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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Getting up close and personal with Vice Presidentiable Gringo Honasan

When I got the invitation to be part of the first group of bloggers to interview Senator Gringo Honasan, the first thing that came to my mind were memories of EDSA—the original one of course in ’86.

I was still a young girl back then but I vividly remember us joining the burial of Ninoy Aquino, and how my father excitedly cooked some food that we would later bring to Channel 4 to give to the soldiers. In a way, meeting with one of the pillars of EDSA revolution, one of the younger leaders back then, brought back the feeling of hope and optimism—that real change was going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong, ending the dictatorship did bring about change, but not just enough to steer us to the real progress everyone back then was probably expecting. I mean, we do enjoy our freedom and democracy, but there are still some pre-EDSA problems that I think continue to exist—even after 30 years.

Sen Gringo Honasan has been called a lot of names soldier, rebel, revolutionary, and coup plotter , in his lifetime and I guess one couldn’t be blamed for expecting him to be gruff, brusque and strict, just like most military men. But surprisingly he is the opposite when you meet him in person. The years may have toned him down, perhaps, but when he starts to speak about his favorite topic—GOD, COUNTRY AND FAMILY—you’ll quickly realize that the passion of that once young solider in full battle gear facing a dictatorship, has never wavered.

In his 17 years as a soldier, Honasan led his battalion against who he believed were the enemies of the people. Not in the war room but in the battlefields of Mindanao where he was injured, bruised and shot at day and night, but Sen. Honasan said that wasn’t the scary part. What scared him most during the gunfights was losing his men, seeing him die or get wounded.  “Seeing your men die was the hardest part of being a leader, because you failed them," he recalled

He would later realize that the bigger enemy however were not hiding in the mountains but in the offices of the military and the government, and that is why they decided to risk their lives in going up against the Marcos regime.

After EDSA, however, he again found himself fighting the government he helped established when they realized that things didn’t change and from being a HERO at EDSA he became a rebel, a destabilizer that suddenly no one wanted to be associated with.

Nine years after EDSA, he would continue his fight in a different battlefield—the political arena as he ran for Senator in 1995. He was the first independent candidate in Philippine history to have won a seat in the Senate.  He was re-elected in 2001 and again in 2007.

He has served the senate for the past 16 years and has filed hundreds of bills and resolutions focusing on the environment, social reforms, national security, good governance, education, youth and sports.

He is the author of the landmark legislation, the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 and co-author of the Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. He also shepherded the CARP Extension with Reforms or CARPER Law which  has recently ended and the Philippine Disaster Risk Management Act of 2009.

His other notable accomplishments also include a better Fire Code, improving the promotion system of the Philippine National Police, across-the-board increase for public sector employees and stiffer penalties for illegal and unlawful possession and manufacture of firearms and explosives.
Senator Honasan is currently the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agrarian Reform and its oversight committee. He likewise vice-chairs two other committees: Environment and Natural Resources and the committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs. He is a member of 22 major permanent committees and ten oversight committees.

He was looking forward to finally enjoying his retirement when his term ends in 2019, but as he told us it seemed fate still had other plans. He takes one last run for national office as the running mate of Vice President Jojo Binay. “In our younger days VP Binay and I often found ourselves on opposite sides and we would be hunting each other down, but I think a higher power has brought us together this time, as we attempt to bring one big change to the Filipino people one last time.”

We asked him why he chose Binay, someone who has often been accused of corruption. Sen Honasan admitted he was reluctant to accept at first but since he was part of the UNA and he was appointed by his party to be their vice presidential candidate, he accepted the challenge like a good soldier.

Under the platform of PATAS ANG LABAN kay GRINGO HONASAN , Sen Honasan, says he will prioritize, Peace and Order and Public Safety.  I then asked him how he planned to unite the government if he wins and he answered; “Uniting the government is an important issue. Even with bureaucracy which is about 5,000 strong, dagdag yan ng dagdag eh. Every administration may bitbit na mga political supporters na kailangan bigyan ng trabaho. Kasama yan siguro sa selection process, na yung magagaling kahit na galing sa kung kaninong administrasyon, kailang i-retain. Para wala ng learning process, wala ng breaking in. ang nangyayari, palaki ng palaki ang bureaucracy natin. Now, unite it with salary standardization. Actually, pinag-usapan yan ditto sa last salary standardization law na parang pwinera yung mga retired military, hindi nagiging automatic yung pag-akyat ng sahod nila. That’s one basis for uniting the bureaucracy  but more importantly, Lou, making it more professional. Yun naman yung hindi naman namana dun sa mga kumolonize nung British Commonwealth no? an efficient, honest bureaucracy. Tignan mo yung Singapore, meritocracy. Mataas ang sahod sa gobyerno pero pag nagkamali ka talagang sisante ka. So ganun dapat ang kailangan ipromote natin sa atin pero sabi ko nga, easier said than done. It has to be a process of building. Gagawin ito this administration, yung susunod itutuloy… no?at patuloy ng patuloy hanggang we reach some level of efficiency and productivity.

I also asked him what department he wants to lead if he becomes Vice President. “Well, sabi ko kay Vice President Binay, eto I have to tell this one. From my experience as a soldier and as a rebel, I would rather go up against all the rebel groups, the terrorist groups combined rather than go against drug lords. Pag drug lord kasi kayang ipapatay yung aso mo eh. Pati yung kasama mo sa bahay, yung driver mo. So mas gusto ko, Lou, na nasa background ako into serious policy planning. Meron tayong mga models niya, yung PAOCTF under President Erap pero mga nauna yung media eh, diba? Parang nabuhay sila sa press release, nauna yung kuwan, orderbility and visibility. Mas gusto ko yung tahimik lang, malalaman na lang ng publiko pag may resulta na para protektado yung opisina, protektado yung pamilya ko dahil pag may nangyari sa pamilya ko that’ll be a different story. I become another person. So, keep me away from that so I can work quietly but more effectively. That’s what I explained to the Vice President. I think he’s inclined to, maybe, look at me as a national security adviser, not even a Secretary of National Defense. Masyadong limited yun. Mas gusto ko yung may… lowkey, nasa background lang no into serious internal and external security planning.

Asked what he believes is his advantage compared to the other candidates, Sen. Honasan said his track record will speak for itself.  “I have served my country all of my life, 17 years as a soldier 7 years as a rebel.  In the senate. I have authored hundreds of bills that have become laws. I will put that on the table and see if they can match it… and ask them one question….a play of words actually, HONASAN ba sila nung EDSA?”

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