Speech of Senator Gregorio B. Honasan
at the PMAAAI Fellowship Dinner and Christmas Party
Social Hall, Valle Verde IV Clubhouse
Saturday, 8 December 2018
Cavalier Del Lorenzana, Cavalier Ed Año, Cavalier Jimmy delos Santos, Cavalier Edgar Aglipay, Mr. Kevin Tan, Dr. Francis Canuto, members and officers of the PMAAAI, class presidents, members of the long gray line and their ladies, brothers in arms, fellow Filipinos, thank you for the honor and privilege of allowing me to share this evening with you.
I have divided what I want to share with you into four parts: where we have been in terms of our recent history; where we are; the way forward; and some reflections.
Where we have been
There have been three defining moments in our recent history which have provided opportunities for meaningful change: the ongoing insurgency, the declaration of martial law in 1972, and the 1986 People Power Revolution. We continue to have the longest running insurgency in Southeast Asia. Martial law tried to instill national discipline, political unity, social cohesion, and patriotism that would result in national security, pride, and economic prosperity.
Morale in the AFP and PNP was high—until there was a palpable diminution of control, partly because the Commander in Chief had health issues which nobody could validate. It was during this time that the Reform Movement within the Armed Forces of the Philippines was born.
The 1986 People Power Revolution was for good government and reform, and not against anything or anybody.
Expectations were high that there would be improvements in a system that continued to breed inefficiency, corruption, and disorder. Instead, we just changed personalities, with very little re-engineering to arrest institutional damage.
Consequently, unrest in the military continued, characterized by military uprisings all the way to the start of the millennium.
Part of our recent history has been the removal of two presidents by People Power in the streets, and the incarceration of two, showcasing our achievements as a democracy in progress. Were these political shortcuts good for the country and our democracy?
Our national heroes—personified by Rizal, Bonifacio, and others—were imperfect men who together dreamed of a Filipino nation which did not exist at the time. Yet our history as a people is a story of robustness more than resilience. We have tried to move forward, have stumbled at times, and have persevered on our chosen path.
Where we are
Ours is a beautiful country, and we are a good and gifted people. Many observe that our land is so blessed that, our shared problems and situation notwithstanding, all we need to do is continue breathing, and we wake up each day to find our economy growing by 6 to 7 percent.
But this is quickly followed by the commentary that as a people, “We never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Like many young democracies and developing countries, we are confronted with damage to institutions, many of which have become inefficient, unprofessional, subjective, partisan, and corrupt.
In governance, we have been relegated to perpetual medium-term policy planning, at the expense of continuity, sustainability, and predictability, leading to long-term instability.
Our front-line LGUs are driven by a local government code that has devolved authority and responsibility, without the wherewithal and support required to effectively empower them. Corruption at all levels is an issue that must be confronted by strengthening control mechanisms embodied in our internal revenue, auditing, and local government codes, which need overdue amendments.
We also have a non-existent political party system.
The way forward
The first responsibility of any government is the maintenance of order. National defense and security, drugs, criminality, and terrorism are everyone’s concern.
To respond to the institutional damage and systemic defects, we should not answer just the question “Who?” but also, “What?” Technology and energy self-sufficiency must be included in the way forward.
Faster, cheaper if not free, and secure connectivity must be made available through policy that will impact on government’s ability to harness the power of information and communications technology, to unite our people and move them forward.
Energy self-sufficiency must be achieved to break our bondage to oil producers. We have oil in our undisputed territory. We just don’t yet have the technology and financial capability to produce oil, which requires initiatives towards joint undertakings for oil exploration, sharing, and use.
Whatever paths we have followed after our military service, our defining moments will always be when we wore the uniform with pride, dedication, and honor.
The two oldest professions are prostitution and the bearing of arms. There were periods in the history of many countries when we could not tell the difference. We are not an exception.
Professional soldiers cannot afford the luxury of an ego. That is a luxury a country cannot afford in its military leaders. We are soldiers, and a soldier’s honor is obedience. In my case, I take orders—but, as you know from my life, only up to a certain point.
I was orphaned by my refusal to wait before change happened. I was orphaned by my decision to make things happen regardless of the political calendar.
We must learn not to wait for elections for change to happen. We must motivate the elected to make the changes between elections. We must remind the elected that if they will not make the needed changes, the people will make these changes for them. My success in four senatorial elections as the first true independent in Philippine political history was always a victory of this principle of popular self-help—and popular impatience. This country cannot afford to wait.
My candidacy brought a great moment in our history back onto the national stage. What is the role of courage in a country? That is the question to which four days in February 1986 gave the answer.
On a personal note: I had to explain this to my daughters. I did not see too much of them. It is hard to be with children while on the run. In the end, they realized that they are a soldier’s daughters.
