Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan - Rebel in continuous suspicion


The social system and system of government of the Philippines after the Second World War is almost generally characterized by more or less instability. Only the first two government periods of Ferdinand Marcos show a questionable appearance of stability to end in a collapse then. Here and there the political landscape resembles the geographical - putatively slumbering volcanoes suddenly break open with crash and are ending in the old mess. Many factors contribute to this instability of the state order. To these factors are belonging:  

A high social inequality - round about a third of the national income belongs to the richest 5% of the population; the land reform gets on only very slowly and the world market prices for farming products have a rather falling or stagnant tendency

40% of the population are regarded as poor, they do not earn any more than a dollar per day; the chances of a social rise are in general very limited

High population growth (2.3% per annum) connected with a rather stagnating real gross national product; eight million people, almost ten per cent of the population, are working in abroad because they find any adequate job in the country, which remained with little exceptions an agrarian one 

The government representatives are mostly coming from the (old) affluent upper classes. Not seldom they come to power by ballot-rigging and other manipulations of elections to get caught up sooner or later in the maelstrom of corruption, personal gains, and favoritism 

The never ending military fight against social-revolutionary and Muslim movements striving for independence in the south of the country absorbs economic resources which are needed urgently in the sectors of the education, health, social security and promotion of industrialization. The consequences are high national debts (approximately 92% of the gross national product) and higher rates of inflation.  

Relatively frequently members of the Philippine military acted as pacemaker and initiators of intended political changes or changes of government. Gregerio Honasan was and still is a prominent representative of the politics-crucial military. At least within his middle years he decided to take the means of the military revolt to reach his nevertheless idealistic objectives. He wanted to reach changes; the question of the democratic legitimating was rather secondary for him. The following article deals with his biography.  

Early years  

Honasan was born in the year 1947 in Baguio. His intellectual abilities were already in his school years. After visit of a High School he enters – like his father before - the military service. In 1971 he acquires as class-best the degree of one Bachelor of Science at the Philippine military academy. Later he heads military actions in Luzon and in Mindanao against revolting insurgents, saboteurs and drug smugglers and loses incidentally his forefinger. His supervisors are impressed by his leadership qualities and his courage. He gets three times the "Golden Cross for Gallantry". 

From 1974-1979 - as one the youngest colonels – he is adjutant of the Minister of Defense Ponce Enrile, who belongs as one of the "Rolex Twelve" to the narrowest adviser circle of President Ferdinand Marcos. Sometimes the relationship of both is described as a father-sun relationship. Later he works as chief safety officer of the Ministry of Defense. Apparently this function gives him also the time for other occupations. At short notice he is also member of the executive board of a development bank resident on Mindanao and he is engaged as a director of Beatriz Marketing Company simultaneously. It seems that these occupations didn’t make him reach, because later as a senator, he estimates his fortune only at about six million pesos.  

At the end of the Marcos regime Honasan becomes the Commandant of the Special Operations School at the Philippine Army Training Command in Fort Magsaysay and he is very appreciated by the young officers. "Kuya" Honasan is also speaker the "RAM" (Reformed Armed Forces Movement), an opposition group of young officers that visited the Philippine Military Academy.

The RAM grouping pursues no specific ideology, it criticizes strictly, however, the system of favoritism, corruption and incompetence in the government and in the top of the military. RAM is even not afraid to clarify its protest in front of President Marcos during a troop parade, in 1985. Later the grouping finds a relatively prominent advocate in the windy politician Poncio Enrile. Enrile, which probably enriched himself during the Marcos-era und who is regarded as the third-richest man on the Philippines (1), now begins to worry about his personal safety after the assassination of Benigno Aquino.  

The EDSA-Revolution  

The EDSA-revolution was initiated from the RAM rebelling military group. This should be emphasized because later the protesting masses turn later into the limelight of the public and until today there is a dispute on the Philippines who brought down the Marcos regime, the civilian demonstrators, the church or the military. Enrile and Honasan were the ones, who planned and steered - together with others - the rebellion, which intended a new provisional government with military and civilian members. Honasan for example manages to install a spy in the presidential palace, which later, however, becomes a double agent. Despite all secrecy the revolt comes to the knowledge of General Ver, the Marcos-devoted chief of staff. On the other side the acting chief of staff General Fidel Ramos assures his support to the insurgents.  

