The Enrile Memoirs. Colorful Story, Colorless Book
MANILA: I love history written around a person: Napoleon Bonaparte, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Mao Tse Tung, Charles de Gaulle, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King etc. In other words, leaders. So why not Ferdinand E Marcos and Juan Ponce Enrile separately and together?
I have an autographed copy of JPE's memoirs entitled Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir, from the 3rd printing in November 2012; the work was edited by Nelson A Navarro (NAN) and published by ABS-CBN Publishing (Quezon City, 753 pages, with index). That book is JPE's story of his life. This essay is my story of that story as it has been told, and now I can tell you:
I'm happy with the story, unhappy with the telling.
No, it's not the author's fault. And no, it's not the editor's fault either. JPE's is one long, damn good story; I believe there's much truth in it - but what has come out is only the promise, not the fulfillment of it. There are gifts as well as gaffes. It's a great life, but not a great read.
WHAT WE HAVE: A BOOK
We have a book that reads as if it has been dictated by a somber spirit. There are bright spots here and there, though. Like, the author's Prologue is interesting, inviting; with the very first words, you want to read more:
This is the story of my life … the story of Juanito Furagganan … the story of Juanito Ponce … the story of Juan Ponce Enrile.
Culled mostly from my memory, the events narrated here describe the personal terrain that I traveled and the indelible mark that all that happened to me has left in my mind, my soul and my being. They portray my struggles with fate and adversity, my encounters with triumph and defeat. They describe the wisdom and folly of my acts, and the boldness and perils of my decisions and actions as I waded my way through all of eighty-eight years to where I find myself today.
As you can see, in the Prologue, you find the force of the story, the authentic voice of the storyteller not usually found in autobiographies. You want to listen to more of the narrative.
There are sparkling gems, such as this one (page 189):
Our work was made easier because I was concurrently the Commissioner of Insurance, Undersecretary of Finance, and Acting Secretary of Finance. I was designated as Acting Secretary of Finance for a second time soon after I was appointed Acting Insurance Commissioner when Secretary Romualdez left for the United States to prepare the first state visit of President Marcos to Washington DC in September of 1986. With my three hats, I was able to act fast at the Insurance Commission. I would recommend the rules as Insurance Commissioner; I would review and countersign them as Undersecretary of Finance, and then I would approve them as Secretary of Finance. These I did at the same time. No red tape.
That needs a little tightening, but you're sure it's Enrile speaking, and to the point.
If you don't have an idea who is Juan Ponce Enrile, here he describes, if inadvertently, his whole life in one little paragraph about the Barrio Self-Defense Unit (BSDU), not of his own making (page 295):
I was taking a big risk in steadfastly promoting the BSDU program. But it was too late for me to retreat. I had gone too far already in pushing it. I had burned my bridges, so to speak. Besides, I was absolutely certain that I was doing the right thing. So I held on.
That is vintage Enrile. Taking risks, he says, "I was absolutely certain that I was doing the right thing. So I held on." As a lawyer, he had studied the matter well. As a boy, he had already been encouraged by his mother Petra Furagganan and stepfather Macario Rapada to be self-motivated. He said (page 22):
My mother and my stepfather left me alone. They never told me not to do this or not to do that. They allowed me to take care of myself and to think for myself.
So how do you explain why JPE had been in and out of the Cabinet, in and out of government? He explains himself indirectly when he replies to Bong Tangco's reservations about Martial Law (page 386):
Bong, it is too late to ask that question. Anyone who entertains a doubt on the wisdom, legality, or validity of the declaration of Martial Law is free to leave the Cabinet. No one is compelled to stay. Every one of us must decide for himself whether he wants to remain in the Cabinet or not. No one is obliged to stay.
He obliges himself to stay. That is where he finds the meanings of his life, plural. Whatever they are.
Oddly, NAN the Editor mentions as one of JPE's achievements that JPE "had labored for four years on his manuscript. He not only patiently sat at his desk day after day, but he mastered computer technology that people half his age would have found impossible to crack." I must take that as journalistic hyperbole. JPE is 88 and I'm 72; I have been a writer of 37 years and I have mastered my word processor (currently Word 2010) and desktop publishing (DTP) in the last 25 years, and I know all I need to write my draft manuscript is opening Word 2010, typing and saving, no formatting and no DTP; and basic filing is only copying files, moving files, nothing sophisticated there.
Mostly, the editorial attention was focused on the journalist's side, not the writer's side. So, not surprisingly, much of the book disappoints. As edited and designed, the plot doesn't thicken; it thins out; the autobiography is unstimulating, uninspiring. Here are the very first words of the book itself:
Chapter One: My Beginnings
I was born in a tiny village on February 14, 1924. At that time, barrio Mission in the town of Gonzaga was a sandy, coastal fishing village situated at the mouth of the Mission River. The river separated the town of Gonzaga, which was on the eastern side of the river, from the town of Buguey, which was on the western side. Both towns are in Cagayan, a province at the northeastern tip of Luzon.
