Gregorio B. Honasan II
by Peachie Urquiola
Senator Gregorio Ballesteros Honasan II was first elected to the Senate in 1995, the first truly independent candidate in Philippine political history to win in national elections. He has been elected senator four times as an independent.
"Gringo” is the eldest child of Col. Romeo Honasan and Alice Ballesteros, an educator from Sorsogon. He dreamt of becoming a priest, then a doctor, but was advised by his father to apply at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) for a free college education. There, his father said, he would be trained as a cadet and find a noble profession as an officer in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
After a year at the University of the Philippines- Diliman, Honasan entered the PMA in 1967, topping some 10,000 applicants during the entrance exam. He was elected President of his class for four years until he graduated in 1971 as Class Baron or First Captain, the highest leadership and aggregate award given by the institution. He was also a contender for the Master of the Sword Award, the highest honor for athletics and physical fitness, after setting records in gymnastics and combat sports.
As a lieutenant in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Honasan was immediately deployed to Northern Luzon and Mindanao against various armed groups, including communist rebels, secessionists, criminals, and terrorists. Leading from the front by example, he was wounded several times in combat.
Honasan earned recognition for gallantry in action, and received three of the nation’s second highest military medals: the Distinguished Conduct Star, and three Gold Cross Medals and Wounded Personnel Medals for injuries sustained in combat. The Philippine Jaycees named him one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men in 1985 for military service, only the second soldier in the country’s history to earn the award.
At age 35, he became the youngest officer in the history of the Armed Forces then to be promoted to full colonel. He was also handpicked to serve as aide to the Secretary of National Defense, and later, as Chief of Security. In 1981, he earned his Master’s Degree from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), where he graduated with distinction for his thesis.
Honasan played a key role in the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that ended the authoritarian rule of President Ferdinand E. Marcos. He rose to prominence as one of the leaders of a group of young, idealistic officers known as the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), who believed that the President had lost control and moral ascendancy to lead the nation. Their withdrawal of support was a decisive element in the triumph of the historic revolt.
During President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration, he was accused of masterminding the Oakwood mutiny led by a new generation of young reformist officers in the Armed Forces. He was accused of military uprising, a charge later dismissed by the courts.
His entry into the Philippine Senate marked Honasan's evolution from soldier to statesman. He has since been a consistent advocate of a proactive government that would address poverty, homelessness, hunger, ignorance, social injustice, deeper forms of violence, divisive partisan politics, and uphold national sovereignty and national security.
His landmark contributions to legislation include the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, Solid Waste Management Act, and Increasing the Base Pay of Military and Uniformed Personnel in the Government. He is the main proponent of the National Security Policy, Freedom of Information or People’s Ownership of Government Information (POGI) Bill, National Land Use Policy, and proposed a Mini Marshall Plan for peace and development in Mindanao. He also supported the proposed amendments to the Human Security Act.
He has authored and co-authored vital laws passed in the Senate on Strengthening the Dangerous Drugs Act, Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation, Stiffer Penalties for the Illegal Possession of Explosives.
Honasan filed several bills in Congress on National Security, Intelligence Reform, Land Use, Agrarian Reform, Public Order, and Lasting Peace through a Comprehensive Long-Term National Peace Policy.
In the Senate’s Centennial Year, Honasan was elected Assistant Majority Leader; Member of the Commission on Appointments, and Chairman of two major Senate Committees—National Defense and Security, and Peace, Unification, and Reconciliation, and Chairman of the Select Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Confidential Funds, Programs and Activities as well as the Ad Hoc Committee on the Marawi Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Program. Other Chairmanships he held as a four-term senator for 21 years were the Committees on Energy, Labor, Environment, Agrarian Reform, Sports, Public Information and Mass Media, Public Order and Dangerous Drugs.
A relevant but low-key political career notwithstanding, Honasan remains a soldier at heart. He has been called a rebel, revolutionary, reformist, and destabilizer, among other less flattering labels. But he is, in his own words, “just an ordinary professional soldier thrust into extraordinary circumstances.” He has been happily and proudly married for the last 46 years to Jane Umali Honasan with whom he has 5 wonderful children and 5 cute grandchildren. Among his greatest achievements, he believes, are being a husband for 46 years, a father for 45 years, and a grandfather for 12 years.
As he “graduates” from the Senate after close to twenty-one, Honasan carries with him added lessons in public service. Among them are the following:
1. A senator’s primary role is to vote on proposed laws and in other related constitutional bodies. It is therefore his duty to make difficult and far-reaching choices and decisions, his best lights applying and the high ground of a constantly re-calibrated moral compass.
2.Political parties effectively do not exist in the Philippines; which is why he has opted to remain an independent in his political career.
3.The legislative process is slow and tedious. But it is worth the wait for the laws of the land.
4.Re elections: One man, one vote, one count.
5.Democracy is defined by its service to the highest national interest. The first responsibility of any government is order so that it achieves this primary objective.
After 21 years in the Senate, the ancient definition of heroism – when ordinary men and women, young and old, work together and help build for the next generation. He is convinced that the Philippines is a nation of heroes. After he has done his duty in this lifetime, he would like history to remember him less as a personality, and more for the brotherhood of men that he was part of, and what it stood for. Our greatest legacy, he believes, will always be our most precious, strategic and renewable resource: our children.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Peachie Urquiola was Sec. Gregorio Honasan's Chief of Staff for Operations at the Senate. She entered government service in 1983 and was fortunate enough to work for the three EDSA heroes in the 35 years she worked for government, i.e., Juan Ponce Enrile, Fidel V. Ramos and Gregorio Honasan II. From them, she learned the values of dedication to duty, patriotism, selflessness and competence in government service. Through them, she learned living one's life PARA SA BANSA.