The coup d`etat threatens to fail, however. The support by other military units is not strong enough. Now Enrile begins to pity in a telephone call with cardinal Sin: "I will be dead within one hour. I don’t want to die … If it is possible, do something. I ' would still like to live" (2). Cardinal Sin orders the catholic Radio Veritas to appeal for the support of the revolting units. The further course of the EDSA revolution is sufficiently known. Finally Enrile can call out to the old president over radio Veritas: „Enough is enough, Mr. President. Your time is up. Do not miscalculate our strength." (2)  

During and shortly after the EDSA elevation the charismatic, neat and dashing colonel Gregerio Honasan is celebrated as a "great warrior" in the media. He is the "poster pageboy", the face of the revolution and presents himself in the public - like Clint Eastwood in his Italo western - as a "Gringo" in a bullet-proof waistcoat with the Uzi machine-gun. He is now on the climax of his popularity and the new President Cory Aquino awards him the "Distinguished Conduct Star for the EDSA Revolution" and a "Presidential Government Medal".

Disappointment and following revolts in the eighties  

Nevertheless the expectations of the rebelling military are not fulfilled. The politically inexperienced Corazon Aquino is called into the presidential office; a power sharing between civilians and military members is out of question. The president dismisses veteran generals, improves the pay of the soldiers only very hesitantly and initiates examinations about military abuses. She seeks the advice of left-wing advisers and dismisses Jose Maria Sison - the chairman of the communist party - from prison. Even more she arranges a ceasefire with the NPA and the Moro rebels in the south. The military judges these "accommodating" steps very critically. Only for short time they will return into their barracks.  

The first unsuccessful attempted putsches occur already in the first five months period of office time of the President. The number will increase to eight until 1990. It is assumed that all these coups d`etat have been directed or at least got advice and support by Honasan. He himself admitted the participation in three coups d'état. Two of these putsches are undertaken by Marcos loyalists (July 1986 with occupation of the elegant Manila Hotel and January 1987 with an occupation of a TV station and military facilities). In November 1986 rumors are going round that RAM officers are planning a revolt. The Philippine government dismisses Enrile because he is supposed to be the powerbroker and mentor and also Honasan gets his dismissal in 1987. A smaller group of rebels is occupying the headquarters of the army in April 1987 at short notice ("Black Saturday rebellion"). But the mutineers surrender already after a few hours. On August 28th, 1987 we have a wider rebellion under the command of Gregerio Honasan with hundreds of RAM members and sympathizers. TV stations, the Air Force Base Villamor, the general headquarters and the Malacanang palace get occupied. But Honasans coup d'état collapses already in the course of the first day and he has to escape with hundreds of supporters to the underground. Two years pass by without further attempted putsches.  

In December 1989 the armed forces group of Young Officers' Union (YOU), a splitting-off of the RAM movement, stages in an interaction with several generals and Marcos supporters another coup d'état. The headquarters of army and air force, the international airport in Manila, the complete shopping center of Makati as well as an air force base on Cebu are getting occupied. Even the presidential palace is bombed. The American air force helps the troops loyal to the government with aerial reconnaissance. After seven days the rebels give up. In the fight for the power almost one hundred people die, more than 600 are hurt.

The image of the government of Aquino is considerable damaged - the Philippines are now compared with South American unstable rebel states. The foreign countries deduct capital investments. Honasan escapes with a helicopter. Onto his capture a reward is offered. Honasan has to hide inter alia under the bed of a servant. He is arrested, but he can escape from a prison ship in the Manila Bay. Finally he is caught and is sitting in prison for a short time. There are surely governments which would punish such an oath injury and coup d'état with the death penalty. Only the United States have put Honasan onto the list of the internationally searched terrorists up to the year 2000. But Fidel Ramos – elected as president in 1982 - grants by law Honasan and another 153 revolt officers an amnesty and a punishment suspension. One knows each another and appreciates each another. Now Honasan gets considerably quieter and is declaring his only ambition would be to get old with his wife. However, he keeps on contacts with members of the Philippine armed forces and enjoys there his nimbus as gringo and political Messiah.  

The time as senator and candidate for the presidency  

Sometime, he must have come to the understanding that the direct seizure of power is not the right and promising way. In 1995 he succeeds in moving into the Senate as one of the first independent candidates. There he is regarded as a participating "student", which primarily adapts. He has a high presence rate and follows many legislative initiatives. Honasan pleads a "Clean Air Act" and demands for an economic construction program for Mindanao. More in the limelight of the public interest he is getting when he files a law against computer pornography and when he struggles together with other Erap conspirators against the opening of proceedings against Estrada in his second senate period (2001-2004).  

