Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, February 11, 2011

In matters of intellect, Angie jousted; but in those affecting his heart he simply gave up

Sorry folks, this blogger wasn’t able to write here since last Jan. 30 for a good number of reasons, including adjusting to my new status as a widow and looking after health problems in the family, including bringing two grandchildren to the doctor for respiratory problems as the weather became unstable (my grandson, Christopher, had to be hospitalized on Dr. Pamela Caedo's orders).  Moreover, so many events, among them some national and earth-shaking ones, took place one after the other.

                              A nation shocked & stunned

Like the entire nation, I was shocked and stunned by the suicide of the former AFP Chief, Defense Chief and Cabinet member in various other posts, General Angelo Tomas Reyes. We in Alay sa Kawal Foundation knew Angie Reyes since he was a colonel heading the AFP’s Civil Relations Service (CRS). I had founded the Alay sa Kawal in late 1987 together with a group of professionals led by banker Ed Espiritu (who later became Ambassador to the Court of St. James) and lawyer-civic leader Ramon Pedrosa as a civilian response to the "New Military" in the early Cory years. Among the things we did in earlier years  was to conduct fellowships with soldiers in the field, including bringing veteran entertainers to the frontlines;  Angie Reyes coordinated some of those activities (today, owing to fund limitations, Alay sa Kawal confines itself only to its primary program of financial assistance to widows and orphans of ordinary soldiers killed in action).

A few years later, Reyes served as one of the brigade commanders in Mindanao of my husband, when the latter was commander of the entire island.  I remember joining my husband in a visit entirely by land of nearly 25 days to various camps all over Mindanao, which doesn’t seem possible anymore for commanders to do in these more troubled times; among those we visited was Reyes’ 602nd Brigade in northeastern Mindanao; and over lunch that he served, he managed to expound to his commander on his views on democracy from the grassroots.  

                          Angie's wit and super-confidence               

 Years later, in the GMA administration Angie, as Defense Secretary,  joined a benefit golf tournament for Alay sa Kawal, with the new President as the star player. Reyes was dressed in one of those signature golf outfits and when I commented on his natty looks, he cracked, “When you’re a lousy golfer, you compensate by looking good on the fairways.”  That was Angie, always with a glib retort, super-confident but often also seemingly arrogant that people are rubbed the wrong way.

A voracious reader, he used his intellect to prepare for his jousts.  I recall that when he was leaving for the US to meet with his defense counterpart, US Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he told media that he had boned up on the latter’s biography, and even showed us the book he had just finished.  I also recall joining  media women at a dinner meeting when he just assumed the post of Energy Chief. We were quite impressed that though only two weeks in that post, he already was so well-informed on the subject of alternative energy. 

                               Matters of the Heart

In matters of the intellect Reyes had little difficulty absorbing topics, but obviously not in matters that directly hit him, such as protecting his mother, Purificacion, whom media has termed “the big love of his life,” and his wife Tessie and their five sons from getting hurt by the accusations against him.  He was glib in his retort on matters of intellect, being one of the brightest stars in the Estrada and Arroyo administrations, but in matters tugging at the heart, such as whether he received P50 million in “pabaon money,” which implied corruption that could hit his family, he couldn’t find the right words.  A knight used to verbal tussles, it was no irony perhaps that he chose to end his own life via his very vulnerable spot---his heart.

I was aware of his legendary love for his mother whom, as accounts say, he would visit very regularly and take out to dinner. When he was being grilled in the media about the white mansion he had built in a Fort Bonifacio subdivision years back, Reyes said his mother, a retired teacher, had helped him with a loan.  He could probably have gone on interminably in the recent congressional hearings on AFP corruption, but when his courteous request for a chance to defend his reputation was arrogantly denied by the Sen. Antonio Trillanes with that remark, “You have no reputation to defend,” Reyes retreated like a cowed lion. When he saw that his family was going to be dragged across the nation’s TV screens too, he decided to end it all at Loyola Memorial Park, splattering his blood all over the tomb of his beloved mother.

