17th Secretary of National Defense
November 23, 1986 to January 21, 1988
A professional soldier, an officer and a gentleman may very well speak of General Rafael M. Ileto, former Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, later Secretary of National Defense.
Ileto was born in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija on October 24, 1920. Rocky to his boyhood friends, finished his elementary education in his hometown and secondary education at the Nueva Ecija High School.
In college, he started with 2 years in engineering at the University of the Philippines, has a one-year stint at the Philippine Military Academy in Fort Del Pilar, Baguio and graduated in June 1943 at the United States Military Academy in West Point, Virginia.
While a cadet at West Point, he met and fell in love with Olga Clemena who was then studying at Dambarton College, Washington, D.C. But then he entered the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia for 3 months after which he joined the 1st Infantry Regiment in California. The 2nd World War had broken out then and with this unit, he was shipped to New Guinea.
There in New Guinea, he left his unit and volunteered for the Alamo Scout of the US 6th Army and fought against the Japanese Imperial Army in the Pacific. The young lieutenant also joined the invasion forces that landed in Lingayen, Pangasinan in January 9, 1944. Just before General Douglas MacArthur made his Leyte landing, Ileto was with the Alamo Scouts nearby in Southern Samar.
During the liberation of Manila, Rocky took the opportunity to ask Olga's father for her daughter's hand in marriage. With her parent's blessings, they were married at the chapel of the Command and General Staff School in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where he was taking a short course for lower staff officers. After the wedding, Rocky had to leave her behind in Washington D.C. to continue her studies while he went back to the Philippines with US Committee sent to reorganize the Philippine Military Academy when the war ended. In 1947, he was assigned to the US Army Base in Okinawa, Japan till he left the service in 1949 and settled with Olga in the Philippines. He operated his own private business enterprise before he enlisted with the Philippine Army in 1950.
His first assignment in the AFP was with the General Headquarters where he met General Alfonso Arellano for the second time. They both got acquainted when General Arellano was with the Filipino guerilla forces and Lieutenant Ileto was with the US Alamo Scouts during World War II. Recalling their previous meeting, the general stumbled upon a brilliant idea and gave Ileto the mission to organize a special unit similar to the Alamo Scouts. Thus was born the Second Rangers, a unit which he commanded till 1955.
During this time, he also took up and finished his law studies at the University of Manila in 1953. With this qualification, he was designated foreign affairs attaché to Saigon, Vientienne and Laos. After this diplomatic stint, he was assigned with GHQ, J2 Intelligence as a staff officer till he became Operations Chief of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency from 1959 to 1964.
Under the AFP, he had another year of military schooling at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; after which, he joined the Command and General Staff College at Fort Bonifacio from June to November 1965. Thereafter, he became Commanding General of the 1st Pc Zone, covering all provinces north of Manila till 1967 before he assumed office as Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (J2) till 1969.
Off to the States, he went again for the Defense Resources Management Course at the University of Pittsburg, Pennyslvania in 1969. Upon his return, he was appointed Commanding General of the Philippine Army, a post which he held till 1971.
Promoted to 2-star general, he became Deputy Chief of Staff of the AFP up to 1973, then Vice Chief of Staff as a 3-star general from 1974 to 1978.
Ileto was likewise an active anti-dissident campaigner. He was instrumental in the capture of the famous Huk Commander Capadocia of Iloilo in 1951. He also figured in the encounter with the insurgents in the Bicol Region in 1954 wherein top Huk commander Balgos was killed. In Central Luzon, he participated in the capture of Commander Alilbasbas of the HMBs.
From 1975, he served as resident Philippine Ambassador to Iran and accredited as non-resident Ambassador to Turkey. When he retired from the active service in 1978, he continued to serve as ambassador till 1980. He was assigned as Ambassador to the Royal Kingdom of Thailand from 1981 and concurrently accredited as non-resident Ambassador to Laos, Kampuchea (where he was assigned as foreign affairs attaché in 1953), which was already under Communist rule. Her held these positions until after the February EDSA Revolution.
Ileto played a very active role as negotiator between the group of Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and General Fidel Ramos on the one hand, and of President Ferdinand Marcos and General Fabian Ver, on the other, while the People Power Revolution was going on.
After President Corazon C. Aquino was catapulted to the Presidency through the People Power Revolution, Ileto was designated Undersecretary and later Secretary of National Defense.
Coupled with his colorful military career, Ileto was also blissfully married to Olga, with whom he had 7 children - 3 boys and 4 girls - Reynaldo, Wilfredo, Jeffrey, Cristina, Michelle, Jenny and Marissa.