Has the daredevil RAM-rod and chronic putschist’s luck finally run out?

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven -
Perhaps it can be said that former Senator and ex-Colonel Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan made it his career to plan military putsches. Handsome, articulate, totally charming Honasan looked and acted like a character picked by Hollywood out of central casting. He was, in his heyday, Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Commando" rolled into one – jumping out of airplanes with a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck, loaded for bear as he parachuted into combat with automatic weapons.

After two failed coup attempts, the third launched by his RAM, along with the Marcos Loyalist Soldiers of the Filipino People, and the Young Officers’ Union (YOU) almost succeeded in overthrowing the Cory government in December 1989.

He defied La Presidenta GMA’s arrest order on him in May 2000, sauntering past police and military checkpoints with ease and impunity, he even emerged an elected Senator. He cut a dashing figure and remains the idol of young officers – which is what makes him dangerous. These young captains and majors raptly listened to him as he went about giving talks and conducting teach-ins. It seems that most of the talk was about the corruption of politicians and the messianic mission of our soldiers to save the nation – of course by taking over.

Honasan seemed unstoppable. He evaded detection and arrest for months after the failed February 24th coup plot while continuing to deny he had anything to do with any mutiny (like the Oakwood’s) or the latest aborted caper. Probably Colonel Charming believed that with his boyish smile and drop-dead good looks, he could finesse any situation – and talk his way out of trouble. Yesterday, in the early hours before dawn, Greg was finally cornered in a house in Green Meadows. Attempting to escape by jumping from a second-story window, he injured his foot and leg – and was collared. Former Senator Tito Sotto, his friend (both were in the FPJ camp, too, during the last elections) rushed over to help Gringo. The explanation offered was that Honasan had intended to "come in from the cold anyway" and that surrender feelers had been sent out. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales' snapped, when asked by reporters, that feelers had been received by him from time to time. They proved "insincere", he shrugged, and nothing had come of them.

Now, Greg has fallen. It’s the brig for him. Will they throw away the key? Or will he, once more, wiggle himself out of the situation? How did "intelligence" find him? There was, after all, a P5 million bounty on his head. Possibly someone, hard-pressed to choose between money and friendship, decided he had too many bills to pay.

In years past, we asked for amnesty for him, and convinced former President Fidel V. Ramos to make "peace" with the Rebolusyonaryong Alyansa Makabansa (RAM), the SFP and the YOU. This he did. Greg was, along with others, granted amnesty at the time.

What about now? Having been suckered too often, the government will probably say "no." No slap-on-the-wrist like FVR’s "thirty push-ups" meted out once to the Manila Hotel putschists in the beginning of the post-Marcos era. The trouble with our country is that nobody gets punished – not even the small fry, but least of all the "big fish."

I’m afraid that if we let Greg off the hook once more, he’ll try, try again. Will he manage to get off? Any smart lawyer will tell you that if there’s a will, there’s a loophole.
* * *
This writer addressed the luncheon meeting yesterday of the Philippine Bar Association at the Hotel Inter-Continental and it was a great experience (for me, rather than them, I think) since I found so many friends there. One of them even . . . well, perjured herself in her invocation prayer by telling the Lord I am "a good man." I thank this lady lawyer sincerely for being so generous to me in her prayer.

I couldn’t say no to the invitation to speak before our distinguished legal luminaries (at my peril) because my arm was twisted by my lawyer, PBA Past President Rogelio "Rolly" Vinluan – who ought to have been named to the Supreme Court when nominated by the Judicial and Bar Council, but that window of opportunity has been closed since. I had great fun reminiscing with current President Victor "Boy" Lazatin, particularly about his uncle (lolo?) the formidable Tarzan Lazatin – and about the Filipino singer Bimbo Danao who was the toast of the town in shattered postwar Tokyo (he’s now forgotten by the youthful Edokko) for belting out love songs in his dramatic basso profundo.

In any event, the open forum was more lively, I believe, than my speech – hope they forgive me for some scolding about the legal profession and our decrepit, malleable justice system. As I’ve always said, there are two kinds of lawyer: the one who knows the law, and the one who knows the judge. I won’t provide the answer about who’ll win the case.

