision. I never met anyone from JAGO then. I did often get turned away by that office. If the JAGO turned us away, we would write you. Very rarely, for reasons unknown, you or JAGO would agree to our visit, often after weeks of delay. We always thought the delay was to ensure the torture would continue. Marcos, you and your military believed in torture as an investigation technique. After the torture, you would have us wait a few more days until the physical evidence of torture had disappeared.

But they would tell us their stories. A detainee was lucky if all he or she got was getting beaten within an inch of their life. Electrocution, water boarding, rape and other forms of sexual harassment, sleep deprivation, hearing your wife being raped, hearing your comrades being tortured, being asked to sit on a block of ice while naked — your minions were so depraved in what they created.

Labor leader Romy Castillo died of lung cancer. In 1984 your military electrocuted his testicles, put a barbecue stick up his penis, repeatedly submerged his face in a faeces-filled toilet bowl. They beat him and played Russian roulette on him. I cannot forget the day, shortly after his ordeal, when I visited him in detention. I will not let you forget his story.

Your military killed my childhood friend Lorenzo Lansang. He was only 19. He was executed in a field in Quezon province. Your hands are smeared with his blood.

I blame you for the corruption and brutality of the military and police today. It looks like they have no idea how to investigate without torture. They have become addicted to it. All those reports of human rights violations by state authorities? Your face is on the logo.

I remember that your wealth came from the thievery of the martial law years. It does not surprise me that you stole your pork barrel funds.

I bet you miss the days when you could have imprisoned me for this. When you could have had your military rape me as revenge. On the other hand, I am so glad you are under arrest now. Defanged, at last. Hopefully forever.

Your conviction will be good for our country. It will show that such diabolical behaviour will not always be rewarded. That somehow power can end and then a price will have to be paid. It may deter future wrongdoings.

You are morally incompetent. So much of your record indicates “sociopath.” It does not matter to you what people think or will remember. It isn’t right that your punishment will be so short because you’re not likely to live 20 more years. That was the amount of time you kept our people subjugated to martial law. I can only hope that you at least care enough so that the last days of your life can be lived in regret.

I hope you care about how history will remember you. You did write and spend for the publication of that lie of a memoir. So I hope that you live to see your conviction. That after your conviction, all those you intimidated and harmed before, during, and after martial law will find the courage to tell their stories. I hope that you live [long enough] to hear those stories.

But for now, this is my story. And before you go, I want you to know that the other stories will come. It’s called History. It’s called karma.


Sylvia Estrada-Claudio is a doctor of medicine who also holds a PhD in Psychology. She is Professor of the Department of Women and Development Studies, College of Social Work and Community Development, University of the Philippines. She is also co-founder and Chair of the Board of Likhaan Center for Women’s Health.

Updated: 2014-09-01 — 18:00:27