Former defense chief Ileto, 82
- Mike Frialde () - June 20, 2003 - 12:00am
Former defense secretary Rafael Ileto, "father" of the Scout Rangers, died at 6:35 a.m. yesterday at the Philippine Heart Center following a heart attack, family members said. He was 82.

His body lies at Camp Aguinaldo’s Veterans Center, and the funeral is scheduled on Sunday at 9 a.m. at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani at Fort Bonifacio in Makati City.

The highly respected Ileto, then the vice chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, would always be remembered as the only general who opposed President Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of martial rule on Sept. 21, 1972.

As a punishment for such a bold act, Marcos made him an ambassador and he was immediately dispatched as concurrent envoy to Iran and Turkey. He was subsequently posted in Laos and Thailand, at the time the kingdom was plagued by many military coup attempts.

It was Ileto who covertly encouraged Fidel Ramos, then chief of the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police, to stage an uprising against the unpopular Marcos. Ramos, a distant relative of the late president, teamed up with then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile in launching a military coup in February 1986 that was eventually supported by hundreds of thousands of civilians following a call from Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin. It is now known as "people power I."

At around 8 p.m. on Feb. 22, 1986, Ileto — acting on behalf of the mutineers — was able to convince Armed Forces chief Gen. Fabian Ver to postpone any attack against the civilians massed up along the stretch of EDSA fronting Camps Aguinaldo and Crame.

Wilfredo, Ileto’s son with first wife Olga who died in 1989, told reporters yesterday that his father was a "liaison" during the crucial hours leading to the downfall of Marcos.

A reluctant Ileto yielded to the request of President Corazon Aquino to succeed Enrile, whom she fired in November 1986 after he was implicated in a coup bid code-named "God Save the Queen." He was defense secretary until 1988 and was replaced by Ramos who later succeeded Aquino.

While serving in the Aquino Cabinet, reporters covering the Malacañang Palace at the time were alternately delighted by and furious with his constant smiles and jokes in response to their serious questions.

Ileto’s second wife, Yrna Avelina Dulce whom he married in 1994, described him as "a good husband and was willing to help anybody if he could."

She told reporters that Ileto died peacefully. "It happened so fast. There were no signs of a heart attack."

She said that on Wednesday afternoon, he was able to enjoy his collection of classical music in their residence at Pacific Place in Ortigas Center, but by 4 a.m. on Thursday his fingernails darkened.

"It could have been God’s will," she said, noting that Ileto had been in and out of hospital since last April. He was last discharged on Tuesday.

Ileto started his sterling military career after graduating from the US Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1943.

Upon his return to the Philippines that same year, Ileto was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Philippine Army.

In 1951, he formed the Scout Rangers, a unit in the Philippine Army which was the original "men in black" because of the members’ black fatigues, berets, and balaclavas displaying the skin of the panther. A panther’s image is sewn on the shoulders of every Scout Ranger’s fatigues to signify their being a "jungle fighter" and their ability to strike anywhere.

From 1975 to 1978, Ileto had served as vice chief of the AFP.

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