How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! -Isaiah 14: 12
In January of 2001, Angelo Reyes was heralded as a hero by the throngs amassed around the EDSA Shrine. The “desk general” who rose to the occasion was a product of the best institutions of our nation, the region, and in fact the world having finished among the top of his class at the Philippine Military Academy before completing graduate studies at both the Asian Institute of Management and the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
As the then chief of staff, he made the decision to withdraw his support from his commander-in-chief and side with the protesters. After all as he intoned to the crowds gathered there, this was “your armed forces”. He was laying the ground for what he was about to do which was to protect the people as called for in the Constitution, much as the army in Egypt has chosen to do.
Afterwards, he would call on Pres Joseph Estrada at Malacanang in order to escort him out of the palace. He was in effect behaving as Brutus did burying his dagger deep into his Caesar’s chest in order to save Rome. This was his way of enunciating a new doctrine in direct contravention of existing tradition: demonstrating the requisite traits of a soldier able to think for himself and not simply comply with directives that were clearly not in the national interest.
He was a bright star heralding a new dawn of “principled politics” proclaimed by the newly installed president Gloria Arroyo at her impromptu inaugural. His star was indeed rising as Reyes became the darling of her administration serving in several cabinet portfolios all throughout her presidency.
Then on July of 2003 junior military officers led by then Lt now Sen Antonio Trillanes staged a mutiny at the Oakwood Hotel and called for the resignation of Angelo Reyes who was then serving as defense secretary alleging corruption on his part. So vehement and so personal were their accusations that many assumed it was ex-president Joseph Estrada being tried at the time for plunder who was the one bank-rolling their efforts.
As Mrs Arroyo’s favor with the public waned, she began to rely more heavily on the military to buttress her government against wave upon wave of attacks. She started to employ increasingly undemocratic tactics to silence dissent. Angie Reyes never got to distance himself from Mrs Arroyo. He was too visible and prominent at EDSA Dos that the followers loyal to ex-president Erap whom he helped depose never forgave him. His attempts to run for public office were twice thwarted.
He had resigned himself to a quiet life it seemed until the recent hearings at the Senate drew him back into the public’s eye, this time in a not too flattering manner. He exhibited quite a different demeanor uncharacteristically nervous before the Blue Ribbon committee as accusations began to fly this time from a whistle blower from within his inner sanctum.
This morning’s tragedy (just over a decade since the EDSA Dos uprising) has indeed marred the proceedings. Rabusa, the officer who had alleged anomalous practices of scandalous proportions under his watch wept. This was not the way it was meant to end. What had happened to that once bright and shining star?
Let us be clear. The practice of conversion of funds is nothing new according to the testimony of Rabusa. It had been going on even before Angelo Reyes assumed the top post at the AFP. No one can tell at this point how far back the practice went.
Also, there is nothing wrong with conversion per se. Discretion in the use of funds is necessary at times in the proper deployment of logistics and personnel when you are fighting two insurgencies and combating terrorists all at once. No one can foretell and budget in advance for every contingency.
What is wrong and alleged to have happened is that money coming from the public purse and allocated for public goods was converted into private ones. This is how the comptroller Carlos Garcia was alleged to have amassed such a huge fortune.
Mind you in Roman tradition, generals were often rewarded by their Caesar with consular appointments to govern a certain region, collect taxes and remit a tribute back to Rome. It was assumed that consuls would skim off the top and take for themselves. They after all had to maintain their stature within the community. The saying, “what else are we in power for” comes from that tradition. Only the odd philosopher such as Cicero would be willing to shun such wealth and grandeur in order to maintain his personal sense of integrity.
Our legal and governance system is a hybrid between Spanish legal customs which follows from this Roman tradition and American jurisprudence. For this reason, many of our public officials still cannot distinguish between public and private assets and domains despite what the law clearly states should be distinct. The social construction of the law in other words is whatever you can get away with. Whatever is socially acceptable to your peers and the public at large.
With the passing of Angelo Reyes, we may never know just how many skeletons he may have kept locked, hidden away. His secrets regarding the possible complicity of other higher officials will go with him to the grave. What we do know however is what a waste of talent, of intelligence and of human potential this episode has proven to be.
Angelo Reyes demonstrated both the best and worst qualities that a soldier in his circumstances could have shown. Perhaps that is how he should be remembered.