JPE, the centenarian

Panfilo Lacson - The Philippine Star
JPE, the centenarian
Chief presidential legal counsel Juan Ponce Enrile reviews documents and pose for photos with some employees ahead the sectoral meeting with President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. at the Malacañang Palace on February 13, 2024.
STAR / KJ Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential Legal Counsel, Secretary Juan Valentin Furagganan Ponce Enrile, better known as JPE – former assemblyman, minister of defense, senator, congressman (representing the 1st District of Cagayan province), Senate president and the first and longest-serving and STILL breathing oldest public official on planet Earth and probably the entire universe – is celebrating his 100th birthday today.

Born on Feb. 14, 1924, he may well be considered by the Guinness Book of World Records as the only centenarian still working in government.

Unknown to many, he was – and still is – the champion defender of the military and uniformed personnel (MUP) pension system, for which more than 600,000 MUP, active and retired, as well as the future generations of MUP entrants, including and more importantly their families, will forever be grateful.

As Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, he publicly opposed the proposal of then DOF secretary Benjamin Diokno in March 2023 for a drastic overhaul of the MUP pension system. He argued: “Iba ang trabaho ng sundalo eh” and that the soldiers are “gambling their lives to protect the country.” His advice: “Kung ako si Secretary Diokno, dahan-dahan ako diyan. That is very explosive.” (Quotes extracted from “Reforming the MUP Pension System: A Position Paper of PMA Class of 1971, Inc.,” published in The Cavalier April-June 2023 Issue, p.45).

Years earlier, as a senator just released from confinement (and hence unable to attend previous Senate sessions), he orchestrated the Hotel InterContinental brainstorming session on Dec. 15, 2015 with me as the resigned presidential adviser for rehabilitation and recovery in Central Visayas for Typhoon Yolanda and then senatorial candidate for the May 2016 elections. Along with my Mistah, the most tenacious MUP pension advocate Vice Admiral Ariston de los Reyes PN (Ret) and other retirees, we exhaustively deliberated on the arguments to oppose the indefinite suspension of pension indexing through the enactment of Salary Standardization Law (SSL) 2015.

The bill at the time was already approved on third reading by both houses of Congress. During that meeting and through telephone coordination with then-incumbent senators Gregorio Honasan II (PMA ‘71) and Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, it was agreed that Sotto, during the afternoon session of the same day, would take the floor to file a motion for reconsideration by invoking a provision in the Rules of the Senate to return it to second reading, and deliberate again on the bill to delete the suspension of pension indexing. Senator Enrile would second the motion. The plan was executed in toto.

The Senate, which included then-senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., made a final stand to oppose the suspension of pension indexing even during the bicameral committee meeting. Had SSL 2015 been enacted, it would have been more difficult for pension indexing to resume.

Going back to our brainstorming in December 2015, I noticed senator Enrile’s vibrant demeanor as he arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel. He then shared with us that he had been busy reading books, one of which was about the West Philippine Sea (WPS), proven to have huge deposits of oil and other mineral resources therein. He likewise detailed a litany of information and data that fully convinced him that the country should protect and defend our national interest in the WPS. He was 91 years old at the time, yet his mind remained exceptionally and unbelievably sharp and brilliant.

On a different note, back in November 2008, then Senate president Manuel Villar Jr. stepped down after losing the support of the majority of the sitting senators. Thereafter, I had the privilege of nominating senator JPE as our new Senate president. With 14 senators supporting the nomination and five abstaining, he formally took his oath as the 21st Senate president of the Republic of the Philippines.

While serving as Senate president, he ably presided over the impeachment trial of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona. The rest, as they say, is history.

Considering his advanced age, JPE has the distinction of retaining not only his legal acumen and skills but also his brilliance and mental acuity that lawyers half his age would not dare challenge in any forum.

Happy birthday, Sir! Enjoy the P100,000 centenarian “dole-out” and may you have many more years to live.

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