15th Secretary of National Defense

January 21, 1967 to February 3, 1970

Ernesto S. Mata was born in Laoag, Ilocos Norte on November 7, 1915. He finished his secondary education at the Ilocos Norte High School in 1933 and enrolled at the University of the Philippines Junior College at Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

Upon passing the entrance exam, he entered the then Philippine Constabulary Academy in 1934 and graduated in March 1937. He was commissioned as 3rd Lieutenant in the regular force and assigned with the 23rd Philippine Constabulary Company in Iloilo City.

He was inducted into the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) in September 1941 and the outbreak of World War II, he was Commanding Officer of the 3rd Batallion, 74th Regiment 71st Division in Negros. He did not surrender to the Japanese Imperial Forces but valiantly resisted along with the guerilla forces. He organized and led the famous 72nd Division (Guerilla) of the 7th Military District in Negros and Neighboring islands in 1942 till 1945 during the liberation of the Philippines. He also served as aide-de-camp to President Sergio Osmena.

General Mata's military schooling included the Infantry Officer's Advance Course at Fort Benning, Georgia and the Command and General Staff Course at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, both in U.S.A.

Immediately after the war, he studied at the Institute of Foreign Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs and also attended the Harvard Advance Management Programs in Baguio City in 1958.

As a colonel in June 16, 1958, he was military assistant to then Defense Secretary Jesus Vargas.

In 1960, he took the US Modern Weapon Familiarization course at Fort Bliss, Texas and subsequently made an observation tour of the Armies of Spain, Italy and Greece.

In 1962, he was designated Vice Exercise Director and Deputy Field Force Commander as well as Chief of the Planning Group of the Philippines-United States Bilateral Exercise "Great Shelf/Tagpo"; Exercise Field Director and Field Force Commander of Exercise "Bawi" in 1963; and also detailed with the US Asian Weapons Conference "Flying Brothers - 1963".

At the height of the Huk campaign, he commanded the Bataan-Zambales sector of the 1st Military Area, January 1952; took command of the 1st Scout Ranger Regiment in February 1954; and the 1st Infantry Division, Philippine Army in March 1962. He was designated Commanding General of the Philippine Army on June 24, 1963. He was promoted to Brigadier General in July 13, 1963 during the term of President Diosdado Macapagal. He had his compulsory retirement on June 1964 after 30 years of military service.

On January 22, 1966, he was recalled from the retired list and appointed by President Ferdinand E. Marcos to the position of Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and concurrently Philippine Military Adviser of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). Upon his retirement from active duty on January 21, 1967, he was appointed Acting Secretary of National Defense.

During his term as Defense Secretary, he served without receiving a salary, except for his monthly pension as a retired general. He was able to claim his accumulated monthly allowance as Secretary only in September 1972, more than 2 years after relinquishing the defense post in February 1970.

He received the following awards: Distinguished Service star, Military Merit Medal, Military Commendation Ribbon, Philippine Legion of Honor (degree of commander), Legion of Merit (degree of commander, from the US Defense Department), Orden del Merito Militar (Spain), Bao Quac Huan Chiong (Vietnam).

He was selected to the Allied Officers Hall of fame, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, US.

He married Angela Montilla of Baguio City.