The Final Words of Angelo T. Reyes

A warrior comes clean in last battle for honor

By Malou Mangahas
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

LATE evening last Feb. 4, Friday, a long-time source suddenly called. Would I be free for brunch the next day, he asked. He wanted to consult me on something important.

We met the next day and he bared his purpose: Angelo ‘Angie’ T. Reyes, the former Armed Forces chief of staff and Defense secretary, wanted to see me so he could tell his story to “an independent journalist” – would I want to interview him? The source happened to be a senior trusted associate of Angie for the last decade or so.

Now which reporter would pass up the chance to do a great interview? I was tempted to say yes at once. But I knew Angie Reyes to be a difficult source – smart, articulate, often given to intellectual musings, somewhat arrogant in manner and tone, and yes, a bit full of himself. I don’t know how he sized me up; perhaps it was just sheer luck that he had thought of PCIJ at a time he was vulnerable and under fire in the Senate for alleged corruption.

In 2001, for over two hours, I had interviewed Angie for a PCIJ story on the rushed, overpriced, and irregular purchase of four, 30-year-old C-130-K military transport and cargo planes and two sensor equipment for $41 million or P2.1 billion. The supplier was the world’s largest defense contractor, the U.S. firm Lockheed Martin.

The story had reached Angie’s doorstep because it was he, as Armed Forces chief of staff, who recommended the purchase, and approved the same weeks later, as Defense secretary, without public bidding. The purchase was enrolled for funding under the multi-billion-peso Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program when it was not supposed to be there at all. The program did not include the purchase of C-130s but only aircraft with night-vision sensors.

To push it, the AFP crafted the contract with Lockheed Martin to cover the acquisition of C-130s retrofitted with night-vision sensors. As it turned out, Angie had merely signed on to a deal endorsed by two presidents, one of whom was said to be close to the lobbying contractor. The Department of Budget and Management did not approve the contract until months later. The Armed Forces had a bad habit then of awarding supply contracts that the service commands or headquarters would later suspend or rescind, then bid and award again, for reasons like product specs mismatched with unit requirements and the change of commanders.

I got to ask Angie hard questions only after a long, small-talk session. He regaled me with his views on books, the arts, and his life as a graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He didn’t get it that when some sources start pulling in vanity snippets, some reporters become more wary.

And so on Saturday, Feb. 5, when the source said Angie wanted to tell his story, I agreed — but only after laying down what I thought should be the best premises for a good interview: no-holds barred, he doesn’t waste time denying things, he deals with the critical questions, and he agrees that I bring a PCIJ colleague as associate. I told the source about my honest impressions of Angie, arrogance and all. I asked the source if he really thought Angie had it in him a hint of humility, and the courage to tell all about what I am certain he knew first-hand were details of corruption – the cases, the actors, the modus and the system – in the military and the government.

I told the source that it seems clear that apart from senior military officers, corruption festers with the knowledge or acquiescence of a string of chiefs of staff, defense secretaries, and presidents, as well as some of the members of Congress and contractors. If Angie would talk to secure self-redemption, I said, the interview could not guarantee that. I requested the source to tell Angie that the best reason for him to talk would be simply to tell the truth, and that maybe in doing so, over time, he could have self-redemption.

The source said he would relay all this to Angie and get back to me. We exchanged text messages – some of which he said he forwarded to Angie – while Angie engaged in muni-muni, reflected on his options, and consulted with his sons about the interview.

On Sunday, Feb. 6, past 8 p.m., the source called to say Angie was ready to talk and our meeting was a go. But minutes later, the source said Angie had changed his mind and it was a no-go. More minutes later, the source called again to say that Angie said it was a go once more. I was already halfway prepared to go out when the source relayed the message that Angie had again changed his mind. I told the source we should respect that Angie and Angie alone should make the call if and when he wants to talk.

On Tuesday, Feb. 8, the day Angie Reyes took his life, I learned from the source that Angie had actually prepared for our interview. For a few hours last Sunday morning, Angie had sat down with the source to organize his words and thoughts to prepare for his two considered options: the interview with the PCIJ, or a final statement he would issue, in his name, to the media. He asked his associate to document his thoughts and feelings.

“In retrospect, he must have meant it as a final testament, but he kept that card very close to his chest,” the source said. “The notes are incomplete, because our conversation was unfinished. I apologized that I had to leave for a lunch appointment.”

“He became anxious and suddenly revived the PCIJ interview option,” the source recalled. He quoted Angie as telling him, “‘Please lang. Importanteng-importante ito. Time is of the essence.”

“After I said goodbye, he thanked me and shook my hand much more tightly than usual,” the source said. “By then, he was vacillating anew on whether or not to grant the interview. Many considerations (must have) flitted through his mind: he clearly didn’t want to rat on anyone, certainly not his comrades in arms; he also didn’t want to be an instrument for inflicting irreparable damage on the AFP…and so on.”

Said the source: “He would have wanted to contribute to cleaning the system – but only in a just and rational manner. At the hearings, he strongly felt – quite justifiably, I think – that he was being set up by some people to be ‘the face of military corruption.’ While he felt that this was very, very unfair, he was powerless to defend himself in that forum.”

The start of their conversation was recorded on tape. A minute into it, Angie asked the source to just jot down notes of their discussion that took place at the Reyeses’ home in Taguig. The source gave the PCIJ his notes from his discussion, with Angie captured verbatim, saying these were the main points that Angie would have wanted to highlight in the interview. In it, Angie showed he was not one to fail the expectations of honor.

