10 things to know about Gringo Honasan

Mara Cepeda

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10 things to know about Gringo Honasan
(UPDATED) A former coup plotter, a family man, and a 4-time senator. Here are interesting trivia about the new information and communications technology secretary

(Note: This article was first published in 2015 in the lead up to the 2016 elections. We are updating with new information as former senator Gringo Honasan II takes the helm of the Department of Information and Communications Technology.)

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II is many things: senator, ex-military man, former coup plotter.

He unsuccessfully ran for vice president as the running mate of Jejomar Binay in the 2016 elections. His latest term as senator just ended. 

On Monday, July 1, the former soldier from the Bicol region took his oath as the new information and communications technology secretary – at least 7 months after his appointment was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte. 

As Honasan joins the Duterte Cabinet, here are other things you need to know about him.

1. He had the makings of a leader even as a young man. Honasan, son of Army colonel Romeo Honasan and Alicia Ballesteros, was baron of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1971.

In his class yearbook called Sword, the 23-year-old Honasan was described as follows: “Gringo –Comfortably warm and constantly dynamic; enough determination and perseverance in achieving his goals, coupled with characteristic humility and compassion for the less fortunate have tempered all his actuations thus far. These trains which have endeared him to both equals and subordinates, will remain hallmarks of every endeavor he undertakes.”

He was deployed in Mindanao after graduation but his combat duty ended in 1974, when he was wounded by sniper fire while battling Moro rebels.

2. Honasan became famous for his role in the 1986 EDSA Revolution. The then bemoustached Honasan gained prominence as a military officer in the latter part of the Marcos regime.

He was the aide-de-camp of then-defense minister and now Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who became like a second father to Honasan.

He was a member of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and helped Enrile plan a mutiny against the dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos.

FATHER FIGURE. Enrile (left, wearing glasses) was like a second father to a younger Honasan (middle). Photo by Romeo Mariano.

While their plan was foiled, it still led to the revolution in EDSA that toppled the Marcos administration and installed Corazon “Cory” Aquino as president in 1986.

However, Honasan also rebelled against the woman he helped become his commander-in-chief. He led at least two unsuccessful coup attempts against the Aquino administration.

3. He went into hiding at least twice – under the administrations of Cory Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Constabulary agents arrested Honasan after the August 1987 coup in a house in Valle Verde, Pasig. He was imprisoned in a ship moored in Manila Bay but managed to escape later. It was on the ship where his wife conceived their 5th child.

REVOLUTION LEADERS. Fidel Ramos (middle, wearing glasses) being assisted by some  RAM soldiers led by Honasan (left of Ramos) during the EDSA People Power on February 22, 1986. Photo by Romeo Mariano

Honasan also went underground after the Arroyo administration accused him of masterminding the botched 2003 Oakwood mutiny that was led by young officers such as Trillanes. Honasan was among those charged by the Justice Department with staging a coup d’ etat. A Makati court later junked his charges.

The senator was also linked to the 2006 Marine standoff against Arroyo, but he has denied the claim.

4. Honasan is a decorated military man. According to his official page on the Senate website, Honasan saw military action in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. He earned several medals, awards, decorations, and commendations for his “gallantry in action.”

His recognitions include 3 Distinguished Conduct Stars, Gold Cross medals, and Wounded Personnel Medals sustained in combat. He was recognized by the Philippine Jaycees as one of 10 Outstanding Young Men in 1985.

As a member of RAM, Honasan was also awarded the Presidential Commendation Medal for Government service by Aquino.

5. He served as senator for 4 terms already.

ALLIES. Honasan with Binay during the launch of UNA on July 1. Honasan is the party's vice president. File photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

For the longest time as a politician, Honasan was an independent, but he became a guest candidate of several coalitions. He was the first independent candidate to win as senator in 1995, but he ran on the slate of the Nationalist People’s Coalition.

He was almost not reelected in 2001, when he placed 13th as an independent senatorial candidate but allied with ousted president Joseph “Erap” Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino. Honasan was able to get a 3-year term after then-senator Teofisto Guingona Jr’s appointment as vice president.

In 2007, Honasan ran and won again as an independent candidate. In 2013, he secured a 4th term still as an independent but allied with UNA.

6. As a senator, his main advocacies include environmental, military, police, and agrarian reform issues. Some of the bills he authored and co-authored include the following: the Clean Air Act of 1999, Clean Water Act, National Security Policy, Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2009, and Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

He is also the sponsor of the POGI bill, also known as the Freedom of Information or People’s Ownership of Government Information Act of 2012.

7. His recent SALNs consistently indicate no liabilities. 

Honasan’s recent Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) in the last 3 years state no liabilities.

In 2018, he posted a net worth of P25.88 million with no liabilities – a small increase from 2017’s P25.24 million. In 2016, his net worth was P21.279 million.

8. He is facing a case over the pork barrel scam. 

Honasan rebelled against the supposed ineptitude and corruption of past presidents, but he faces a graft case himself.

He was charged with two counts of graft in August 2017 for alleged violation of procurement rules when he funneled P30 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to a non-governmental organization that the Commission on Audit sought to blacklist.

Honasan voluntarily surrendered and posted bail after the Sandiganbayan issued a warrant of arrest.

9. He once supported the presidential campaign of Fernando Poe Jr. According to a Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) profile, Honasan was the chairperson of the Philippine Guardians Brotherhood Incorporated, which is an organization consisting of military and civilian members.

When Fernando Poe Jr (FPJ), the father of 2016 presidential hopeful Senator Grace Poe, ran for president in 2004, the Guardians formed the human cordon that protected FPJ during his sorties. PCIJ said the group also served as security detail of FPJ’s widow, Susan Roces, during her appearances in protest actions.

10. Honasan is a family man, too.

FAMILY PHOTO. Honasan with his children, in-laws, and grandchildren. Photo from Kai Honasan

He might be a formidable figure in political and military circles, but Honasan has a soft spot for his family. Married to Jane Umali of Pagsanjan, Laguna, he is described in his official Twitter account as: “Father of five wonderful children, spoiling and doting grandfather of four grandchildren.”

His family was one of the primary reasons why Honasan was reluctant to accept UNA’s offer to be Binay’s running mate. His children include singer-song writer Kai Honasan, who became a contestant in the singing competition, The Voice of the Philippines. (READ: Growing up the rebel’s kid)

ON STAGE. Honasan with daughter Kai in the set of "The Voice." Photo from Kai Honasan

Here’s a video of Honasan watching Kai’s The Voice audition:

Honasan’s second eldest child, Martin, is also married to musician Barbie Almalbis. – with research from Michael Bueza and Gerard Lim/Rappler.com

You may want to read interesting trivia on other candidates that you might have missed:

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.