Bonifacio Gillego was an officer and a gentleman. He gave dignity to public service and honor to his uniform.
As a soldier, Bonifacio Gillego, called Boni by most, saw action in the Korean War and served in the Operation Brotherhood in Laos. Before that he was also part of the resistance during the Japanese occupation. He worked in the military intelligence officer of the Philippine armed forces in the 1950s.
As a congressman, Boni championed a radical type of land reform (zero retention) and spoke against human rights abuses by the military. He studied Marxism and made friends with leftist intellectuals.
Boni served as a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention which gave rise to the 1973 martial law constitution that gave dictatorial powers to President Marcos. Boni denounced and opposed this constitution.
Because of his independent views, Boni made an enemy out of the Marcos military but he was also distrusted by the left because of his background in military intelligence. In 1978, Boni escaped to the US, where he joined the Movement for a Free Philippines (MFP), headed by Raul Manglapus. Boni continued to support the martial law opposition forces from exile.
Boni is most remembered for his diligent and scholarly research on the fake World War II medals claimed by Ferdinand Marcos. He painstakingly interviewed former war guerrillas and pursued Marcos’ records in the US army archives.
Gillego’s article on the fake medals was prepared for The Washington Post to be published in time for the Marcos US state visit in 1982. But Marcos got wind of the article and threatened to sue the Post, which decided to withhold publication temporarily.
In Manila the Malaya newspaper decided to print Gillego’s article. For this, it was shut down, and its editor and staff arrested. Nevertheless, the Malaya story whetted the appetite of the foreign press to dig further.
The Marcos files were eventually released from the US army archives into the US National Archives, where another independent researcher, Alfred McCoy, found them. McCoy published his findings in The New York Times.
Boni was instrumental in getting the portrait of Marcos removed from an exhibit of the awardees of the US Medal of Honor in New York. Boni had challenged the officer-in-charge to show proof of the validity of the inclusion of Marcos’ portrait.
Boni and the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr. were close friends, and had worked together in the Movement for a Free Philippines. Boni was one of the last persons whose counsel Aquino sought before making his irreversible decision to return home in 1983. The involvement of the Philippine military in the latter’s assassination was a source of disappointment and anger for Boni.
Boni died of natural causes in 2002. He was 81 years old.