They were two protagonists in a tale of dishonesty.
Heidi Mendoza, auditor and low-level public servant, who in her duty uncovered a trail of malfeasance in the upper sanctum of the military.
Angie Reyes, warrior and high-level public servant, a prominent recipient it is said of the largesse so bared.
Hounded by her superiors Heidi resigned from Government rather than surrender to the system, unwilling to shame her family and her honor.
Beset by enquiries Angie took his life rather than address the system, equally unwilling to shame his family and his honor.
In Heidi corruption created a hero, in Angie it turned on, possibly, one of its own.
The two narratives have started a long overdue conversation on corruption in this nation, on its reach and damage it has inflicted on our values as a people.
Corruption has many facets. They range from a simple bribe to the massacre of innocents in Maguindanao.
Its reach is pervasive and self-reinforcing. It fuels the loop of wealth, political power and physical might, the three Gs of gold, goons and guns, that has characterized our society.
President Aquino has vowed to break this circle of corruption. When he unveiled his slogan “Kung Walang Corrupt, Walang Mahirap” little did he know the first real test of his avowal would come from the military, the one sector where even as Commander-in-Chief he is not invulnerable.
Historically the military has been an instrument of stability as well as a vehicle of upheaval in developing societies. It proved it in EDSA, it is proving it in Egypt. Political leaders lean on this warrior class for their legitimacy.
The challenge of President Aquino is how to reform an institution so essential to his existence yet so in need of change .
Compounding his problem is he does not (nor can he possibly) know the extent of the cancer. Is it Stage 4 corruption, how pervasive is it in the chain of command? Without this diagnosis, how and where will P-Noy make his incisions?
The President wishes the problem would simply go away. It will not and he must address it for that is his sworn oath. The public is watching.
The options of the President are:
A. Don’t ask, don’t tell- This policy, developed to address the issue of gays in the US military, effectively countenances the status quo. It is designed to avoid questions for which he does not want the response.
B. Manage the pain- This approach accepts the notion that corruption in the military cannot be eradicated, only contained. Minimum reforms will be undertaken to appease public opinion but not enough to upset the ranking military.
C. Rattle the cage- This option would initiate a full inquiry on military corruption. It is a high-risk strategy that may unleash forces that could threaten the tranquility of the Government.
The President will likely take the middle road. He will advocate stronger financial controls. However, he will not dig so far into the system as to expose deeper anomalies, raise questions better left unanswered.
There is a ray of hope.
For all its indiscretions, the military possesses a virtue unique to institutions of government and that is the Code of Honor. It is ingrained in the training and culture of our men in uniform. It is the struggle between this code of honor and the forces of darkness that arguably caused Angie to take his life.
If the President can tap into this nobility, find the vein of honor and love of country that runs in our armed forces, identify the leaders with this DNA, and build on it, then he can possibly achieve meaningful reform.
The task is arduous for even as a higher calling is embedded in the military culture, so is the bond of brotherhood and the chain of command that values secrecy and preservation of its members.
The military will bury Angie with full honors with or without the Commander-in-Chief in attendance ( I suggest he goes). This is its affirmation that it is a body unto itself, one that closes ranks when threatened from the outside.
Angie Reyes lived and died on his terms.
Ironically, his legacy may be that in so doing he may have initiated reforms in the military that the code of honor in him would have championed.
It is this code of honor in every military man that the President must tap into if he is to succeed in his efforts for change.