With appropriate courtesy and clearance from his widow and sons, the PCIJ has decided to let Angie tell his story, verbatim. The discussion notes are rough and still unpolished in some parts, and somewhat incomplete. But they are Angie Reyes’s words and thoughts, as of Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, two days before he put a gun to his heart and shot himself.

Living life without honor is a tragedy

bigger than death itself  – Angie Reyes

“Honor, truth, justice. Honor above all else. Pride goes with it, self-respect, sense of legacy. This is very, very important to me. Sometimes, I am accused of being arrogant. I like to have plenty – a healthy sense – of self-esteem. I react to affronts on this.

There are two options available: to stonewall/fight the legal battle, or to come clean and make my own contribution to cleanse the system.

Stonewalling, I am told, would result in a long, protracted legal battle. However, past cases are not being resolved either way, kept in state of limbo. People’s memories are short and all this will eventually fade into public disinterest, and eventually oblivion. So, not to worry.

Coming clean, on the other hand, cannot be done without giving up something. I have decided to come clean, bare my heart and speak the truth. The truth can cut two ways: 1. If you are guiltless, you can embrace the truth and hope that it will protect you; 2. If you are not guiltless, speak the truth and it shall set you free.

I speak the truth not to whistle-blow or to seek neither immunity nor protection nor to escape from any form of liability. As a matter of fact, I speak the truth to accept responsibility for whatever liability I may have.

Honor is above all else. More valuable than freedom or even life itself. Therefore, honor must be guarded/defended with your life.

Living life without honor is a tragedy bigger than death itself.

Stonewalling would mean I would have to go on every day of my life or at least a large part of it under a cloud of public suspicion, at least until the case is resolved. Every day as you continue to live with the lie, you lose a little of your self-respect. And every day, as people look at you, you can read from their minds that they find you dishonorable, and you die a little. So if you stonewall – and you have the connections, resources and power to sustain it, and perhaps the thick face to endure it – that would be the preferred option. I have none of these, and so I choose the path of honor.

My honor has been attacked and damaged. I still have a lot of pride and self-respect, and I’d like to come clean to preserve whatever honor is left.

We see plenty of people walking around who have been clearly disgraced in the eyes of the people, and I do not want to join their ranks.

I think if you want to cleanse the system and for there to be justice, it should be applied equally and well. Our experience has shown that those with position and power, support and connection invariably go scot-free. I don’t have any of these.

It is unfortunate that we have a huge canvas here of which, I admit, I have been a part; unfortunately, people are now inclined to make me the face of that problem for their own various reasons.

When I participated in EDSA II, even then I anticipated that something like this would happen when I made enemies both on a personal and official level. In my long years of service, I knew that I would have to come to terms with this enmity some day.

I might not be guiltless/faultless, but I am not as evil as some would like to portray.

To my friends and those who have known me and believed in me, I honestly believe I did not let you down.

I want to assure the (PMA) cadet corps, current and future, that there are plenty of military professionals who have served and will continue to serve the country well. Do not be disheartened by this turn of events. Yours is a noble profession (of arms), and you should feel no shame. I have tried to live with integrity, loyalty, and courage.

In my 48 years of public service, I have tried to live up to the highest levels of professionalism and integrity. Whether it’s my assignment with the AFP-RSBS or with the Anti-Smuggling Task Force, I never received any offers of bribes; in fact, I returned them. In all my assignments, 39 years in the military and 9 years in four different Cabinet positions, I have never had any favorite supplier. Neither have I ever extorted money nor set any financial precondition for the approval of any contract. I can honestly say that I served honestly and well.

We are now in the situation where my honor and the family name are at stake. My family, my children, my grandchildren could say with a lot of truthfulness and pride that in the family, we value honor and integrity. Strength to live it and the courage to face up to the truth. This is the legacy I would like to leave with them.

Honor, truth, but there must be justice. And justice can be served if laws are applied evenly and well – not favoring the rich and powerful. I hope my case/situation will not be used as something that would bring closure to the issue of military corruption. The fight to reform the system and the entire country must continue; the sad part is that they are selectively targeting individuals and institutions.

I did not invent corruption. I walked into it. Perhaps my first fault was in having accepted aspects of it as a fact of life.

While I am familiar with finance, I must admit I had scant knowledge of military comptrollership. Personally, zero experience. Never been assigned as disbursement officer, etc., no stint. It’s a military field of specialization that I do not have.

No system is perfect. The AFP system needs a lot of systemic solutions…And the same might be true of some other institutions.

Tinyente pa ako,  ganyan na ang sistema (i.e., “conversion” system, etc.)… I can perhaps be faulted for presuming regularity in a grossly imperfect system. As CS (chief of staff), a big landscape, presume regularity, convenient to ignore it, accept it as part of the system. It’s easy to say, institute reforms after the problems have erupted.

I joined EDSA II at great risk. Jumped into a void. Coming from a place that was high and comfortable.  Without any regard for compensation or recognition or reward. I thought what I did – being loyal to the Flag and putting the national interest above all else – a right, but I was faulted for not being loyal to the commander-in-chief, that I should have stuck with him to the end, however that end might be. I stuck it out with the GMA administration for 9 years, not under the banner of loyalty; I could have deserted GMA, but I did not want to be branded as someone who abandoned his superiors…”

When we participated in many military campaigns, I would like to think that I showed courage…” – PCIJ, February 2011