I first met Angelo Reyes in 2008, at a Senate hearing on high oil prices. We never had any opportunity to talk prior to that, not even at the height of EDSA 2. We talked about the oil deregulation law and the rising prices of petroleum products. He invited me, through a hand-written note that he signed, to attend the Energy Summit that was organized by the Department of Energy. I found that to be an unexpected but nice gesture. I bumped into him again early last year, at the Senate lounge and we again discussed the topic of high oil prices.
My mom once told me that Angelo Reyes was the brother of the mother of my ninong sa binyag.
Angelo Reyes’ death comes as shock to everyone, coming as it is, at the height of congressional inquiries into corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Reyes, who was AFP chief of staff during the early years of the Arroyo administration, and who served as cabinet defense, interior and energy secretary, throughout the entire Arroyo administration, was accused of receiving some P50 million in pay-offs at the end of his stint in the AFP.
The most disturbing part of Reyes’ death is not just the manner of death, but the circumstances surrounding it. The congressional probe has revealed corruption to be systemic and systematic , emanating from the highest levels of the military hierarchy, and just recently, involving civilian officials like the former head of the House Defense Committee.
Up until yesterday, the Senate probe into corruption has implicated Reyes’ wife in the purchase of real estate in the United States, along with several trips to the US. The Senate probe wanted Reyes and his wife to appear before the hearings. Reyes earlier sought the inhibition from the investigation of four senators. He has not appeared before the body since last week.
We sympathize with the late general’s family in their time of grief. The loss of a family member is always hard to bear. Their request for privacy at this time should be honored.
Concerns have been raised as to the impact of Reyes’ death on the hearings on corruption. How will this impact the officers who have testified and who have yet to testify? How will the concerned committees now proceed with inviting and questioning certain personalities?
The timing of the probe may consider factors such as giving the family and other concerned people the time to grieve and recover from the shock of Reyes’ death. There is nothing wrong with honoring the request of the Reyes family for privacy during this difficult period. Certain sensitivities will likely cause both the House and Senate to tread carefully in the timing and conduct of the probe.
There are those who seem to have heaved a sigh of relief from the death of Reyes. Former AFP Chief of Staff Dionisio Santiago said Reyes’ act protected the AFP and PMA as institutions. He described the suicide as “an act of courage” and “the best solution so that the AFP will be out of the issue”. For some in the AFP, the death of Reyes should mean the end of the corruption probe.
There are also those media commentators who have criticized the senate hearings as “trial by publicity” which are not in aid of legislation.
For many of us, it is in the interest of justice that the probe must continue and reach its logical conclusion. The probe is already beyond the person of Reyes. It was not just about him, as it was about the corruption in the entire system of the military. As Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, speaking as a lawyer said, Reyes died with the presumption of innocence on his side since he never went to trial. His death, according to the senator, extinguishes all civil and criminal liability on his part. Whatever he knows, he takes with him to his grave.
The death of Angelo Reyes, coming as it is at the height of congressional investigations, is the most compelling reason why we need to know the truth about corruption in the AFP. That this tragedy happened at this time, and after all that has been revealed, should give us a sense of urgency to pursue the probe and demand accountability from our institutions. Those officials who benefitted from corruption should not consider themselves off the hook. That includes the former commander-in-chief. ###
P.S. – GMA’s phone call to Angelo Reyes, 2 days before he died, is another reason why the corruption probe should be pursued. GMA reportedly asked Reyes what his plans were in relation to the congressional inquiries. The interest shown by GMA gives us an idea just how far up corruption may be taking place. There must be something more to that “Hello Angie” phone call.