Fallen Angelo

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.

At the EDSA shrine in 2001: Gen Angelo Reyes (second from the right) with (from L-R) ex-president Fidel Ramos, Vice Pres Gloria Arroyo and Defense Sec Orly Mercado

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.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy (www.thecusponline.org) and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • Bert

    “The loyalists for the country are still on the fringes dominated mostly by the left.”-J_AG

    Hogwash.

    The loyalist for the country are the majority of the people who gave Noynoy the mandate to be president. They’re no Aquino loyalist, merely hoping that the new president can make the change the people wanted as he promised. So far the people is still hoping and still optimistic and there are signals that gave the people reasons for their optimism. If the president remains consistent with all of his promises, the people will be happy with him. If the president failed the people as did the last, then the people will treat him like the plague as they did the last.

    That’s why this ‘loyalist’ talk is hogwash.

  • The man who would have been the first Philippine sovereign.

    F. Marcos remade the Philippine political and economic institutions to conform to his vision of a Philippine kingdom. He the absolute ruler. Executive, legislative and judiciary. We had all these institutions under his direct control.

    His Rolex Generals come to mind. The Pabaon the extension.

    Aquino came in and put in a system for political transition. In a poor country universal suffrage has evolved into choosing our autocrats.

    Edsa II showed all the shallowness of the political system. You cannot change or reconstruct the intent of the constitution and shoehorn it to fit a mutiny.

    Since that incident the so called election of GMA once again showed another facet of the institutions that can be bent. Her palace guard were deeply involved in that 2004 elections.

    GMA before she stepped down put her loyalists in important posts in the institutions of the State.

    Their loyalty to her will never surpass their loyalty to their properties acquired during her reign.

    They share an Omerta to protect their properties.

    Guteierrez, Corona are primary examples. Her former cohorts of the Firm another.

    We have never had a revolution that would have upended this system.

    The democratic mechanism in this country do not work for that reason.

    Good on paper bad in reality of actions.

    The substance is the reality not the democratic facade.

    The Pinoy government has just proposed postponing the ARRM elections. OIC’s will be appointed in the meantime. Smell the roses. That is what makes it a rose.

    We are still living with the effects of our first King and Queen.

  • J_ag

    The sovereign in more organized unified kingdoms had his palace guard, his privy council, religious and rich people act as advisers.

    Reyes was head of the palace guard under Erap and changed loyalties at a time of crisis.

    For that act he was later given positions in the privy council. He knew that the people belonging to the deposed sovereign harbored ill feelings towards him.

    Obedience, honor, loyalty and integrity. He was obviously a conflicted man. After the last sovereign stepped down he was left to fend for himself. He tried to get into parliament to provide a shield for himself.

    He was Brutus after all. In the end when the facade was being breached he took the only way out. He killed himself. The fact that the Queen allowed him to partake from the treasury being the the proper thing to do in a Kingdom he could not understand why the the shame he felt in his heart contradicted his rationality.

    The people of the lie will always rationalize their actions? This man could not understand why they were making a big fuss about the Queen bestowing on him treasures in defense of the kingdom and Queen.

    This culture of entitlement runs deep in this feudal society.

    We do have institutions that are loyal to a sovereign and not to a sovereign of rule of law. That is the basis for the social contract between property owners and the state.

    Not between property owners and a living breathing sovereign in this age.

    Today we still have the Marcos loyalists, GMA loyalists and now the Aquino loyalists.

    The loyalists for the country are still on the fringes dominated mostly by the left.

    The technological advances of man has even changed the current form of purchasing media (money) giving the state the power to create financial assets from nothing.

    In the past the sovereign had already even privatized the collection of taxes.

    Societal evolution will always be affect by innovation and invention.

    Mindsets however can be stuck in past eras and find it hard to cope.

    • You know J_AG, your comment particularly the early part proves that you can be quite lucid and articulate in your writing when you want to be.

      From one perspective, the late Angelo Reyes was to use your analogy merely performing his duties as a knight in Gloria’s round table.

      The problem is that in a democracy, that sovereign keeps changing because we have a thing called elections where the real sovereign people express their wishes, and sometimes their voice is respected.

      You are right, there has been a takeover by a rival royal lineage, and it is now open season on the old guard of the former ruler. Another analogy for this comes from Japan where a shogun who following a code of honor commits harakiri to protect his dignity and that of his kin.

  • “What we do know however is what a waste of talent, of intelligence and of human potential this episode has proven to be.”

    He may have wasted other things by his suicide but not those.

    He wasted those things away the moment he touched the slush fund, the moment he tolerated and condoned its existence.

    • UP nn grad

      Condoning the existence is to waste one’s personal potential????

      Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the entire Congress including Manny Villar, Mar Roxas, Enrile plus fiscalizer former Senator fiscalizer Noyno Aquino tiptoed around the “pabaon” and skimming-off-the-top, didn’t they?

  • UP nn grad

    What again is the yearly salary for a Pilipinas general? What again is the yearly salary of Presi-Noynoy Aquino?

    Lifestyle and stature in the communit to keep… is the yearly-salary of Presi-Noynoy Aquino (or of Pilipinas generals) adequate?

    • In my view there is no way to align incentives for high ranking officials that would be compatible with honesty given the size of the payoffs.

      Even if they drew salaries of Php1M per month, the equivalent more or less of what the Australian PM receives, the expected net benefits would still outweigh the costs of cheating.

      Even if you factor in the cost of litigation (take the Marcoses and Estradas as case studies), given the amounts involved, it still pays to take.

      Reyes proves to be the exception here because he retained a sense of shame. Others would not have cared what the public felt regarding their public “face”. They would have laughed all the way to the bank while letting their legal eagles worry about their cases.

      • UP nn grad

        I disagree. Glad you mentioned the Australian PM (and the Australia generals, Australia’s cabinet secretaries). Those folks can pull down much more from graft/corruption given the size of their economies.

        It is cheap to live well in the Philippines. P100,000 a month is grand-living in Pilipinas!!! For USA, a family of 4 lives v-e-r-y well on $150,000 a year and can hold their stature in the community (via NGO-type work). Enjoyment from a $22K 5-yr Corvette vs a $62K-Porsche? $250K a year vs $1M a year? Practically the same if you enjoy spending time on family, work, PTA, and similar NGO-type community work. AND… everyone knows it, so the allure of illegal million-bucks is not attractive.

        Pinoys-in-Pilipinas do not know where “living well” starts and tapers off. Some grab that next P5Million illegally not knowing that the benefit is marginal (except for the maintaining their stature by knowing that they can beat the system). Shoot!!! (Ooooops, somebody did that.)

        If your job only pays a president-Pilipinas salary and you want more, then do an Obama and write a book and make an extra half-mil or mil-and-a-half from book royalties. If you can’t do that, well… get another job instead like marketing or sales, don’t dip into the Treasury.

        • Of course there have been scandals involving larger sums in the US defense department in the past. Defense spending is naturally prone to that sort of thing.

          I might add that the legitimate salaries of politicians in any country whether rich or poor is much smaller than executives in the private sector.

          I was arguing from a purely economic perspective that it is impossible to align incentives especially in a country where the culture of corruption is condoned.

          Why doesn’t corruption happen as much in advanced economies? Well by and large they have legitimized it through lobbying and campaign donations. Thus the need to steal from public coffers is lessened. A politician or high ranking civil servant can become a “consultant” for lobbyists or contractors upon retirement.

          Only the very famous politicos get to write their memoirs and go on speaking trips.