Aquino protector’s cover blown with SONA spotlight

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After working for 30 years behind the scenes, his cover was blown, as it were, in circumstances beyond his control.

The man singled out by President Benigno Aquino III during his fourth State of the Nation Address (Sona) as “loyal to your flag, Constitution and the Filipino people” would have wanted to stay behind the scenes until his retirement on Aug. 31.

Brig. Gen. Ramon Mateo U. Dizon, outgoing commander of the Presidential Security Group (PSG), would have preferred a simple pat on the back from the Commander in Chief himself.

But Dizon, 55, was thrust into the spotlight at Batasang Pambansa on July 22, when all eyes were on the President as he delivered his annual report to the nation before a joint session of Congress.

Dizon was there as PSG chief, a special unit tasked with only one mission: Ensure the safety of the President and his family.

While guarding the steps leading to the podium, where the President was delivering his speech, it did not cross his mind that he would form part of the SONA.

“This is your SONA,” declared the President, reminding the nation that it was the people—whom he referred to as his bosses—who made change possible.

And then the unthinkable happened: the President turned to him, praising him to high heavens.

“For Gen. Ramon Mateo Dizon, soon-to-retire head of the PSG, who stood alongside me even in facing coups d’etat during my mother’s term: Up until my presidency, you have protected me,” Mr. Aquino said.

“I am able to go to different countries and to far corners of the Philippines with full confidence. Chito (Dizon’s nickname), you have done your part in changing our country. You are truly loyal to your flag, to the Constitution and to the Filipino people. Of course, you could not have accomplished all this without your wife Jo Ann (Josefina Antonia Tiongson) by your side. This is your SONA as well.”

Applause filled the plenary hall of Congress as cameras panned to Dizon, who could not believe what he was hearing.

The awkward moment seemed like eternity.

When the Inquirer sat down with Dizon for an interview at his office in Malacañang Park on Friday, he said he was thankful for such gesture coming no less from his boss.

“Thank you, Mr. President, for appreciating my work,” he said.

His spouse, Jo Ann, and his mother, Elma, must have been super proud. He often teases that he’s “separated” from his wife as he stays in the PSG compound 24/7. He goes home on some weekends to date his wife, he said with a beguiling smile.

Disciplinary action

It was his late father, Mateo, who forced him to enter the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in 1979 because he could use “some serious disciplining.”

At that time, he was a freshman geology student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

“I would rather cut than attend classes,” he admitted.

A member of PMA Class of 1942, his father spent his entire life working at the foremost institution for military officers in the land—first as math instructor, then assistant commandant, before he became assistant superintendent until his retirement in 1969.

While at the PMA, his father ordered him to “violate everything but never the honor code.”

Dizon carried this same message when he faced PMA cadets last July 13 in Baguio City when the institution honored him with a testimonial parade and review.

“We live by a code. We never take undue advantage. Honor is our way of life, and it must be so even after we leave these hallowed grounds,” he said in his speech.

Dizon is not afraid of change and failures.

“Don’t be afraid of change. Nothing in this world is permanent. But know what is right and wrong. Do not stray to the easier path of corruption. Live a simple life. Don’t have very high expectations for yourself. Be thankful for the little things you have,” he said.

“Your first priority is to the country and mission accomplishment,” he added.

Meeting Cory

Dizon served three presidents—Corazon “Cory” Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos and now Benigno Aquino III.

After graduating from the PMA in 1983, he joined the Philippine Constabulary (PC) and became a founding member of its Special Action Force (SAF).

He was stationed in Mindanao for a year before the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.

His date with destiny came less than a month after President Cory took office.

On March 13, 1986, he said he was assigned by the PC to the Office of the Group Commander of the PSG.

“I was drafted into the Cory PSG one week after Edsa (People Power Revolution),” Dizon recalled.

He was the most junior officer handpicked by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, then PSG chief, during the incumbency of President Cory, Mr. Aquino’s mother.

Dizon stayed with the PSG until 1988, went back to his mother unit and from 1990 to 1991, briefly served as military assistant of Ramos, who was then defense secretary.

Although he was not with the PSG at that time, he found himself protecting the Aquinos during the 1989 coup—the bloodiest power grab against President Cory staged by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement.

Dizon was then company commander of the PC’s SAF’s 3rd Light Reaction Company, assigned to protect Camp Aguinaldo.

His proximity to Greenmeadows Subdivision in Quezon City had allowed him to extend a protective blanket over some members of the Aquino clan who lived there during the coup.

After a stint at the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, he rejoined PSG in July 1992, when Ramos became President.

Dizon rose from the ranks, from commanding officer, chief of training branch, deputy operations officer, commander, executive officer to commanding officer of the PSG.

He again left the PSG in March 1999 or eight months after Joseph Estrada became President, only to return to familiar territory a decade after.

This time around—his third tour in the PSG—he came back as its commander.

“Now everyone listens to my orders,” he said, unlike when he was yet a junior officer in the PSG when “there were a lot of things I did not agree with, (but) no one listened to my suggestions.”

A Scout Ranger, Dizon was trained in explosive ordnance, counterrevolutionary warfare, intelligence and counterterrorism.

He also underwent courses in scuba diving (from open water, advance open water to rescue levels), basic airborne, VIP protection, financial statement analysis, command and general staff, joint transition course and joint combined warfighting.

Asked about his private life, Dizon quipped: “Do I have a life? I have P-Noy (Mr. Aquino’s nickname).”

Security nightmares

Protecting the President is a 24/7 job, and Dizon expects security nightmares even during sleepless nights.

The PSG members could not let their guard down until the President goes back to his presidential residence called Bahay Pangarap in the PSG compound, which sits across the Pasig River from Malacañang.

Low-key security

Every day, Dizon seems to dread the moment the President steps out of the Palace, after a grueling day, and tells him—at the last minute: “Chito, let’s have dinner at…”

But that’s vintage Mr. Aquino, who has preferred low-key security arrangements in his daily movements compared to his predecessors.

But as a President’s top guard, Dizon has learned to work around the President’s abhorrence for cordon sanitaire and trappings of power that come with the territory.

Since 2010, the PSG chief has developed an unobtrusive way of providing ample security to Mr. Aquino despite the President’s no wang-wang (siren) policy.

However, the President does not see the need for his presidential convoy to occupy two to three lanes of the highway during his land trips.

“Why?” he would repeatedly ask Dizon, forcing the latter to retreat to his familiar line: “I need to protect you, Mr. President.”

According to Dizon, other members of the Aquino family also prefer less security.

While preoccupied with security concerns, Dizon still managed to institute reforms in the PSG such as providing meal and per diem allowances for PSG members accompanying the President in his out-of-town sorties.

He has also instituted various training and regular skills evaluation for his command, ensuring that the stone-faced members of the unit “can shoot” efficiently.

“Nothing is impossible. You just need to be creative or think out of the box,” he said.

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