The PBA has had a distinguished scroll of past presidents, many of them going to the Supreme Court, the Senate, or the Cabinet. (None of them went to jail). One of the queries thrown at me, presuming my crystal ball is not cracked – as it usually is – was who would be the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I threw caution to the winds and said that perhaps it would be senior Justice Reynato Puno. They impishly asked from the audience in a faux groan of disappointment, "Not Miriam?" Oh well. GMA knows Miriam. Guess whether she’ll pick her as the "first woman Chief Justice."

But hey. I've been wrong before. Even Homer nodded, and heaven knows I'm no Homer. (Wasn't referring to baseball).

Enough said about my brush with the greats of the Philippine Bar Association. They were a wonderful audience. They even laughed at my jokes. The trouble is, they laughed, too, when I had intended what I said to be serious.
* * *
Without kidding, this affiant expresses the hope that the judiciary will not be inflicted with "bad" appointments in the aftermath of successive judgments and decisions which irritated the Administration, such as (a) the Supreme Court’s 8-7 decision junking the People’s Initiative to amend the Constitution; (b) the Court of Appeals TRO (temporary restraining order) in favor of Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay; and (c) the Sandiganbayan ruling dismissing the anti-graft case against Binay.

What I mean that some people "upstairs" in Malacañang might "feel" the need to pack the courts with more supportive persons. I submit that this would be ruinous to our nation, if ever attempted. A competent, honest and independent judiciary irrespective of how politicized other departments and agencies of the government may be, is an indispensable pillar of a democratic and republican country. Of the same essential nature, I might add, is a credible Commission on Appointments.

For the Palace to appoint good judges and justices, its choices must be limited to good nominees properly vetted and nominated by the Judicial and Bar Council. It is from the nominees transmitted to Malacañang that La Presidenta GMA must pick her appointees. Thus, the onus falls on the JBC to select competent, earnest and upright nominees.

There are, for example, four vacancies in the Court of Appeals. A list of 16 nominees has been transmitted by the JBC to the Palace. Hopefully, the four new Justices to be named will be better in quality than a few who were appointed to the appellate court in the past few months.

The President has to realize, when bombarded with suggestions by those who have her ear and are constantly at her elbow, that those who she anoints to the judiciary will be doing good or inflicting damage long after she has gone – to retirement, of course.
* * *
When department heads and agency heads appear at congressional budget hearings and are interrogated by our legislators, they often promise to improve the performance of their offices. The improvements pledged, more often than not do not materialize. What compounds the problem is that the members of Congress (House and Senate) to whom the improvements in agency performance were promised themselves tend to forget what was committed to be done – until the next annual budget hearing.

I distinctly recall that during the Senate budget hearings for the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), a commitment was made to reduce the large number of buses creating traffic jams on our main highway, EDSA, before the end of this year. It is 45 days before December 31, the year’s end, yet there is absolutely no noticeable reduction in the bumper-to-bumper gaggle of buses clogging EDSA, particularly at major intersections.

It appears that the thousands of buses overcrowding EDSA will not be reduced – but, horrors, will even be increased. This is because buses franchised on local provincial routes, I’ve discovered, will be extended by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to Metro Manila, worst of all even to busy Cubao, Quezon City, where a number of bus stations have surprisingly sprouted.

It is not only the extension of so many provincial buses to traffic-burdened Cubao that may soon deplorably take place. I’ve heard that applications for provincial routes entering Metro Manila that had been frozen and archived some five years ago thanks to a standing moratorium against allowing more provincial buses into Metro Manila may soon be revived. By golly, what a betrayal of earlier promises to both Congress and the general public!

The buzz, however, is that certain transport officials are planning to run for office in the coming May 2007 elections. Hence this sudden benevolence to "provincial" operators? When the new Chairman of the LTFRB, retired Police General Tom (GT) C. Lantion, an old friend, visited me and "reported" that he intended to streamline the agency, weed out corruption, reduce traffic and get our bus system improved, he didn’t tell me that he had any political plans. I hope he doesn’t.

Or are his detractors right when they whisper that he’s running for Congress or the Governorship in Nueva Ecija? Political ambition could be the ruination of us all. Assure me, Tom, that this isn’t true.

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