Not an exciting life, is it? Not one of poverty, deprivation, sadness, defending oneself against adversity, fighting against an unseen enemy, being a survivor in many a battle? If you can't excite the reader as he begins, why expect him to continue?
This could have been the very first words of the book under Chapter One (I copy from page 175):
It was January 16, 1966, a day I could not forget. For not only was it the day when I entered government service, it was also the day that marked my entry into the annals of our country's history.
This strongly draws you the reader into the story, unlike the actual weak statement that begins, "I was born in a tiny village on February 14, 1924. At that time, barrio Mission in the town of Gonzaga was a sandy …"
In fact, there are many JPE sparkling jewels embedded in the rock, unmarked, uncut. Here's another (page 457):
For his part, Assistant Secretary of State Hummel, who was seated across the breakfast table directly in front of Ambassador Romualdez who in turn was seated beside me on my left, muttered audibly, "What do you expect us to do? Do you want the United States to declare war every time you are attacked?"
And here is President Ferdinand E Marcos exhorting the members of his party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) to action to support his presidency; the date was 07 January 1985, and JPE writes (pages 528-529):
Before the KBL meeting ended, he harangued the caucus. He called upon his KBL cohorts to once again summon their will, courage, and what he called their "l'audace" in the face of the current adversity in order to overcome the political opposition. He reminded them and exhorted them to regain their nerve and verve to stand up and to fight like him. He boasted that he was prepared to don his military uniform again and take up his gun to do battle against the enemy.
He ended up and said with an air of boast and obvious irritation, "The leaders of the opposition are so frightened with the prospect of an election in 1985 that they have to organize in Europe, in Hong Kong, and in the United States. They must think that I have recovered already ... which is correct!"
Name it and JPE was there, and he remembers well.
Here's one on the Edsa Revolution as it actually started (page 558):
In the plans of my group, Camp Aguinaldo never entered the equation. My choice of it that day as a venue of military challenge against President Marcos was a pure historical accident. It was a classic depiction of what Carl von Clausewitz said: "change and uncertainty are the two most common and most important elements in warfare." (I simplify it and call it intuition - Frank A Hilario.)
The occurrence at Edsa of the 1986 revolution that awed the world and that brought down the Marcos regime was the result of pure chance. (It followed the historical accident of Camp Aguinaldo - Frank A Hilario.)
Here's another (page 678):
The campaign (for Congressman of the First District of Cagayan) was not without ironies, though. Soldiers who were under me at the Department of National Defense were my enemies, and the New People's Army rebels were now acting as my bodyguards. The net result was that I could go to the remotest or most rebel-infested barangays unmolested. That was the way it was.
And here's still another (page 714):
To be honest, revisiting my humble beginnings and the details of the cruelties I suffered in silence became all too painful for me to recount. I stopped many times because I simply could not bear the pain of remembering.
You have to read slowly and carefully to identify the diamonds. In the book, there are no arrows of words tagging them with their carat number.
WHAT WE NEED: A BOOKMAKER
JPE's life is a first class story; apart from such precious stones as I have quoted, much of what we're reading in the book are presented as ordinary stories, just as the images in the book are presented as ordinary photographs. A colorless book, not to mention that it is indeed in black & white. JPE needed more than an editor, and he knew it. When he handed NAN his manuscript of 2,000 pages, he said, "Take a look at it. I am not a writer, just a lawyer."
What the story needed was a bookmaker, and that's who we're talking about here next. This time, I'm speaking as a would-be book producer of autobiography as history; here, I am reinventing the concept of the bookmaker, from being "one that edits, prints, publishes, or binds books" (American Heritage Dictionary) to being "one who edits, designs, improves, transcends, organizes and reveals the best of the story and, with those, transforms a manuscript into a book worthy of the name" (Frank A Hilario's The Suburban Dictionary, 2013, blogspot.com; you may also want to read my essay, "The Bookmaker. 1 man in 1 year, 3 speeds with 3 books," 12 January 2013, Out Your Box! blogspot.com.)
Let us now investigate what a bookmaker is supposed to do with a manuscript that is both autobiography and history. I say the bookmaker's complete set of tasks can be contained in the acronym E:D:I:T:O:R: - Edit, Design, Improve, Transcend, Organize, Reveal - each of which I flesh out below.
The bookmaker takes good care of the grammar, spelling, poor & bad language, redundancies etc of the text. They did not use the Grammar & Spelling Checker when they worked on JPE's manuscript, and that explains the embarrassing number of editorial lapses. (If you doubt me, I will send you a Word file of 6 pages from the book and you explain to me why it's editorially perfect. If not, I will send you the same 6 pages with my 30+ editorial footnotes. Email me if you please, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The bookmaker takes good care of the physical aspects as well as the visual appeal, the design of the book. JPE's book is as forbidding to read as a Bible, or a textbook, or a manual on journalistic style. The layout is heavy, like that of a textbook. The images have almost no impact on the pages where they are laid out.
