The death of Angie Reyes or, more accurately, the manner thereof, continues to spark debate.
On one hand his comrades-in-arms have defended it as an act of honor.
Others have decried it as an act of cowardice. They believe Angie should have served the greater good by exposing the corruption in the military.
Angie himself, as we learn, was torn between speaking up and the shame that would have brought to his family, between honoring his nobility and implicating his colleagues and friends.
He is described as a man of strong will yet this was insufficient to pull him through, such must have been the struggle in his conscience and soul.
There is debate whether Angie’s suicide will be a defining moment, an inflection point in the fight against corruption in general and reform of the military in particular; or whether it will simply be another passing event to be overtaken by tomorrow’s headlines.
It would be the latter.
Unlike the immolation of Buddhist monks in the Vietnam War or that recently of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, Angie’s death was neither a political statement nor an act of protest.
His was a personal expression of retreat and surrender. It was closer to the samurai act of seppuko or disembowelment, an attenuation of shame.
In this sense, what he deserves is not judgment but compassion, empathy for the agony he must have suffered in resolving his conflicts.
Angie’s death should remind us that whatever our wrongdoings in life, in each one of us lies a nobility that deserves respect. For all his indiscretions, he had, as attested by Teresita Ang See, a virtuous side that should be acknowledged. It was the struggle between the honorable and the dishonorable in him that caused the man to take his life.
In Hindu philosophy this respect for the higher being that is in each of us is conveyed in the greeting of “Namaste” which translates as “ I honor the God in you”.
In burying him with full ceremony, the military honored the God In Angie.
The question is whether the President should have done likewise by attending the burial.
His advisers say this would have sent the wrong message, that the President would have been seen to condone Angie’s indiscretions.
It was sufficient, they say, that Aquino had attended the wake to convey his sorrow to the Reyes family (This begs the question of why P-Noy, having done so privately, could not publicly express his condolence).
On the other hand, it was incongruous that as Commander-in-Chief he was not present in a publicized ceremony honoring a fallen member of his armed forces. It exposed a fissure in the chain of command. It showed the President (and his Secretary of Defense) as not being on top of the situation.
It depicted the President as being behind the curve.
While he vacillated between honoring Reyes or not, the military high command decided to do so unilaterally. This was their affirmation, their public statement that while constitutionally they report to P-Noy, in reality they are their own persons.
The President reacted by snubbing the affair, perhaps his idea of flexing his muscle, straining relations with his military commanders at a time when he should be mending them.
The President has already alienated the Supreme Court. He cannot afford to have a stand–off with another institution so essential to his success. This would leave him in talking terms only with the Legislature which is no way to run a Government.
The President has high principles but he also appears at times indecisive and sensitive to slight which is not a good mix for governance. As popular as he is, he cannot expect to be followed if he is unprepared to lead. He will gain the respect he demands when he is seen to earn it.
As our leader the President should be unifying the country’s institutions not alienating them. He must be strong yet humble enough to reach out to his detractors. He must understand politics is about addition.
In the Reyes matter, he should have either ordered that there be no military testimonial to the man or lead the move to publicly honor him. He did neither. As a result he was presented with a fait accompli that exposed his lack of command.
The President will be tested again. The next time let us hope he will take charge.