One is that George Rabusa and Heidi Mendoza, whose revelations sent Angelo Reyes’ life into a tailspin, have nothing to be ashamed of, embarrassed about, or regret. Sonny Trillanes, Jinggoy Estrada and the other senators who hounded Angelo Reyes have no reason to think they should have spared Reyes the public humiliation or taken a more lenient view of his part in the AFP’s shady doings.
Of course Reyes’ family is distraught—who wouldn’t be, losing a loved one in that way—one has to respect that. But that is no reason to be blind to reason, or to throw away all perspective. Rabusa and Mendoza have everything to be proud of, what they did was courageous, Mendoza in particular who had everything to lose but did what she did anyway. Trillanes and Estrada have every reason to hold their heads high, whatever their motives for exposing Reyes, whether they came from a lofty desire to pursue the truth, as their supporters say, or from a base need to exact revenge, as their detractors accuse them of.
Two is that Reyes is not a hero. Self-destruction is not a natural claim to heroism, it is merely a claim to a shred of dignity. It may not be rewarded with honors, it may merely be accorded acknowledgment. Indeed, you go by the principle that flight is an admission of guilt, then you must at least suspect, if not find, Reyes guilty as charged. There is no more resolute form of flight than the permanent one he took.
I agree that Reyes was not the worst of the lot—other AFP chiefs of staff, the ones in particular who showed canine loyalty to Arroyo, got more. I agree that he was not “greedy”—by the established, and crooked, canons of institutionalized theft in the AFP. I agree that he did not take more than his “due” as AFP head—he was little-league compared not just to his military counterparts during Arroyo’s time but to his civilian ones. That did not make him less prosecutable, that just made the others more so.
I don’t know why we accept as commonsensical the proposition that if others are doing what you’re doing, even if it’s wrong, then it must be right. That was of course the argument behind the bishops’ justification of “Hello Garci”: “Everybody cheats anyway.” Well, if true, then the conclusion may not be: “OK, let’s let her off the hook.” The conclusion may only be: “Then let’s jail all the others.” That Reyes was not “greedy” does not let him off the hook, it just clamps the hook more firmly on the others who were. Or it ought to.
Death is an entitlement only to respect, not to revising history or turning the world upside down, making wrong right and right wrong. Suicide is an entitlement only to grudging deference, not to open admiration and a place in Valhalla, or its equivalent in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, however the Libingan ng mga Bayani is home to a host of scoundrels anyway.
But having said that, I do acknowledge that Reyes has contributed epically, if unwittingly, to changing the landscape in the fight against corruption by his act of self-destruction. I suspect it will have a profound impact on the thinking of this country on it.
I do not mean by this that public officials will suddenly, or even gradually, be persuaded to be less venal or less inclined to satisfy their appetites. What Reyes’ act will probably do is just make them more careful. Certainly, I do not mean by this that public officials will suddenly, or even gradually, be persuaded to rid the world of themselves when they find themselves in the throes of disgrace. I doubt you will find the former First Couple entertaining thoughts of a mutually self-inflicted St. Valentine’s Day massacre just because they are seen as no better than the Marcoses. Or Imelda herself.
But even if it merely made public officials less brazen, less barefaced, less in-your-face about their pillage, Reyes’ act will already have amounted to something. If it made public officials more circumspect, more careful, more ashamed to be found out, Reyes’ act will already have done quite a trick. The culture of impunity during Arroyo’s time did not merely blanket mayhem, it blanketed pillage. It wasn’t just murderers who plied their trade in broad daylight, it was highway robbers in gowns and barong Tagalog too. Reyes’ act brings back reprehensibility to what they do.
That is huge, bringing back reprehensibility to what they do. That is where I see the more lasting effect of Reyes’ act—in changing the public’s attitude toward corruption, in changing the public’s tolerance of corruption, in changing the public’s acceptance of corruption as “nothing new.”
What Reyes has done is to make the public realize that corruption kills: It kills the foot soldier who is deprived of his means of survival; it kills the child who is deprived of his means of education. What Reyes has done is make corruption something to be deeply ashamed of, something you apologize to your mother about for suggesting to the world she raised a son or daughter not worthy of her name. What Reyes has done is to make corruption carry with it the most lethal consequences, making us tell our corrupt officials: If you cannot end your life, we will help you do the next best thing, which is to spend life in Munti or Bilibid.
Reyes’ act may not have a tremendous impact on the conduct of public officials, but it will have a tremendous impact on the thinking of the public—which in the end will have a tremendous impact on the conduct of public officials. The only time we’ll really see corruption go is when we start telling our crooks, past and present: “Mahiya-hiya ka naman, bakit hindi ka pa nagpapakamatay?”
Reyes has done us the supreme favor of raising that question from the dead, like Lazarus.