Honasan belie Almonte claims in his memoir

almonteAs soon as the national papers reported the launching of former National Security Adviser Jose T. Almonte’s life story, “Endless Journey: a Memoir”, where former Lieutenant Colonel, now Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan was put on the spot when an excerpt was specifically mentioned about the latter being involved in the plot to kill the despot Ferdinand Marcos and his family, I immediately knew that Gringo won’t take this sitting down and that, more sooner than later, he will issue not only a denial but a tongue-lashing as well.

Well, what else can Gringo actually do when put on the spot, and a touchy one at that, knowing that one of the Marcos family member is now his colleague in the Senate?

What this boils down to really is for the public to decide whom to believe between Almonte’s assertion of it as truth and Honasan’s rejection of it as a lie.

“My own take is you don’t have to lie or distort history to sell a book,” Honasan, reportedly, said.

Well, we all know who did what, and just because Honasan is a senator of the realm now does not mean that he is more credible.

I am reprinting below a long excerpt from the book where Almonte describes Honasan’s participation in the sinister plot, and so I will not elaborate on it further.

It will just probably suffice to mention briefly, but significantly, the contrasting comparison between Almonte and Honasan as described by Wikipedia.

Jose T. Almonte was the former National Security and Director-General of the National Security Council in the Cabinet of Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos. He was also the head of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the Director Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (EIIB) during the administration of Pres. Corazon Aquino.

Senator Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan

Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan

Gregorio Ballesteros Honasan II, better known as Gringo Honasan, is a Filipino political figure. He played a key role in the 1986 EDSA Revolution that toppled the alleged dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos. He led a series of coup attempts against the administration of Corazon Aquino. President Fidel Ramos granted him amnesty in 1992. He entered politics and became a senator from 1995 to 2004 and again since 2007.

Suffice to say also that if Honasan is now an honorable senator, we only have ourselves to blame for our indiscretion and penchant of electing the rich, the famous, the comedians, the movie idols and the notorious to be our national leaders.

This is an excerpt from the book “Endless Journey: A Memoir” by former National Security Adviser Jose T. Almonte as told to Marites Dañguilan Vitug. (Publish with permission at GMA News Online, dated February 24, 2015)

Poignant stories of young officers – lieutenant colonels, captains, and lieutenants – about their life in Mindanao affected me. Their idealism was washed out by the harsh conditions that arose out of neglect or abuse by their leaders.

Weapons and ammunition were always in short supply. They and their men were shortchanged even on food and clothing allowances. Soldiers had no more combat boots. At the height of the fighting, on the other side of the enemy line, they saw that the Moro National Liberation Front rebels were often better armed than the soldiers of the Republic.

Evacuation facilities were so limited such that wounded soldiers who could otherwise be saved, would die. Standing by helplessly while a comrade bled to death is always a bitter experience for any soldier, because fighting side by side and suffering together bind them closer than brothers.

Meanwhile, many of the generals and flag officers had been corrupted by the regime and, in the eyes of their juniors, no longer deserved their loyalty and obedience.

I heard these when we engaged in conversations over coffee. I listened to them and asked a lot of questions. All this was very real to me because it was the same experience I had when I was a second lieutenant, when my platoon mutinied. More than two decades had passed and the same problems continued to bedevil the Armed Forces.

The officers and I used to meet in two places: the basement of the defense department building, where Lt. Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan worked as chief of security of Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, and the office of Lt. Col. Victor “Vic” Batac in Camp Crame. Vic was a key officer in the intelligence staff of the Philippine Constabulary. The room in Camp Crame became my office, practically, for five years.

That was how the Reform the Armed Forces Movement began, from the depths of the soldiers’ despair. “An entire generation above us,” the RAM mutineers would later proclaim memorably, has failed “to respond to a moral crisis.” The Armed Forces was perceived by the people as the tuta (lapdog) of Marcos.

Marcos reshaped the Armed Forces to fit his own ends. National security, intelligence, and presidential security functions were placed essentially under one man who was also later appointed chief of staff of the AFP. This monolithic structure, oiled by personal loyalties, martial law sanctions and material rewards, led to unprecedented corruption and unchecked abuses. Promotions became a matter of outsmarting fellow officers and proving personal loyalty to Marcos. The distinction between national security and the personal interest of Marcos blurred. The military became Marcos’ political partner in maintaining power and accumulating ill-gotten wealth. The established order no longer served the purpose of serving the common good. It was a cruel form of politics, dictatorial and oppressive. Marcos and his cronies commanded the economic lifeline of the nation. It became crystal clear that Marcos was not strong enough to resist the temptations of power.

