Gregorio "Gringo" Ballesteros Honasan II

The EDSA People Power Revolution

For the entire world, the EDSA Revolution was the face of People Power. It showed a nation who united to oust a dictatorship, regain their freedom, and open the opportunies for change.

But for Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan and the young soldiers of the Reform Armed Forces movement, the four-day revolt was the culmination of two years preparation— a formulation of tactical strategies and physical training for their date with death.

"We realized, after years of soul-searching, moral dilemma, pain, and difficult preparations, that a reformed, effective, and responsive Armed Forces was only a consequence of the society and government it served. Thus, the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) was born more than 30 years ago, as a result of clandestine late-night meetings and intense discussions among soldiers and civilians who knew that change was inevitable."

"We were soldiers bleeding and dying in the field, for a people who no longer trusted us because we had been identified with a regime that could no longer respond to the real problems of society: poverty, social injustice, corruption, and disunity." Sen. Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan

The plan of RAM was to conduct a military operation, specifically an assault at Malacanang Palace which was the very seat of political power. With a handful of specially trained men and against overwhelming odds, Honasan and his men wanted to capture and present those accountable alive and unharmed to the Filipino people for judgment.

This would have paved the way for a National Unification Council composed of credible representatives of Philippine society, including then presidential candidate Corazon C. Aquino. The council would oversee the country’s return to full democracy, with institutional and systemic reforms in place.

"We were not lawyers who could file cases and take these corrupt leaders to court; nor were we businessmen who had the money, what we had were our principles and the only thing we could gamble were our lives. What we were are soldiers who were trained to fight and manage violence, so we devised a plan to get inside Malacanang and make our statement," But we were not going to lose without a fight, Honasan.

"If you were there during our meetings you’d think we were crazy. But we were willing to die to show the Filipino people, and the world, that there were still professional soldiers who truly loved their country. It was almost a suicide mission but how many of us are given the privilege to choose the time and place to die? And if we didn’t succeed, at least our dead bodies would at least make a statement that there were still good soldiers in the armed forces that were willing to die for their beliefs."

So for two years while the entire nation slept, Honasan and his fellow RAM soldiers were running from Camp Aguinaldo to Fort Bonifacio in full combat gear, including 30-kilogram backpacks.

They systematically stocked weapons in the Department of National Defense and trained themselves in various military exercises with the objective of training for urban warfare. After all, the battle was going to be won in Metro Manila.

"I have never trained harder physically mentally and psychologically in my entire life. We had to deliver our message to our countrymen and to the world that we are an armed forces of the people."

"The original plan was to do it on December 30, when all the Generals and high-ranking military officers made a New Year’s courtesy call to the President. We thought it was going to give us the best chance since everyone in defense was going to be at Malacanang. But when President Marcos declared a snap election, we had hopes that change was still possible and we decided to postpone it. Unfortunately the elections were a failure marred by widespread fraud and it only served to anger the people."

The plan was conceived, and a consensus was reached among RAM members and then Minister of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile. RAM would go to Camp Aguinaldo at 2 pm on February 22, 1986, where the officers recruited by RAM all over the country could rally and extend physical and symbolic support to Minister Enrile, RAM, and then Gen. Fidel Ramos, who joined them later.

"We couldn’t and didn’t say goodbye to our families and loved ones—my wife thought I was just leaving for another day at the office after an early breakfast. But we were committed, and we had to do it for good government and true reform."

"Red Kapunan and I were given the order to die first. They designated me to lead thirty men to assault the Palace which had hundreds of men guarding each and every entrance, and was fortified with bullet roof windows and doors, but we were ready to die."

People Power, which included the parliament of the streets that had been active for many years in defiance to the regime, after the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., providentially and miraculously materialized. It came together around Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame, along the entire stretch of Edsa from Makati to Quezon City, and symbolically stretching across the entire nation. Early Sunday morning, even before the crowds had gathered, a handful of nuns had come to Camp Aguinaldo to applaud the anti-Marcos forces. It was a portent of the historic upwelling of support that was to come.

"EDSA was about showcasing the power of the Filipino People. There were no superstars, no celebrities, no prominent figures, it was all about the people who came out in the streets to support a group of reform-minded young officers of the AFP who decided that the leadership then has lost the moral ascendancy to lead our country."

More importantly, the Philippine People Power Revolution of February 22-25, 1986 came into being because Filipinos from all walks of life joined hands with reformist soldiers, not so much against anything or anybody, but for good government and fundamental changes.

We were, and continue to be, proud of being part of the EDSA Revolution. It was a shining time when, in the name of God, country, and family, the Filipino people loved, dreamed, dared, and acted for the future.

Thirty years ago, we showed the world that when Filipinos get together under moral leadership real change is possible. That is the change I have been fighting for whether I was just a soldier in uniform or a part of the Philippine Senate for the past 20 years.

"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." Mark Twain

Senator Gregorio Ballesteros Honasan II is one of the rare few who found his purpose very early on in life.

Born on March 14, 1948 in Baguio City to Colonel Romeo Honasan and Alice Ballesteros, a teacher from Sorsogon, the young Greg, realized early on that his devotion was to be of service to his fellow man.

"When I was a young kid, I initially thought of becoming a priest because I felt it was the ultimate vocation to live your life serving other people. But as I grew older, I also thought about taking up medicine and being a doctor."

His elementary years were spent at San Beda College in Manila where, as a consistent honor student and accelerated from grade 4 to grade 6. Because his father became military attaché, he spent some more years at the Dominican School in Taipei, Taiwan. He graduated with honors at Don Bosco High School in Mandaluyong and took up Economics at the University of the Philippines.