                                    Shared Pain

I could understand the pain the Reyes family was going through at the hands of insensitive and arrogant senators, for we had gone through the same determined shaming of a fine former AFP officer and civil servant, my husband, months back.  It’s not the matter of being summoned before the Senate that people resent---it’s the shameless intent not to get all the facts, but to shame and dishonor a public servant, using some accommodating media as a willing tool, before the facts are all in, or never mind if the facts are distorted. 
Unjust treatment from Senate              
I refer to the time when my late husband, at that time SSS Chair,  and several SSS Commissioners, were depicted by the Senate Finance Committee as having  illegally pocketed corporate benefits in several private corporations where they represented the SSS Commission.    It is important to stress that SSS Commissioners, led by their chair, do not enjoy salaries, unlike the SSS rank and file officers led by the president; to compensate for their being non-salaried, the long-standing practice has been for the Commissioners to sit in blue-chip private corporation boards where the SSS has equity investments, where they can draw benefits as directors.  Other GOCCs have similar practices, with their board members sitting in various private boards.

The picture painted by the Senate committee, however, was that they were all generically voracious and rapacious people, when the root of the problem was the failure of the executive and legislative branches of government to define the boundaries of what constitutes a just and equitable sharing of these directors'  benefits  between the government firm and its representative.  I had argued publicly that there ought to be a clear-cut policy of the State on this issue, in place of the current ad-hoc and arbitrary arrangements practised by various GOCCs.
  Now there's a pending bill on such policy in the Senate, but along the way, over the months, many innocent people's reputations were first tarnished, to the pain of their families. 
Distortions by Senate Committee

My husband was already ill with prostate cancer when the Senate finance committee hearings began in August, and he begged off from attending them owing to his confinement at Medical City.  But he wrote the committee a formal explanation of his side and furnished the media the correct figures on both incomes and sharing arrangement with the pension firm where such was applicable. But the next day the stories would again appear as distorted as ever.
As this went on for many weeks, the health of my husband took a turn for the worse. Despite all the remedies we sought here and in Guangzhou and his doctors' hopeful prognosis  that his disease could be managed for a good number of months more,  he just went down the slope fast, hurt by the unfair treatment he got from the Senate committee and the media. He died last Jan. 16.  

Despite running fever and pains

 One of the worst attacks came from the BIR last November, which said that my husband had failed to declare his income taxes for years 2005 up to 2007.  Luckily, the day the story was fed to the media, a TV reporter called me up in Guangzhou’s Fuda Cancer Hospital, to get my husband’s side. At that time he was running a high fever and suffered severe pains, but I insisted that he type out on the computer even just a paragraph to correct the erroneous allegation. I argued that a good name was the most precious gift we could bequeath to our children. 

My husband was forced to get up and he wrote a paragraph which stressed that up to 2008 we had always jointly declared our income statements, based on taxes withheld (W-2) by the Inquirer in my case, and by the private corporations  in which he represented the SSS. Even with just a cursory look the BIR would have found our joint statements, but at that point it seemed more intent on embarrassing and humiliating, rather than unearthing the facts.    

Our son in Manila dashed off his dad’s statement to the tri-media while our daughter in Tokyo circulated it among the professional groups and associations whose opinion we valued.  We succeeded in getting some publicity for that denial statement, and those who were fair and unbiased appreciated our family efforts to clear my husband’s name. 
Angie goes by the Bushido code

As I saw the same harassing pattern being repeated in Angelo Reyes' case months later, I had hoped he would treat it as just another knight’s intellectual joust. But unfortunately he treated it as a question of honor akin to the Bushido’s Code. As he put two days in a moving interview two days before he took his own life, "...honor above all else. Pride goes with it, self-respect, sense of legacy, ...self esteem." Deprived of all these, he felt the only way was to resolve it with a bullet straight through his heart.

Meantime, as the nation reels from that terrible tragedy, can we expect, as the headline put it, a “kinder, gentler Senate” duly chastised from its ill motives?  Let’s pray for the Senate's enlightenment. 
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