20th Secretary of National Defense
September 16, 1997 to June 30, 1998
Fortunato “Tony” Abat was first appointed as the Administrator of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), a DND agency, after the EDSA Revolution in 1986. Later on, he was named Undersecretary of National Defense (USND) during the term of Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto. He also served as USND during the term of then Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos, but he left the Department and was designated Deputy Director General to Secretary Rafael Ileto who later headed the National Security Council (NSC).
Abat previously served for exactly five years as the Commanding General of the Philippine Army from March 28, 1976 to March 28, 1981. Immediately after his retirement from active military service, he joined the Ministry of Human Settlements. A few months later, he was named Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China where he served for four years until EDSA Revolution.
It was during Abat’s term as the Commanding General of the Central Mindanao Command (CEMCOM) that he became a prominent national figure. It was the height of the rebellion of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the 70s when then Brigadier General Abat was directed by the President to proceed to Cotabato from Cebu to organize the CEMCOM.
The MNLF had overrun undermanned and isolated AFP detachments in the Cotabato countryside and took control of the area that now comprise the province of Maguindanao and portions of the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato and South Cotabato.
How CEMCOM controlled the separatist uprising, recovered all territories lost to the secessionists, restored order and paved the way for normalcy in the operations of the local governments and in the lives of the people in Central Mindanao are told in the book, “ The CEMCOM Story: The Day we Nearly Lost Mindanao”, written by Abat himself.
Starting as an enlisted man in April 15, 1944 during World War II, Abat received various medals and decorations for acts of conspicuous courage and gallantry in the conduct of the pacification campaign in Central Mindanao and for distinguished service in various positions in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
After the war, he entered the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) as a cadet in 1947 and graduated in 1951. Abat was part of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK), thus a veteran of the Korean Campaign.
In May 1981 till April 1986, Abat was designated Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.
Prior to his appointment as defense chief, Abat was the chairman of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) Peace Panel that negotiated with the military rebels and other secessionists groups in Mindanao, to include the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Significant accomplishments of the GRP panel during his incumbency include the peace agreement with the military rebels in 1995 and the ceasefire agreement signed on July 18, 1997 ending the spate of hostilities between government and MILF troops.Abat was born on June 10, 1925 in San Juan, La Union.