New Internationalist

When a general kills himself

On his mother’s grave, in the morning of 7 February, under a clear blue sky, he put a gun to his heart and shot himself.

His name was Angelo Reyes, a former Philippine defense secretary who had been implicated in a major military corruption. He was 65 years old.

He had projected an image of being fierce, tough and commanding, but that Monday morning, in the middle of weeks and weeks of investigation by the Congress of the corruption scandal, he pulled the trigger and took away his own life.

Foul play had been ruled out, because a cemetery employee had witnessed the incident from 20 metres (nearly 70 feet) away, the police said.

Reyes, a retired army general who spent his time playing with his grandchildren, had been accused of accepting the equivalent of millions and millions of dollars worth of kickbacks from military contractors and suppliers.

A former budget officer of the military, retired army colonel George Rabusa, testified before a Senate committee in hearings that started in January that Reyes and two other former chiefs of staff of the armed forces of the Philippines received kickbacks or send-off moneys.

The same witness also said that Reyes’ wife and the wives of other generals often roamed around the world with shopping money from funds intended for military use.

Reyes’ suicide could well be a scene from a movie similar to A Few Good Men and No Way Out.

Unfortunately, fiction it is not. Every character in this movie-like saga is made of flesh and blood. And every peso pocketed by these corrupt military officials also meant a peso less for much needed social services such as health and education.

The revelations at the Senate only reinforce the longstanding allegations of deeply entrenched systemic corruption in the Philippine military. The witness who testified before lawmakers described a slush fund that needed to be maintained by the military. Employees were required to raise some P40 million (about $920,000) from military suppliers. Military suppliers bid for various needs ranging from ammunitions to clothing.

That corruption is rampant in the Philippine military is not surprising. Its yearly budget from the state is P8.3 billion ($1.9 billion). It is also the reason why wars against the so-called ‘enemies of the state’ – terrorist groups, communists, rebels – go on and on.

An article in The New York Times, published on 7 February by Carlos Conde, quoted Carolina Hernandez of the University of the Philippines as saying that it was time the government implemented serious reform of the military and not just lip service. ‘This should be a catharsis for the entire Philippine society, not just the military. The issue does not begin and end with the military,’ Hernandez said.

On Saturday, 13 February, under a glistening sun, Reyes was laid to rest with full military honours. The Philippine flag was flown at half-mast.

To his grave went the truth about how far up corruption in the military went and how much of taxpayers’ money goes to finance military wives’ guiltless shopping sprees around the world and other luxury, while foot soldiers die in war zones; while evacuees caught in the crossfire sleep in makeshift evacuation centers; while roughly 40 out of 94 million Filipinos live below poverty line; while funds for education remain wanting and while the homeless sleep on the cold damp earth.

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