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Unlike other cultures, our Filipino culture does not accord suicides by public figures one clear and definitive meaning. Thus the message of a Filipino dying in public by his own hand often ends up being contested, improvised and twisted by various interested parties. And so it is with the tragic death of General Angelo Reyes. Did he put a bullet through his heart in an ultimate admission of personal responsibility for whatever wrong he had committed? Or was his willful termination of his own life a sublime act of protest to assert his innocence against unfair yet unremitting persecution?
The death of someone like Gen. Reyes who served our country for most of his life deserves our respect, prayers and reflection. This is a tragedy to one person, to his family and to many who believed and admired him for his personal, professional and public life. For his fellow Filipinos that Gen. Reyes left behind, his chosen timing and manner of exiting the public stage and this mortal world challenges us to seek some meaning and purpose from such a tragic loss. We, former senior government officials, choose to see the death of Gen. Reyes in the light of the principle that public office is a public trust.
1. We find no honor in a death without meaning to the welfare of our nation.
Gen. Angelo Reyes took his own life in the midst of an investigation that exposed the corruption within the command structure of our military, corruption that had tainted him. For whom did Gen. Reyes die? If he died to escape the consequences of his involvement, or to put a lid on further revelations, or worse, to become a sacrificial lamb for all others more tainted than he, his was not an honourable death. The smug faces of unpunished corruption that visited his wake only further dishonour him. If, on the other hand, his death inspires our leaders to finally clean up the corrupt system in the military that ensnared him, he might yet be the last soldier to die in our people’s war against corruption. Gen. Reyes may have died by his own hand, but in truth, corruption killed him. As we pray for the forgiveness of his sins, we hope that his blood spilled on his mother’s grave will begin the cleansing of his beloved AFP, the government he protected and the nation he served.
The death of Reyes should not be wished upon anyone, not even the Garcias, the Ligots, and other alleged recipients of military graft, or even their alleged real protectors. That would be unchristian. But perhaps these lost souls in the people’s war against corruption should be reminded that moral death is as tragic as physical death. And the suffering will be much longer.
2. The investigation into high level corruption in the military should continue.
Gen. Reyes’ death could not and should not be blamed upon our legislators, no matter how hurtful their statements may have been. While more civility and courtesy could mark our congressional investigations, and invited “guests” to these proceedings could be treated better by their “hosts”, it must be clear by now that these legislative inquiries serve a vital function in democratic governance. Thus far, the truth about high level corruption has obviously and apparently not been brought forth by agencies charged with this function. Neither the police, the NBI, the Ombudsman, nor the courts have shown any talent nor interest to bring forth to our people the truth about corruption at the highest levels of our government.
Despite their rantings and distractions during these public hearings, our senators and congressmen have been able to put names, faces, numbers and dates to the corruption that every citizen knows infects our officialdom.
We continue to regard George Rabusa and Heidi Mendoza as heroes in our people’s war against corruption. They have nothing to be ashamed about in this tragedy. Mendoza has apparently always been honorable in the discharge of her functions, while Rabusa had to confront and acknowledge his own sins in order to retrieve his own lost honor by finally telling the truth.
We ask Commodore Rex Robles and the others who have special knowledge of the facts concerning corruption in the military that they pay their respects to Gen. Reyes by coming out with the truth, rather than expecting others to do their work for them. Truth telling is the responsibility of everyone who knows the truth.
3. Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez must go.
The Ombudsman can no longer sustain her pretense that moves to oust her are merely partisan efforts by the critics of Gloria Arroyo. There is nothing partisan about our people’s nearly universal desire to have a new beginning in the Office of the Ombudsman. The whole nation wants its government to move along the tuwid na daan and this incumbent Ombudsman is one of the biggest boulders on their way. Everybody wants this boulder out. She no longer has any excuse for trying to stay.
We remind the Supreme Court, and other lawyers, that in deciding the case on the impeachment of Merceditas Gutierrez, their final responsibility is not to search for arcane legal principles that would find fault in the effort, but to join the Filipino people in ridding ourselves of this boulder along our path towards a righteous and just Philippines.
The death of Gen. Reyes reminds us that corruption kills. Most often, it kills poor Filipinos with hunger, disease, disaster or crime because the money meant to help or protect them was stolen. It kills soldiers whose bullets ran out, whose guns fail, whose trucks ran out of gasoline, whose aircraft crashed due to poor maintenance, all because someone stole the money for their needs. Sometime, corruption kills those that partake of its evil fruit.
The death of Gen. Reyes is finally a reminder that public office is a public trust. Those who occupy public office shall be held accountable, by our laws when possible; by public opinion, when necessary; by history, eventually; or by individual conscience, ultimately.