Former Armed Forces Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense General Angelo Reyes shot himself in the chest earlier today.
Some have hailed his suicide at the grave of his mother as an act of honor, reminiscent of a samurai choosing ritual suicide over a life of shame and ignominy. More recently, it has been the preferred exit strategy of choice for Asian government officials hounded by allegations of corruption, such as former Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, who plunged to his death by jumping off a cliff near his home in 2009.
For the longest time, the standard Philippine response to allegations of corruption and bribery in the light of damning evidence, has been to beat the chest in defiant self-righteousness, cry political persecution, threaten to sue for libel and then proceed to dip the fingers once more into the public coffers with impunity. And then present the very picture of devout religiosity in church the next Sunday.
So Angie Reyes bucked the prevailing trend and chose to die by his own hand instead. At the ongoing Senate hearings investigating corruption in the military, Reyes had been named by a witness, former Colonel George Rabusa, as among those in the upper echelons of the military who received kickbacks from military contractors.
Was it an act of courage to die by his own hand? After all, as one political scientist pointed out,
"It’s 'hara-kiri.' It's the honorable way out, a combination of loss of hope, loss of self esteem, the shame factor," she said.
Carlos added that Reyes killed himself not because he was weak but because his strength gave him courage to pull the trigger.
"Suicide is chosen by a person who has guts, who has the courage to kill yourself. Secretary Reyes had a very powerful personality," she said.
And everyone else at the AFP seems to murmur in agreement.
An act of courage? I think not. It may take courage to fire a bullet into your own chest and spatter your blood all over the tombstone of your mother, all within earshot of your family and staff, but I think it takes greater courage to own up to your transgressions, accept the appropriate punishment and face, every single day for the rest of your life, the consequences of morals squandered, principles tossed aside simply because someone more powerful knew exactly the price that had to be paid to own your soul.
Not to detract from the sorrow and grief that his family is no doubt experiencing, but had the good general truly wanted to depart with dignity, he could have left a note behind naming names, dates and amounts. That would have taken real courage. That would have restored his honor.
In the midst of this tragedy, it's almost comically surreal that the book the general carried with him to his death was not a tome by Marcus Aurelius, Machiavelli or de Tocqueville. Nor was it even something penned by the Dalai Lama or Elie Wiesel. No, it was the absurdly banal "The Art of the Deal" by Donald Trump.
As they say, Only in the Philippines.