A loser named Greg

Sun, 08/03/2003 - 00:00

The bad news is there's going to be a coup. The good news is it's going to be headed by Gringo Honasan.

If the key to success is failure, then the 55-year old Senator Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, ex-colonel, ex-fugitive, inveterate coup plotter, should have earned success many times over. For some reason it keeps eluding him.

Tattered hero

Between 1985 and 1990, Honasan either helped organize or lead at least eight increasingly bloody - and unsuccessful -- military uprisings against the government of Corazon Aquino. Three years ago, senator Honasan wryly referred to himself as "the resident adviser on failed coup attempts."

Not that it stops him from trying, apparently. On May 2001, he was linked to a bloody riot that investigators say was actually a disguised coup to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Now, government officials accuse him of being a leading light in the June 27 effort to topple the government. Honasan has made himself unavailable to the authorities.

Sources say Honasan wasn't actually heavily involved in the latest coup attempt, although the plotters are using the senator's "National Recovery Program" as a pseudo-political plank. In fact, Honasan has never been a planner of coups, only their visible, charismatic face.

He shot into prominence during the 1986 "People Power" uprising which toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos. That upheaval was essentially a failed coup: its leaders, Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos, were about to be arrested by the dictator when millions of Filipino civilians came to their rescue in a peaceful revolt. At that time colonel Honasan was a bodyguard to Enrile and a member of a secretive group of young officers called the Reform the Armed Forces movement (RAM).

When People Power swept Corazon Aquino into the presidency, RAM expressed its dissatisfaction at being left out of power by trying to oust her. As RAM's visible face, the renegade Honasan exploited divisions and discontent within the military to stage one failed coup attempt after another. Demoralized, RAM split into factions.Honasan also relied on two organizations, one of enlisted men called the Guardians foundation, and the other a radical group called the Young Officers Union.

When even RAM's best effort, the 1989 coup attempt, failed, support for Honasan visibly waned. He finally surrendered (he'd been caught once, hiding under a maid's bed in a safe house, but had broken out of prison) and was granted amnesty, claiming his only ambition was "to grow old with my wife." He ran for office in 1995 and entered the senate.

There he demonstrated what the idealistic Gringo Honasan could do when given a chance to beome part of the establishment: nothing. As a senator, he only became famous as one of the reviled group who strenuously opposed opening an envelope of evidence during the impeachment trial of Joseph Estrada. At the height of "EDSA 2" Honasan and Enrile were spotted headed for Malacañang Palace, perhaps to confer with the embattled Estrada.

By 2001 Honasan's stock had fallen so low that somebody posted a message on a local news website advising the former colonel to stop playing at soldiers and instead just play "Counterstrike", a popular computer game.

Now the old coup warhorse has shown he still has some moves left. The rumor is that he, together with Enrile and Senator Panfilo Lacson, would have been a member of the 15-man junta the coup plotters were going to set up. As that saying goes, if at first you don't succeed, try try a gun.

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