MANILA — Philippine Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile on Sunday "categorically" denied allegations that he diverted American aid money and charged that a pending U.S. Justice Department investigation into his conduct is "a veiled blackmail scheme" to muzzle him from criticizing the government of President Corazon Aquino.
Calling the Justice Department's allegations "an old story," Enrile accused the U.S. government of interfering in the Philippines' internal affairs. He declared that he welcomes "any investigation into the matter in order to clear the name of my family and my office, which have been clearly slurred by the reports."
Enrile made his comments in a three-page statement issued Sunday in response to reports that a federal grand jury in San Francisco has begun investigating whether the defense minister and his wife, Cristina, had used two San Francisco condominiums to launder stolen U.S. aid money.
Appearing this morning before a group of expatriate Australian women, Enrile said he has documents to prove how he legally acquired the money to buy the condominiums and how he got that money out of the Philippines.
If the U.S. Justice Department pursues its investigation, Enrile warned, "I'm going to make them eat the documents."
Enrile served for nearly 20 years in the Cabinet of deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos, whom the Aquino government has sued in Los Angeles federal court for having allegedly stolen more than $2 billion in U.S. and Philippine government funds during Marcos' two decades in office.
In February, though, Enrile led the military rebellion that ultimately drove Marcos into exile in America.
A presidential commission that Aquino gave wide-ranging power of seizure and prosecution has pursued and is in the process of punishing many of Marcos' former Cabinet ministers. However, in a recent interview, commission member Ramon Diaz said the group's investigators have found nothing implicating Enrile in any wrongdoing.
"During the Marcos regime," Enrile said Sunday, "all decisions regarding the use of U.S. aid funds were made or approved in the (presidential) palace."
Enrile added that Marcos himself ordered an investigation last year into his acquisition of the condominiums "and nothing came out of it."
"I have nothing to do with any kind of U.S. aid money," Enrile said. "These reports are apparently part of a veiled blackmail scheme to stop what some perceive to be an 'unseemly' conduct on our part as far as our internal political affairs are concerned."
Enrile has been under increasing--and overt--pressure in the past week from President Reagan and U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz to stop criticizing Aquino after the controversial defense minister led several anti-Communist rallies and speeches. During those appearances, Enrile chided the 53-year-old Aquino for taking too soft a line toward the nation's Communist insurgency and for unilaterally dissolving the nation's constitution last March.
Military Being Slighted
In dozens of recent speeches and interviews, Enrile has made it clear he feels that Aquino and her other Cabinet ministers, many of whom Enrile ordered jailed during the Marcos regime, were refusing to recognize the role that he and the Philippine military played in the February coup that overthrew Marcos.
Raising a nationalist tone, Enrile has also taken the offensive against the Reagan Administration in the past week.
"I don't think the President of the United States--no matter how powerful he is--would want to involve himself in a purely internal affair of the Filipinos," Enrile declared during a speech Saturday. "That would mean a lot of things for this country and her people."
Amid daily rumors that Enrile and many military commanders loyal to him plan a coup against the Aquino government, U.S. Ambassador Stephen W. Bosworth and officials in Washington have issued almost daily statements expressing "unequivocal" support for Aquino, whose eight-day U.S. visit in September won the emotional support of many American officials.
Defense Ministry aides criticized the Aquino visit and hinted that Enrile was personally offended by Aquino's apparent deference to a nation that ran the Philippines as a colonial possession for half a century.
"I never expected that ill-meaning quarters would stoop so low in their partisan efforts to besmirch not only my name but that of my family," Enrile said Sunday, reflecting his belief that Aquino's loyal ministers have been appealing to the Americans to "shore up" her eight-month-old government.
"Needless to say, I shall not be silenced or intimidated by any designs to prevent me from serving the national interest."
The only allegations to publicly surface against Enrile in the Philippines focused on the 1982 U.S.-funded purchase of 19 helicopter gunships from the Sikorsky division of United Technologies Corp.
At the same time, the Marcos regime could have bought nearly twice the number of helicopters for the same price from a competitor. In an anti-government street demonstration last year, one placard raised the question of how much personal profit Enrile made from the helicopter deal.
Enrile filed a still-pending libel suit against the rally's organizers.
"Providence is my witness," Enrile said in his statement, which was issued while he played his usual round of Sunday golf. "I have done nothing wrong against our country."