“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples will build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
-Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy, US Attorney General and US Senator from New York, USA
WITHOUT meaning to offend anyone, it is not easy to find a Filipino soldier, much less a general, who loves his country. If it were easy to find one, the wars for national liberation would have been terminated a long time ago. As an objective observer of this type of war, we know it is a fight between poor soldiers and poor rebels to preserve the privileges of the favored few – the dominating oligarchies of Philippine society. What a waste and what a tragedy!
It took some time for me to stumble on Brigadier General Edgardo “Abe” Abenina. It was not easy since the country just overthrew a dictatorship. To wage another fight to find a better place for the millions of underprivileged Filipinos was a little too much for those who actively participated in the struggle to restore formal democracy in the Philippines.
General Abenina is a very simple soldier from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and Quezon province, home of Filipino patriots like President Manuel Luis Quezon, President of the Philippine Commonwealth and the ebullient Senator Claro M. Recto. It is no surprise to me that General Abe has brilliant streaks of patriotism in his system coming as he does from Quezon province.
In the early stages of President Corazon “Cory” C. Aquino’s administration, many of those who championed the Cory assumption of power from President Ferdinand E. Marcos became disillusioned. The hope that powered many people to join the “Edsa Revolution” vanished almost overnight. This is explained by the number of attempted coup d’etat launched by Army officers supposedly supportive of Secretary of National Defense Juan “Johnny” Ponce Enrile.
I had not met General Abe in the first major coup against President Cory in 1987 headed by Colonel Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, now senator, who treats Enrile as his surrogate father. Abenina was stationed in Cebu City as Regional Commander of Region VII and was quite popular with both the military and civilian sectors in his jurisdiction.
He was not part of the group that planned the coup. However, when the implementation of the coup plan did not work out well in Metro Manila, Colonel Victor “Vic” Batac of the Philippine Constabulary, another PMA graduate, called him by long distance phone asking for help, as according to Batac, without Abenina’s help they the coup plotters would likely lose and die in the process.
Abenina who was a good friend of Batac, consented to do whatever was necessary in his jurisdiction to prevent any element to move against the military rebels. Without being actively involved in the coup, all Abenina did was to inform the civilian officials and the major banks as well as the military and constabulary officers in the region not to make any move that would disturb the peace in his jurisdiction. The civilian officials and military officers in the region did what Abenina requested of them.
This was the action of Abenina that prompted the Cory government to charge Abenina before military and civilian courts, among others, with rebellion, sedition and conduct unbecoming officer and a gentleman. It was because of these cases that led to my meeting him.
One morning I met with General Abenina at the residence of Congressman Arnulfo “Noli” Fuentebella, very much later Speaker of the House of Representatives, Congress of the Philippines, with Colonel Rock Tor. The subject of the meeting was to conscript General Abenina to be chairman of a coup group composed of the Reform Armed Forces of the Philippines (RAM) headed by Colonel Gregorio “Gringo or Greg” Honasan, now member of the Senate, Congress of the Philippines and the Soldiers of the Filipino People (SFP), remnants of the group of President Ferdinand E. Marcos headed by Air Force Brigadier General Jose Maria “Jimmy” Zumel.
It was the consensus then that for a coup to be successful – RAM and SFP must unite. But the two groups could not unite over the dispute of who should head the combined group.
The more pragmatic and intelligent individuals composing the two groups suggested the idea that an independent-minded general should be the chairman of the united group. The unanimous choice was General Abenina – for his integrity, ability to lead the group and his known fairness.
So Abenina became a unifying force of the rebel forces. He was elected by the other two – Zumel and Honasan – as the chairman of the unified group.
End of Part 1. Continued in part 2 to come out on Thursday January 28. Concluded in Part 3 to come out on Saturday January 30.