The bookmaker takes good care of the clarity, conciseness, coherence of thoughts, and comprehensiveness of the story. To improve the storytelling, the bookmaker may add or subtract to the substance. He must bring out the best of the storyteller in terms of style. JPE's is not that book.
The bookmaker minds the hidden mainline that connects the stories along the way, from beginning to end, the feedforths as well as the feedbacks. If it is destiny, the bookmaker extracts what exactly is that destiny. JPE's book talks about destiny, but it got lost somewhere.
After defining and/or redefining divisions, sections and parts and identifying them with intelligent heads and subheads, the bookmaker sequences the components into a whole whose coherence shows in the very table of contents itself. JPE's book is simply a laundry list of titles and subtitles:
Book One: With God and Guts
Chapter 1. My Beginnings
Chapter 2. Growing Up
Chapter 3. War And Survival
Chapter 4. The Turning Point
Chapter 5. My College Years
Chapter 6. Into The Law Profession
Chapter 7. Career And Marriage
Chapter 8. The Marcos Connection
Chapter 9. Joining The Government
Book Two: Making A Difference
Chapter 10. Martial Law Administrator
Chapter 11. Plots And Counterplots
Chapter 12. The Unraveling
Chapter 13. The Four Days Of Edsa
Chapter 14. Setting The Record Straight
Chapter 15. After The Revolution
Chapter 16. Banishment From The Cory Government
Chapter 17. Lone Oppositionist
Chapter 18. Back To The Senate
Chapter 19. Erap's Presidency
Chapter 20. Under GMA
Chapter 21. Another Chance
Chapter 22. My Last Term
In other words, the book is organized in such a way that it looks like JPE has been running all his life from one story to another, moving on from one happening to another.
The bookmaker either extracts the meaning of the best in the life of the man in relation to his country, or what has been consistent and desirable in him worth emulating by his people, uncovering the social value of the whole story from cover to cover. The JPE book didn't do this.
The first 3 duties of the bookmaker require more critical thinking than creative thinking. The second 3 duties of the bookmaker require more creative thinking than critical thinking. Yes, I invented the concept of The E:D:I:T:O:R: What I'm saying, for the first time in the history of bookmaking, is that the best bookmaker of an auto/biography must be both a critical and a creative thinker. Even better, he must be a creative writer himself.
Here then are my EDITORial comments on JPE's autobiography as fathered by NAN:
The editing leaves much to be desired. The grammatical & other errors are too many to enumerate. If truth be told, the "Editor's Notes" that comprises the first 6 text pages of the book contains too many noticeable errors that to continue to ignore them reflects on the Filipino's mastery of the English language.
The book design is unremarkable. This is in contrast with JPE's life that is truly remarkable. The book is unoriginal even as JPE's story is highly original. Even the cover hardly grabs your attention as a reader.
The storytelling is unimproved. It's boring. Here is where the editor failed the author.
The book fails to transcend JPE's stories. The book fails to view the many stories told as they add to one intriguing overall story. There is no unifying element throughout.
The book is organized as merely a chronology of events. All that and no play makes JPE's a dull book. The book is not an absorbing story told; it is merely a recitation of events. That is because someone felt secure with the journalistic point of view and nobody encouraged anybody to look at the JPE story with a writer's eye for drama. The book and chapter titles together fail to connect with each other. Indeed, as in a journalist's report, within the chapters, the subheads are placed there only to break the monotony of text and not add excitement to invite further reading.
The book is not transparent. It doesn't make JPE's message apparent to the world of readers. What is the message in the first place?
Now then, as a bookmaker, I ask, "Pray tell, what is the whole message of JPE's memoirs?
If I were the bookmaker, I would not have left that question hanging in the air. As a matter of fact, I would have tried to discover the social value of JPE's life in those 2,000 pages first before I did any editing, designing, improving, transcending, and organizing.
"What is the one thing we want to be thankful for in relation to the life of JPE?" Since in his Editor's Notes, NAN doesn't give us a clue, I had to look for the answer myself. And I found it in Chapter Three ("War And Survival") where the Japanese officer Nakamura begins the interrogation and torture of JPE as a captured guerrilla, and he replies candidly (page 61):
I told him (Nakamura) that I joined the resistance movement because I had no job. I told him that I wanted to serve my country in the same way that he was serving his country.
Many years later, this is repeated obliquely when Rafael Salas tells JPE that winning presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos wants him in government (page 167):
I also want you in the government. I am going to be the Executive Secretary. It will be good if you and I can work together for the country. I suggest you try it for a year. It will surely give you an idea how the bureaucracy works.
That gives me an idea, a question to ask and an answer to give:
Is JPE's book good for the country? I believe it is.
If you don't believe me, I suggest you try and read it in parts for a week. It will surely give you an idea how JPE's head works as he wears many hats: Ilocano, Ibanag, Spanish, guerrilla, student, lawyer, father, husband, soldier, leader, and hero. Not to mention that he had also been a cook, dishwasher, housekeeper, water carrier, woodchopper, and errand boy.