Four years ago, Emmanuel Pelaez, then a member of parliament and minister of state in the government of president Ferdinand Marcos, was returning home late at night when gunmen in another vehicle suddenly opened fire and swerved in front of his car.
The gunmen -- Pelaez thinks there were at least two -- pulled his driver out of the car and shot him in the head. The driver died instantly. Then they riddled the back seat with bullets and left Pelaez for dead.
Pelaez, however, survived. He spent two weeks in a hospital with five bullet wounds and five broken ribs.
The assassination attempt never was solved. Indeed, the case was shelved after only a cursory investigation in which Pelaez never even was asked who he thought might have done it, he said. Until now, he has declined to speak about it publicly.
Today, Pelaez, 70, accepted an appointment by the Philippines' new president, Corazon Aquino, as the country's new ambassador to Washington. In an interview, he broke his silence about the July 2, 1982, attempt to kill him. The ambush, he believes, was carried out by hired gunmen because of Pelaez's opposition to a monopoly of the country's coconut industry.
At the time, a controversial coconut "levy" decreed by Marcos was in force. It raised more than $1 billion, ostensibly for a fund to benefit coconut farmers. The farmers complained that they never received any significant benefits from the fund.
Two days after the assassination attempt, Pelaez said, he received a phone call from Marcos, who confided that he was certain that the ambush was the work of Moslem separatists. Now, Pelaez said, that statement reminds him of Marcos' prompt claim the following year that the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. was carried out by a Communist gunman.
"I told the president that, with due respect, I was certain it was not the Moslems," Pelaez said. "Everyone believes it had to do with my very strong stand against the coconut monopoly." In response to public pressure, Marcos lifted the levy the following month, but no accounting of the levy fund was ever made, according to the published accounts quoting critics of the policy.
Under the new Aquino government, investigators are starting to unravel the sources of the vast fortunes amassed by Marcos, his family and the associates of Marcos who benefited from their friendship with him. But other likely subjects for investigation are unsolved cases like the attempted murder of Pelaez and, of course, the 1983 assassination of opposition leader Aquino.
After the assassination attempt, Pelaez served out his term as a member of parliament from Marcos' ruling party and declined to run for reelection in a May 1984 election. Late last year, he became one of the first former Marcos associates to endorse Corazon Aquino in the Feb. 7 presidential election.
Pelaez had served as vice president and foreign minister under president Diosdado Macapagal from 1961 to 1964. Pelaez, who is from Misamis Oriental Province on the southern island of Mindanao, made his reputation as a special prosecutor after World War II handling cases of Filipinos accused of collaborating with the Japanese, according to a Philippines' "Who's Who" of 1957.
As ambassador, he will replace Marcos' brother-in-law, Benjamin Romualdez, who fled the Philippines shortly before Marcos, his family and nearly 80 friends, military aides and employes flew to Hawaii last week in the midst of a largely nonviolent pro-Aquino "revolution."