I wish to express my deepest condolences to the family of the late General and Secretary Angelo Reyes. Like many others, I was shocked at his sudden and tragic demise. Gen Reyes, in a series of emotionally-charged, televised Senate hearings, was accused of pocketing at least P50 million from the Armed Forces when he retired. He took his own life on Feb 8.
I first met Gen Reyes in the early 1990’s in Davao City, when I accompanied my late father Lieutenant General Thelmo Cunanan, who was then Chief of the Southern Command, on his two-week inspection of all the military units in Mindanao. At that time, Gen Reyes was a one-star general and the commander of the Philippine Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade, which was directly under Southcom.
At a dinner hosted by my father, I very impressed by Gen Reyes’s sharp intellect, grasp of issues, and eloquence. I remember thinking to myself that this man could be Chief of Staff one day.
My next encounter with Gen Reyes came several years later, during the height of the East Timor conflict. By that time, my prediction had come true—he had taken over the helm of the military under the Estrada administration.
Following the resignation of President Suharto, a UN-sponsored agreement between Indonesia and Portugal allowed for a UN-supervised popular referendum in Timor in August 1999. The resulting clear vote for independence in the eastern part of the island was met with a campaign of violence by pro-integration militia, with the tacit support of the Indonesian military.
Dad, who had retired from the military and had just finished his ambassadorial stint in Cambodia, was tasked by Jaime Cardinal Sin and former President Cory Aquino to lead a humanitarian effort to West Timor, which was then deluged with tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees, fleeing the militias who were cutting a bloody swathe of destruction across the island.
Conditions in the refugee camps were squalid, with a host of diseases like malaria, malnutrition, dysentery, and hepatitis spreading among the inmates. Dad had flown to West Timor several weeks before to lay the ground work for the medical team. My brother Conrad and I then followed with 24 doctors and nurses, several tons of relief goods and medicine, and a contingent of journalists in a Philippine Air Force C-130.
The original plan was for the cargo plane to stay in the West Timorese capital, Kupang, for one night, leaving the aid workers behind for three months to continue their work. However, upon arrival, the refugee problem was simply overwhelming and there was a need for the C-130 to stay longer. Dad rang up Gen Reyes and explained to him the situation. The latter immediately realized the problem and, without hesitation, ordered the Air Force to extend all possible assistance to the team—an act that saved many the lives of many East Timorese.
That was General Reyes: smart, bold, and decisive. These were traits that he would display in future crises that were far more serious and pivotal to our nation’s future.
During the Arroyo administration, I would often bump into Gen Reyes and exchange pleasantries with him, in the course of his carrying out his Cabinet duties—from Secretary of Defense to Environment. A very decent and kind man, the general will truly be missed by his relatives, friends, and colleagues, and all those who had the privilege and honor of knowing him.
I strongly condemn Senators Antonio Trillanes and Jinggoy Estrada for their shabby treatment of Gen Reyes, during the Senate hearings into the alleged corruption in the military. It pained me to see this old soldier berated by a former coup plotter and the son of a convicted plunderer and, at one point, co-accused himself of the same crime. It’s obvious to everyone that Trillanes’ and Estrada’s merciless attacks against Gen Reyes were nothing more than pure political vendetta for past differences.
It disgusted me to hear Trillanes address Gen Reyes, who had been in government for 48 years—much longer than Trillanes has been alive—like some petulant schoolboy. “You have no reputation to protect,” barked the self-righteous former junior Navy officer, whose failed mutinies cost the government and private sector billions of pesos in business and lost investment opportunities.
It isn’t my intention to defend Gen Reyes. The Senate investigation brought out issues that he should have directly addressed in the proper forum. What I am against are legislators hauling witnesses to televised congressional hearings where they have no chance to defend themselves and where their reputations and lives are wantonly ruined by the likes of Trillanes and Estrada, who act as judges, juries, and executioners “in aid of legislation”. How many more lives will you destroy, Trillanes and Estrada? Shame on you.
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Tuesday, 15 February 2011