WHEN BENIGNO “NINOY” AQUINO JR. was assassinated in 1983, my decision to join the RAM became more urgent. The yellow demonstrations grew intense. I was spending a lot of my time with three people: Gringo, Lt. Col. Eduardo “Red” Kapunan, and Vic, all members of the PMA Class of 1971. We limited our contact with the rest of the men because we were careful about security, of being found out. When we got in touch with many of the young officers, it was not about the RAM but about their complaints, their heartaches about the profession they so loved.

I had graduated from the PMA 15 years before they did, so I was the eldest in the group. Knowing my history, some of them were initially suspicious. Not only was I an intelligence officer – a posting that had often attracted those who thrive on secrecy, intrigue and even betrayals. I was Marcos’s special man in Vietnam, where I did highly specialized covert operations. I had also spent many years in Malacañang, in the dictator’s executive office, working with Alex Melchor, whom many in the political and military elite regarded, unfairly, as a Trojan horse for the Americans. Furthermore, I worked in the think tank of Marcos in UP, churning out intellectual rationales for his policies.

I think the suspicion arose primarily from the notion of intelligence and how it is used. The CIA swashbuckling, double-crossing kind is the more popular one. For sure, it is a powerful tool in knowing an enemy and oneself, assuring one of victory. After all, military art teaches that half the battle is won if we know ourselves and the enemy, their capabilities and intentions.

This is the conventional view of intelligence. But this was not how I applied intelligence operations in Vietnam, where we used it to build and not to destroy. The same principle eventually worked in People Power ’86, where we used it to ensure that there would be no casualties.

But we all worked for Marcos, in a way. These young men in the RAM were new graduates when martial law was declared in 1972. They were the ones used to implement it, in the police force and military. The point was, we were in a new situation.

Beyond the sense of injustice we felt, we needed to find an anchor, an ideology. We wanted to make politics serve the nation rather than selfish vested interests. The RAM looked at the basic problems of Philippine society and the mother of it all was the linkage between our business elite and our political elite. The oligarchy, both the political and the economic oligarchy, had set us back and kept us in this highly inequitable society.

What was needed was to transfer, over time, to the people the power which the oligarchs controlled. In practical terms, to make the revolution succeed, our primary concern was to get the people’s support.

We also made a choice as to which had primacy: the state or the individual? The ideology of the RAM was based on the protection of the dignity of the human person over the state. That was where we were coming from. If we had to die at all, then it should be to protect the dignity of the human being.

THE CRUCIAL MOMENT IN THE RAM was when the three members of the core group – Vic, Gringo, and Red – had decided on a plan which they had been hatching for quite some time. Vic was the strategist, the planner-intellectual. Red was the organization man, with wide-ranging contacts among the field commands. Gringo, baron of his class, was the charismatic fighting man and leader of the RAM.

When Gen. Fabian Ver took a leave of absence in 1984 pending the outcome of the trial on his alleged involvement in the Aquino assassination, two senior officers were vying to take his place: Maj. Gen. Josephus Ramas, who was head of the Army, and Brig. Gen. Roland Pattugalan, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division. Pattugalan was the candidate of Marcos. He spent most of his career with the presidential security force.

The idea of Gringo was to ambush Pattugalan in such a manner that the trail would lead to Ramas, that he masterminded the operation. Ramas was perceived as closer to Ver than the rest of the generals.

In this scenario, they expected chaos in the military. Gringo and company would then take advantage of the situation. But how? A coup was on their minds, but it was still hazy, because they didn’t know how things would unfold.

That was where I came in. “Look, this thing will not work,” I said. “It is very uncertain. You do not play a game with a cobra. You hit the cobra anywhere outside the head, you will be bitten by it. We are fighting here a revolutionary war, so we have to aim at the head of the cobra. We have to aim at Malacañang rather than fiddle with this chaotic situation.”

They debated the whole idea and they came to the conclusion that my suggestion was correct. At that point, the plan transformed into a coup. From then on, we planned to attack Malacañang. They were very professional so it was not difficult to organize. Besides, many officers disgusted with the regime joined us.

We had to go to the details of what to attack and who the persons in charge would be. The plan of Gringo was to kill Marcos and his family. He would lead the attacking force. Red would lead the attack outside the Palace, in the park, against the Presidential Security Group.

