‘Great warrior’ Fortunato Abat passes away at 92
FORMER DEFENSE Secretary Fortunato Abat, known in the military as a warrior who tried to quell the rebellion in Central Mindanao when it was just beginning in the 1970s, passed away on Wednesday night. He was 92.
His eldest son, Victor, told the INQUIRER that Abat had been confined at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) since January 25.
The Department of National Defense (DND) said it mourns the passing of Abat.
“The Department of National Defense mourns the loss of former Defense Secretary and Commanding General of the Philippine Army, Fortunato Abat. He passed away last night at 7 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center… We thank him for his service to the nation,” DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement sent to journalists.
Abat, a member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1951, was married to the former educator Corazon Bulatao, a teacher from San Carlos, Pangasinan. They had six children.
Victor mused on his father’s long life. “It was already a bonus,” he said. Old age had finally caught up with the man who in many respects was part of the country’s history. Victor said they brought their father to the hospital because “his heart was giving up.”
Longtime friend and key ally, Fidel Ramos, was still able to visit Abat in the hospital. They fought together in the Korean War. Abat later became Ramos’ Defense secretary for nine months, until the latter ended his presidency on June 30, 1998.
Before taking on the defense portfolio, Abat served as government chief peace negotiator for the Ramos administration’s talks with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which led to a peace agreement. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)— the breakaway secessionist group formed in the aftermath of the GPH-MNLF peace pact— has also forged peace with government in 2012.).
Being chief peace negotiator was a role that brought Abat back to the early days of the MNLF separatist war, when he led the pacification campaign to quell the brewing rebellion.
For this, Abat gained the respect of the military, many of whom, like retired Lt. Gen. Alan Luga, were soldiers who fought in the war years later after he tried to stop it.
Hours after Abat died on Wednesday, Luga paid tribute to the man by posting several pictures of Abat as a young military commander either rallying his troops in the field or exchanging salutes with fellow officials like Luga’s own father, retired Gen. Emilio Luga, Jr.
Several other soldiers gave their final salute to Abat in their heartfelt social media posts.
“One of the few great warriors who answered the call when the going was at its roughest in Mindanao. Rest in Peace, Sir!” wrote former AFP chief of staff, retired Gen. Alexander Yano, on Luga’s post.
Yano told the Inquirer that Abat was in-charge “the day we almost lost Mindanao,” quoting the title of Abat’s book.
“The height of MNLF rebellion in many parts of Mindanao where big rebel groups have taken control of areas. The AFP troops were few and ill-prepared to meet a full-blown rebellion in the early 70s,” said Yano, who graduated from the PMA in 1976.
As one of the senior military officials during martial law, Abat was directed by then President Ferdinand Marcos to organize the Central Command from Cebu to respond to the rebellion.
“CENTCOM commander, Gen. Abat commanded the troops and turned the tide, thus, saving Mindanao from being severed from the Republic,” Yano said.
Luga, of PMA ’81 said the CENTCOM became “the forerunner of Southern Command and where the concept of the present unified commands had been based. His leadership pacified Central Mindanao in the 70s.”
Abat went on to become the Army commanding general. It was during his term that Victor, of PMA ’77, and another son Tito, of PMA ’78, began their early years as soldiers.
Tito was a second lieutenant when he was killed in action in Samar in 1979. “Daddy, as the Army chief that time, could have assigned Tito somewhere where it was safer but he allowed his sons to go to where the conflict was. He never gave us any special treatment,” Victor said.
Even after Abat retired from the military in 1981, and from government civilian service years later, he became involved in several veterans, civic, and business organizations.
Abat also remained active in the country’s political affairs.
He called for the resignation of then Presidents Joseph Ejercito Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now Pampanga Representative, when both were embroiled in corruption allegations.
He was arrested in 2005 for declaring a revolutionary government and installing himself as its President.
“Daddy was very idealistic,” Victor said, recalling with a chuckle how “vocal” his father was during the Arroyo presidency.
Abat’s wake will be at the Loyola Memorial Chapels on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. Interment will be on Tuesday, March 13, at Libingan ng mga Bayani. /lb / jpv
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