MANILA, AUG. 29 -- In films of the 1986 military revolt that toppled Ferdinand Marcos as president of the Philippines, Col. Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan is always silent but always in the foreground.
From the side of his mentor, former defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, Honasan emerged as a mustachioed, musclebound matinee idol of sorts, sometimes attracting more attention than his boss at public appearances and always drawing affectionate attention from a throng of female admirers.
On Friday, Honasan led an unsuccessful military coup against Marcos' successor, Corazon Aquino.
Honasan's "hero" status, rooted in those heady days of February 1986, was helped along by a life style that lived up to the macho image. He was known as a ruthless combat warrior when he fought Moslem rebels during a rebellion in Mindanao in the 1970s, reportedly carving off the ears of his victims. Asked to comment on the reported mutilations, he once replied: "Most of them were dead -- almost dead."
Honasan was fond of his pet python, Tiffany, and made parachute jumps with the snake draped around his neck.
Honasan was once spotted dancing barechested, again with his ever-present snake around his neck. He was also known to dash off from political road trips with Enrile to judge local beauty contests.
Honasan was one of Enrile's "boys," a founding member of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), the core of which was composed of 1971 graduates of the Philippines' elite military academy. So when Enrile broke from President Aquino last year and declared that he would "do like Rambo" if provoked, it was inevitable that the team became known as "Rambo and the RAM Boys."
It was a game that soon turned deadly. The RAM Boys' sometimes comic bravado became less humorous as they became increasingly strident in their criticisms of Aquino and talked openly of their ability to topple yet another president.
Last fall, one of the RAM Boys close to Honasan laid out for a foreign reporter a scenario for a coup that involved making Aquino a virtual prisoner in her palace, stripping her of real power, launching "surgical strikes" against some of her key aides and allowing her to continue to rule like a British monarch. That scenario turned out to be remarkably close to a coup plot, code-named "God Save The Queen," that was foiled only when details leaked out to pro-Aquino military officials and key generals refused to take part.
So intense was the speculation that Honasan would lead a coup that last November his photograph and the text of an interview appeared on the front page of a newspaper under the headline: "Gringo Quashes Coup Rumor." In the text of that interview, published on the eve of Aquino's trip to Japan Nov. 9, Honasan was asked bluntly: "Do you know if there is any coup scheduled this weekend?"
He replied: "No, no coup scheduled this week."
Later that month, Enrile was fired as defense minister after progovernment military officials warned anew that Honasan and the RAM Boys were plotting a coup. But neither Honasan nor any of the other alleged plotters was ever punished, or even publicly accused.
The grievances of Honasan and his RAM associates revolve around their belief that the government under Aquino has failed to address the communist insurgency and at the same time has resorted to some of the same practices that they had fought.
In an interview in February, Honasan told Washington Post editors that Aquino appeared to be making "a serious and sincere attempt to communicate."
He said, "I think the president realizes that this is the military organization that will defend this government." Friday, the military ordered troops to "shoot to kill" Honasan.