It is right and proper to remember the declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972 and vow, after its excesses, never again. It is more right, more fitting, and more useful to commemorate four days in February when we, the people, and the army stood as People Power for real change and good government.
This may be the last time I will stand on a national platform to deliver a message to you and the Filipino people, so let me tell you: Yes, we can change. Yes, we can change even a bad, cruel, even the most hard-headed government.
No, we don’t have to wait and hope for change to happen when we can act now with courage. When soldiers and the Filipino people get together under moral leadership, real change will happen. Remember: Nothing is forever.
We cannot give what we do not have. My platform, our platform, must revolve around one thing: security. We look to harmony in our families, cooperation in our communities, order in the state, inclusive progress for our nation, and security in our shores.
We must look to the cultivation and preservation of our country’s most precious resource: our children. I do not, however, like the old, empty platitude that our children are our future. They are not; they are their own future.
But they won’t have a future if we don’t protect that future, if we don’t foster it, if we don’t nurture our children to be healthy and teach them by example to be brave and strong. They won’t have a future if we do not teach them to be disciplined and therefore dependable, and if we do not enable them through education to be the best they can be. As soldiers, we have seen and experienced what can be achieved with unity and courage and unflagging resolve to win, regardless of the odds.
Farmers, teachers, OFWs, workers in industry and trade, doctors and nurses, office workers, small businessmen, government employees—in sum, the common folk from whom we came, and whom we have never left behind: it is government’s first duty to protect them from crime, exploitation, and abuse, from hunger, disease, joblessness, and standstill traffic; from drugs, and from ignorance born of poor education, when quality education is guaranteed by the constitution, and demanded by common sense for the greater good of the nation.
After 17 years as a soldier, seven years as a rebel, 20 years as a senator—yes, after 44 years of public service, I want to go home to family, to community, to country, where there should be peace, unity, prosperity, food, clothing, shelter, education, health, and self-fulfillment for everyone.
I can go home tomorrow to all these things. I have a wonderful family. But that would not be home as I see it, for my home is my country, my family is my people. As soldiers we have been taught never to leave anyone behind, that no one is saved if some are lost, and that this nation under God shall prevail against its worst enemies at home, which should be enough to take care of our enemies abroad. A strong nation is never defeated. Look at history. Look at little Israel, or little Singapore.
I want to go home to my family and the country I believe we all envision our country should be. And I will fight anybody who gets in the way. I love my children and I wish to be with them—but only for as long as duty permits. I do not relish the thought of dying in my bed, an old man forgotten, a fading warrior, waiting for his last taps.
I know how it feels to be abandoned. That is why I have never let anyone go. Others may fail me in that regard, but that is no excuse for me to be like them. I take the consequences of my actions always without regret, but never without learning a lesson. Okay, sometimes I am apprehended and detained, and I escape with my guards, but that also is a soldier’s duty.
We should expect the elections to be clean, regardless of who may be the likely winner. Victory is in God’s hands, but cheating is man’s work. The answer to electoral fraud is not election protests; the answer to malicious prosecution is not a motion for reconsideration. The answer, brothers and sisters in arms, the answer lies in ourselves.
Just like most of you, I am neither distracted nor impressed by the voices of the prevalent organized hypocrisy, most of whom do not share the risk of a negative outcome. My 20 years in the senate have exposed me to many who claim to know the military, how it thinks and how it acts.
I have stood at the gates of Malacañang Palace three times in my life in full combat gear, with no invitation except from my conscience. I didn’t know how to proceed from there, but now the path seems clearer to me.
In my heart and mind, until you have been on both ends of a gun barrel, exposed to life and death in combat, felt hot metal projectiles entering your flesh, watched innocent men, women, and children maimed, or deprived of life, liberty, and property, you know nothing.
I remember what Merlin the wizard said to the young King Arthur: “Forget the past, define yourself in the present, and tomorrow you may lead.”
We are leaders in a calling that requires us to die or do what is necessary in the performance of duty. No other vocation demands this ultimate sacrifice.
My late father, a soldier himself, told me once that leaders are needed before scholars are determined.
It is providential that the Yan family is co-sponsoring this historic affair, because I remember the late Amb. Manuel Yan, when he was AFP Chief of Staff, telling the Cadet Corps that the long gray line recognizes only two aristocracies: that of the brain and that of the brawn, which add up to the brand of leadership demanded by men in arms.
At times, in the dark before daybreak, I think I hear the echo of a distant bugle call and drums. My heart pounds, muscles in my arms, legs, and shoulders tense, and my hand grasps in the dark for the familiar feel of metal and oil—and I think for an instant, I am alive.
Tonight, cavaliers, my brothers in arms, as I stand before you, i am alive again. For God, country, and family. Thank you.