But saving souls and healing the diseased and wounded was not his fate.

Medicine was a course for the upper class and as the eldest in a brood of five, Greg said becoming a doctor was not an economic possibility for their family.

"There were five of us studying and had I taken up medicine, one of my brothers or sister would have to give up schooling and I would never allow that."

"My father then asked me what was wrong with having a four-year scholarship and having a 30-year steady job-- assuming you will not do anything spectacularly bad. I asked him what it was, and he took me to the Philippine Military Academy."

He topped the Philippine Military Academy entrance exam, and would eventually graduate as "Class Baron", the institution's highest leadership award. But in between those four years, Greg faced a lot of challenges and experienced numerous changes that would affect the rest of his life.

"I was a freshman cadet, and at that time "Spaghetti Westerns" featuring Clint Eastwood and Franco Nero were big at the movies, so during my initiations, my seniors thought "GREG" was a bit too soft and unglamorous—so they decided to call me "GRINGO" to make me seem tougher. "They would then instruct me to draw imaginary pistols and shoot to other upperclassmen which often infuriated them leading to more punishment.

The name eventually stuck and the name Gringo would eventually define Honasan's tough no nonsense demeanor both in the battlefield and in real life.

To define his first year at the academy as "grueling" would probably be the biggest understatement as he recalled the challenges of having only two hours of sleep every night, long hours of marching practice, and the physical drills that almost broke the spirit of the young Honasan.

"I remember writing to my father asking him if it was okay if I decided not to pursue a military career and quit. I know he felt a bit disappointed but he advised me to just finish my first year and then make the decision."

But by the end of his freshman year, everything had changed. He was on the top of his class in academics and had learned to endure all the physical training. Gringo had already fallen in love with everything about the academy. "The training and all the hardships-- both mental and physical, I came to accept, were all just artificial pressure meant to mold us into tough soldiers who wouldn't easily quit and succumb to pressure in the battlefield."

The once aspiring legionnaire of God, had become a soldier in the truest sense of the word as Gringo found himself fighting with various rebel groups all over the countryside leading his men to victory in countless missions.

As a solider, he saw action in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and earned a number of medals, awards, decorations and commendations for gallantry in action including three Distinguished Conduct Stars, Gold Cross medals and Wounded Personnel Medals sustained in combat. In 1985, he was recognized as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men given by the Philippine Jaycees. In 1986, he was a principal player of the EDSA revolution as one of the leaders of the RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) that broke away from the martial law government. He was awarded the Presidential Commendation Medal for Government Service by then President Corazon C. Aquino.

Honasan found himself fighting for and sometimes with the government, but throughout his reformist years, one thing never changed—his loyalty to the people he swore to protect.

"In some ways, EDSA was even more frightening than the battlefield. When I was marching with then General Fidel Ramos and Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile toward the millions of people who have gathered in EDSA, I didn't know how they would react to seeing us. Were these people Marcos loyalists who are angry at us for fighting the dictatorship? And the idea of having to fight with these people to protect ourselves was frightening for me."

In 1995, Honasan ended his 17 years as a soldier to run for the Senate and became the first truly independent candidate in Philippine political history to win in national election. He was re-elected in 2001, 2007 and recently in 2013.

He is principal author and co-author of, among others, the Clean Air Act of 1999, Clean Water Act, the National Security Policy, Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2009, the Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms Law (CARPER). He is shepherding the Freedom of Information Act which he now refers to as the POGI Bill – People's Ownership of Government Information Act, the National Mapping and Resource Authority Law and the Land Use Act. Senator Honasan has also proposed a Mini-Marshall Plan for Mindanao to help jumpstart economic development, peace and order, and political unity. The proposal will also help end centuries of armed conflict and terrorism.

Senator Honasan is the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agrarian Reform and the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agrarian Reform (COCAR). He is the Vice-Chairperson of the Committees on Environment and Natural Resources and Public order and Dangerous Drugs, and also a member of 23 Senate Permanent Committees and 14 Congressional Oversight/ Ad Hoc Committees.

"My life is defined by God, country, and family. Without sounding like Heneral Antonio Luna, whenever i was at crossroads and was made to choose between my country and myself, to a fault I would always choose my country, sometimes even at the expense of my family, my career, and even my life.

Honasan is a staunch advocate of the environment, social reforms, national security, good governance, education and public health, youth and sports development recognizing that as a proud sovereign nation our most strategic and precious resource are our children.

"They say the youth are our future, but that is wrong, the Youth are THEIR OWN FUTURE, and it is our duty to entrust them with a better future."

"One of the best advice my father gave me was ‘When you are in the trenches, or when faced with difficult situations, only two things will keep your head above the water. One is integrity--be true to yourself so you can be true to others; and the other is competence. It does not matter whether you want to become a cigarette vendor, a soldier, or a senator, the only thing that matters is that you become good at what you do and be kind."

"I have been called a lot of names and received a lot of labels, soldier, rebel, revolutionary, reformist, coup plotter, power grabber, but there is one thing that no one can question about me—My consistency—I have given my life to my country, even more than my family, and my track record will speak for it."

Honasan is married to Jane Umali of Pagsanjan, Laguna, a medical technologist by vocation and an interior designer by training. They have five children and five grandchildren.

And, what does the Senator want to be remembered by?

"I was just an ordinary soldier thrust into extraordinary circumstances and during those moments I've responded by showing through actions my love for god country and family--that is my legacy."