Tuesday, February 8, 2011


We’d just settled on the sofa to watch the day’s TV Patrol when Bing Branigin called, sounding agitated. “This has got to stop,” she told me before breaking the news about Gen. Angelo Reyes’ suicide.

We first met “Sir Angie” when he took over the military Civil Relations Service (CRS) in Camp Aguinaldo.

“You watch him, he’s going to be the chief of staff someday,” an officer whispered to me.

He carried the rank of colonel at the time but friends explained he was assigned to the CRS, which is the psychological warfare arm of the Armed Forces, so he could get his first star – which he did after only a few months.

Reyes was obviously one of the “fair haired boys” in the military – “ang mga pinagpala” as some officers say.

He led the best combat battalions, sent to the best schools and given plum headquarters postings that guaranteed his climb to the top.

We remember him as the man who liked to look you in the eye, always had a firm handshake and wont to accentuate his tales with a laugh that reverberated like artillery blasting away.

As far as we could tell, his men adored him and he in turn cared for them deeply. He cut a fatherly figure among the young officers at the CRS and his subsequent commands (Southern Command, Philippine Army).

Although he carried himself with a huge dose of bravado, we knew him to have a soft heart, especially for junior officers. But he did have a fiery temper and as rarely as we’ve witnessed it, those officers knew how to get out of the way.

Some say he played favorites with his officers. But we remember he rarely brought his old staff to new postings like other commanders, building instead a fresh corps of officers whom he would eventually win over.

He was a crack shot in the practical shooting range. What he gave up in agility, he made up with accuracy.

Reyes was a man who seemed averse to the slog of combat, preferring instead to win his enemies over through reason and persuasion.

On the eve of EDSA Dos – the People Power revolt that overthrew President Joseph Estrada – civil society leaders questioned whether Reyes, as AFP chief, would turn the military against their Commander-in-Chief.

He did, and he would later tell, he just wanted to keep the military intact.

But that decision, consciously or not, also thrust him into the world of politics. It was a world that seemed to fascinate him.

He had invited a few of us to dinner along Tomas Morato one evening when he was already Secretary of National Defense and he appeared to be sounding us out about his prospects for an elective office. We assured him we’d help but urged him to stay off politics. It was just too dirty.

Watching news clips of Col. George Rabusa’s expose in the Senate – that Reyes had pocketed P50 million as “pabaon” or a farewell gift when he retired from the military in 2001 – it was evident he was caught completely by surprise.

He was being questioned by the senator-son of the man he helped oust a decade ago and another senator who was jailed for helping lead a mutiny against a government that he protected.

They are hardly impartial jurors in the quest for justice for about 200,000 Filipino soldiers and sailors, and millions of Filipinos who are the true victims here.

The soldiers we’ve spoken to here in Washington DC quietly applaud the revelations about the financial shenanigans of some key officers of the AFP. But just as they have become distrustful of some of their superiors, they have an even lower appreciation of politicians bent on piling “pogi points” at the expense of the military as in institution.

The congressional investigation is a necessary process for cleaning up the military. It will benefit the AFP and the country in the long-term but there are also perils in sensationalizing this purge for the short-term.

In the end, these soldiers will be looking for solutions, not more air time on TV.

And so we grieve the passing of a man, mortal and imperfect. He chose death over shame.

How many times have we wished other government officials would place equal value on their own sense of honor and reputation?

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