By Ben A. Cal
AS A soldier, retired brigadier general Honesto M. Isleta is remembered by his peers as a fearless psychological war expert with a soft heart, who was always the cynosure in any occasion because of his jokes and anecdotes to which he laughed the loudest.
Isleta died peacefully in his sleep last week after years of fighting a kidney problem. He was 83.
Isleta was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Fort Bonfiacio, Taguig City on December 20 where he was given a hero’s burial as a soldier in rites attended by retired major general Ramon E. Montaño, retired former lieutenant general and former executive secretary Eduardo Ermita and former President Fidel V. Ramos.
Unknown to many, Nes was a member of the famed Philippine Civic Action Group in Vietnam during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1969 and was the last Philcag man to be pull out of Vietnam.
It was in Vietnam where he poured his civic action expertise, together with other Philcag officers and men in alleviating the suffering of the Vietnamese, especially the civilians caught in the crossfire.
He maximized his experience in Vietnam when the Mindanao rebellion broke out in 1974 staged by the Moro National Liberation Front.
A psychological war expert, Nes was assigned to the Civil Relations Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and helped in disseminating information to the media on what was going on in the AFP’s campaign in Mindanao against the MNLF.
During the peace talks initiated by the government in April 1977, Nes was assigned to give daily press briefing to members of media covering the negotiations.
This writer was one of the three Manila newsmen, who covered the localized peace talks with Alex Allan of Daily Express and Fred Sajot of Channel 13.
The mission of government peace talk negotiators was to go directly to MNLF areas in Mindanao, including Sulu and Tawi-Tawi where the talks were held.
We knew it was a dangerous mission, but the peace panel took the risk. We rode aboard a Philippine Navy ship in going to the islands and took the helicopter in our trips to various provinces in mainland Mindanao. The peace talks lasted one month.
The most dangerous peace talks the government peace negotiators undertook was in Tuburan, Basilan where MNLF forces under Gerry Salapuddin were based.
As our ship was steaming towards Basilan, Nes, who was then a colonel, announced that the MNLF rebels would only meet with the peace panel provided no security forces would be allowed to go ashore.
“We will comply with their request. We are going there without any security forces,” Nes said.
We rode on small boats going to the seashore as it was low tide at that time. When we reached the seashore, we saw men in fatigue uniform with high-powered firearms. We presumed they were advanced army soldiers, but we were shocked to learn that they were all MNLF rebels.
Members of the press were told to wait outside the conference room. After an hour of waiting, we heard shouting inside the conference room when an MNLF rebel, a classmate of Fred Sajot as the latter was from Basilan, told us to be alert and prepare for any contingency.
We looked around and we saw two 30 caliber machine guns positioned to the right and one at the left.
At that point, we could do nothing because we were virtually trapped on the island-province. I just prayed for our safety.
After a few minutes, there was complete silence inside the conference room and the negotiators from the government and MNLF came out smiling. We took a deep breath of relief.
Then Nes told us “Everything is alright” and we laughed when Nes said: “Were you scarfe?”
We went back to board our ship anchored 100 meters from the shoreline. As usual, Nes, a jolly fellow, started cracking jokes of the incident that had just happened.
A religious man he was, Nes will be remembered by veteran journalists as an officer and a gentleman with a big heart of kindness and humbleness. May his soul be in heaven.