Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Suicide is a form of flight

Some even say it's a form of plea bargain: your life in exchange for leniency for your loved ones, or for whatever remains of your dignity.

The news of Angelo Reyes' suicide shocked everyone, even those who never gave a crap about Philippine politics, me included. Opinions spilled from all over. Some insightful, most obviously uninformed. After the initial shock, I tried to make sense of how I felt about the issue. And here's what I'd like to add to the din of opinions out there.

Reyes was a man at the end of his rope. Either he didn't believe he would get justice, or he believed justice would get him. Either way, he was still doomed.

What was he likely to face had he not taken flight? On top of the list would be the highly stressful inquiries into allegations that he received P50M in slush funds when he left military service, and P5M a month for 20 months before that. These inquiries would have been televised. He called it a shame campaign, which is neither a denial nor an admission. But if the accusations were found to be substantial, he would have been treated like Garcia, and was likely to face jail time.

What a man values most speaks a lot about him. For someone like Reyes, a master games man with degrees from PMA, AIM and Harvard (I wonder if he would have turned out differently had he gone to UP as well... hmmm), being shamed was a fate worse than death. He was a proud military officer, a man with a lot of amour propio.

Unfortunately for him, the battles he chose not to fight proved to be the ones worth fighting in the end. It was his passive stance on corruption that tainted the honor he worked so hard to project. It was what pushed him to kill himself. It was, in essence, what killed him.

This is not to say he was a bad man. On the contrary, I personally think he was more decent than most. The fact that he played along with the military's corrupt system shouldn't trivialize his accomplishments as a cabinet secretary for various departments. He was well-loved by the people who worked for him, I was told.

But our standards of good governance go beyond being popular among your subordinates or being an efficient manager. There are higher ideals that we expect our civil servants to uphold, and Reyes fell short of these.

Filipinos are essentially a forgiving people, and there's nothing we want to do more than forgive the good general for one fatal shortcoming. But it's not just up to us to forgive. His failure to recognize corruption as a legitimate enemy has failed the military establishment as a whole. We're talking of the foot soldiers whose blood we sacrifice in the altar of war everyday. We're talking of the families they leave behind so they can go to war. We're talking of every taxpayer whose money it was that became the P50M pabaon.

These are the people Reyes owed to--more than his mother.

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