I insisted that we had no right to take the life of anybody. It is only the Filipino people who can decide to take their lives, not us. “Our revolution should preserve life. It is paramount,” I explained. “We are fighting for political ideals and no political, social or economic ideals will justify the taking of life.”

I also argued that we were not launching the revolution on behalf of Cory Aquino or the politicians; it was on behalf of the Filipino people. And that was the reason why I wanted the Filipino people to decide on the fate of Marcos and his family. I said the Marcoses should be kept alive so they could face a people’s court. We debated this very intensely. A few entertained the wild idea that I was defending Marcos because I was an agent of Gen. Ver.

As to Ver and the others, I left it up to them because their case was different. They belonged to the military and we were both combatants. They were defending Marcos and we were attacking the government. It was not for me to say, “Preserve their lives.” This depended on whether we succeeded or failed.

In the end, Gringo, said that to attack and kill Marcos would require a smaller force than having to capture him and his family. “We do not have that big a force,” Gringo pointed out.

After an extended discussion, they finally agreed that we were going to capture the family. Gringo had to recruit more people. Not only would that risk the discovery of our plot. It would also raise the volume of casualties on both sides. I feared the fickle nature of history whose judgment of historical figures is never final. In the end, we decided to build up a larger force.

We vied for the honor of leading the attack on the Palace and on its presidential guards. It was decided that the task would go to Gringo. I gave him a keepsake, a Russian AK-47 assault rifle I used during my sojourn among the Viet Cong and which, in happier times, I had intended to present to President Marcos.

Red would lead the attack on the presidential guards on the south bank of the Pasig. Meanwhile, Vic and I would man the RAM command post at Villamor Air Base, where a battalion from the Trece Martires in Cavite would join us. Maj. Avelino “Sonny” Razon, Ramos’s aide, would pick up Gen. Ramos and escort him to the Air Base where he would take overall command of the rebel forces. We chose the Villamor Air Base because of its sophisticated communications equipment.

Meanwhile, we also made up a list of personalities who would compose our transition government. The seven-person junta – called the Movement of National Unity – was to be made up of Cory Aquino, Jaime Cardinal Sin, Jaime “Jimmy” Ongpin, Rafael Salas, Alejandro Melchor, Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos. This team was supposed to prepare the nation for a new constitution and an election. But this did not happen. The winner of the snap elections, President Cory Aquino, took over the new government.

WHEN THE SHOWDOWN CAME, we had a total of 770 men.

We were supposed to launch a coup at midnight of Saturday, Feb. 22. Gringo and his team would cross the Pasig on a boat and, in the heavy darkness, attack Malacañang. Red was in charge of neutralizing the presidential guards. Jake Malajacan, who was the battalion commander of a unit that will reinforce us in the Malacañang operation, was with Red.

Vic and I were supposed to operate the command center in Villamor Air Base, headquarters of the Air Force. We had a battalion from Trece Martires in Cavite that was going to occupy the Air Base. We rehearsed this, in a way. A couple of days before D-day, a few officers from Trece Martires cased the joint and brought pansit (a rice-noodle dish) for the guards and talked to them. They did not encounter any problem. They were confident and they resolved to bring pansit again for the real action, this time with the entire battalion in tow.

For my part, the jump-off area was my quarters at Fort Bonifacio. A small group of officers was slated to meet there on that Saturday afternoon. There we would wait for developments before the crucial midnight hour. Once the action began, we were supposed to go to our respective assignments. Initially, we were to coordinate the movements of all forces, and simultaneously, Sonny was to pick up Ramos from Ayala Alabang and bring him to the command center. Once he was there, he would take over the operation. Everybody was going to be under his command. He didn’t know this. He would just be told as soon as he arrived.

On Friday, Feb. 21, there was a major wedding reception in the Manila Hotel. The commanding general of the Air Force, Maj. Gen. Vicente Piccio Jr., was there; he stood as godfather. Other Air Force staff officers were there as well, all in a celebratory mood. They seemed to have no clue about the surprise that would befall them. Everything appeared to go well for us.

But between 3 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon, Vic called and said that we were compromised. The decision was for our group to come over to Camp Aguinaldo where we would declare our withdrawal of support from Marcos and hold out. Boy Turingan and I rushed to Camp Aguinaldo.

From then on, Enrile and Ramos called the shots. They made the decisions and played crucial roles: Ramos for military deployment, and Enrile for the political moves.

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