In July 2003 Honasan declares that he wants to line up as a candidate for the presidency. His candidacy is getting support with almost a million signatures from the Philippine Guardians Brotherhood Inc. (PGBI), a union of armed forces, policemen and civilians, which he presides. In this context, Honasan works out a lengthily National Recovery program (NRP) in which he denounces the corruption, mass poverty and underdevelopment. The journalist Amando Dorinela has described this program (3) as a "hodgepodge" stirred together from homilies and nonsense. This "hodgepodge"- program is later very often the political blueprint for following uprisings of mutinying military groups. Later he withdraws, however, his presidency candidature and he supports – also as a security chief - Fernando Poe, the strongest rival of president Arroyo.  

In for a penny, in for a pound? The Oakwood rebellion (2003) and the conspiracy of March 2006  

17 days after publication of the NRP program 300 young officers are revolting once more and they occupy in the course of the rebellion again a feudal hotel in Makati on July 27th. This revolt also fails. Once again the government suspects Honasan as the leading head and Inspirator of the rebellion. The suspicion is based on secret service information. Honasan denies, however, any participation. Two well-known politicians and a leading rebel confirm Honasans non-intervention. Until February 2006, the inquiries of the public prosecution mark time, because Honasan refuses any statements. However, it can also be that the mills of the Philippine justice shift again very slowly as we know it from the still pending charges against Imelda Marcos or Joseph Estradas. The public sees Honasan in a rather mixed double role, he is on the one hand a democratically elected mandate holder, and on the other hand he is suspected to be still in the conspiratorial, revolt ready zone. He also nurses this suspicion - still to be a secret rebel - when in July 2005 he holds the view that he would support an "alternative remedy" when the removal of President Arroyo should fail.  

In November 2005 the Philippine secret service reports that Honasan together with Enrile and the senator Lacson would again recruit soldiers for a revolt. Their intention would be to replace the government Arroyo by a 15-headed Junta. The 20th anniversary of the EDSA revolution is approaching and Honasan suspects that it could bring some hardship up to him. He hides since February 23rd, 2006, "because he fears for his life". On February 25th the chief public prosecutor accuses Honasan officially because of his participation in the "Oakwood revolt" in 2003. The army captain Resuelo who participated in the Oakwood revolt, witnesses now That Honasan met in 2003 with the responsible mutineers and that he also recruited soldiers.  

Now it becomes known that annoyed militaries plan in interaction with civilians and communist rebels to use the EDSA anniversary (24.02.2006) for a large-scale demonstration against the government. Single soldiers involved in the plot talk later that they did not intend a coup d'état in the classic sense – only a protest march or a rally. On the other hand in these days a staff diagram ("Oplan Hackle") was found, which shows Honasan and the brigadier Lim as future leading members of a military junta. Now the president Gloria Arroyo Macapagal proclaims the "State of Emergency" for ten days. Three high decorated officers (among them brigadier general Lim and the navy colonel Querubin) are getting their dismissal and some critical newspapers are put under government supervision.  

Up to today, Honasan has remained in his hiding-place which is only known to intimate friends, i.e. his foster father Enrile. For the capture of Honasan, now searched with "anted" posters, the government has offered a reward of five million pesos. Honasan denies as expected any participation in the newest plot. What should be expected from him? He sees himself only as an adviser "of failed attempted putsches" quite a long time ago. Now, however, he has become a democrat, only the establishment is distorting his picture.  

The future development is not foreseeable. If the deplorable state of affairs in government, society and economy remain uncorrectable then the armed forces will remain politicized and new coups d'état cannot be excluded. On the other hand the Philippines have already a longer democratic tradition to which particularly the fourth column of the democracy, the media, has contributed substantially. There is also a basis for the assumption that the democracy endangering events of the past have consolidated democratic basic values and have withdrawn a little the necessary oxygen for new coups d'état.  

© Wolfgang Bethge, April 2006

(1) Microsoft - Encarta 2003, Juan Poncio Enrile

(2) EDSA I TIMELINE,, 02-22-2004

(3) Amando Dorinela, Safe in the senates,, 08-29-2003