How Honasan earned Rody’s trust

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Barring any hitches, Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan would be officially appointed any day now as new Secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). This is after Honasan himself publicly issued a statement accepting the offer of President Rodrigo Duterte to join his Cabinet as the permanent head of the DICT.

For more than a month when his possible transfer to the Executive Branch first leaked out, Honasan finally broke his long silence and so much hemming-and-hawing when reporters pressed him about the rumors. “For a better Philippines, a better government, for the Filipino people and for a better future for our most precious children, I have decided to accept the offer of the President to help lead the DICT,” Honasan posted this in his personal Twitter account.

With him at the helm of the DICT, there is no doubt Honasan will be carefully guided by his long experience earned through the years from the various military and civilian posts he has served. Having covered him when he first served at the Senate in 1995, I used to rib Honasan as the most studious Senator because every time we asked him about any issues, his usual answer was: “I will study the matter.” That’s how careful he is before taking or making decisions one way or the other.

Actually, Honasan had no way but to come out with affirmation of his acceptance of the DICT post after no less than the Senate president Vicente “Tito” Sotto III himself, his bosom buddy, spilled the beans. During our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday, Sotto told us Honasan gave his nod during their meeting with President Duterte at Malacañang Palace last Oct. 29. Sotto cited there was already an understanding that Honasan will be appointed as “acting” DICT Secretary on Nov. 12, that’s today.

Sotto joked that he expects Honasan to dispose of his  “Jurassic” mobile phone – a Nokia 3210 – to show he is as much a “techie” at pace with the advances in communications technology. The Senate chief quickly clarified Honasan also owns more modern mobile phone units.

To his credit though, Honasan is just being a skilled intelligence officer who knows such Nokia units are less vulnerable to hacking. “And hard to wiretap too. In fact, we teased Greg he should not wiretap us once he is already at the DICT,” Sotto added and guffawed at his own grim thoughts about it.

Honasan, who is on his second and last term as Senator, will be considered resigned from the Senate only after the Commission on Appointments (CA) confirms his appointment and formally takes his oath before President Duterte. As of this writing, the Palace though has yet to release Honasan’s formal appointment paper.

The Senator will take over from DICT undersecretary Eliseo Rio who has been serving as officer-in-charge of the DICT following the resignation in September last year of erstwhile DICT Secretary Rodolfo Salalima. Rio disclosed last Friday that he, too, has yet to be officially notified by the Palace on his fate.

 A former professor of Honasan at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1971, Rio’s last posting was one-star General at the J-6 of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for communications, electronics and information systems.

A licensed electronic and communications engineer, Rio’s expertise in the field is nothing to sneeze at. His qualifications were questioned after the DICT awarded to a Chinese company the third telco contract last week despite national security concerns raised against it.

  According to Rio, he intends to appeal to President Duterte to keep his post until he delivers on his promise to award the country’s third telco player before the year ends. “We are still waiting for the advice. I serve at the pleasure of the President,” Rio said.

Honasan’s being the running mate of an opponent whom the former Davao City Mayor beat during the May 2016 presidential elections obviously did not matter.

Then, how did Honasan earn the trust and confidence of President Duterte?

Let me go back to what Commonsense published on August 21 last year a few days after Honasan along with several leaders of the Reform the AFP Movement (RAM) met with President Duterte at Malacanang Palace.

The Palace gave sketchy details on the RAM meeting with President Duterte that took place amid corruption allegations over the smuggled P6.4 billion worth of shabu were hurled against Customs Bureau officials composed of ex-Magdalo mutineers headed by former commissioner Nicanor Faeldon. The meeting also came a few days after Honasan posted bail to his case of alleged misuse of pork barrel funds filed against him during the administration of ex-president Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III.

All ex-presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told Palace reporters was that President Duterte raised the possible grant of absolute amnesty to the RAM officers and Magdalo rebel soldiers. Honasan was implicated as the “kuya” of the Magdalo mutineers. Honasan’s fellow graduating Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was also implicated in this Magdalo-led coup but later pardoned by PNoy for the failed coup they launched against ex-president and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Absolute amnesty grant would allow them to get their back pay and benefits that were withheld by the AFP following their conviction for mutiny. But as subsequent developments later turned out, Trillanes who has been a pain in the neck of President Duterte has “lost” his amnesty grant instead.

In one of his extemporaneous speeches, President Duterte shared his personal vignettes about Honasan when the latter went into hiding again after being implicated in yet another rebellion case. “During the days of crisis or the days of living dangerously, I and Gringo – I call him Gringo then and I’d like to call him Gringo now – he was wanted by the government but he was in Davao with me,” President Duterte revealed.

“We were having a great time rambling down the streets of Davao, eating durian on the sidewalk. And my God, nobody recognized Senator Honasan,” the President chirped. That’s why Honasan is now in his Cabinet.

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