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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 80,574 77,076 71,400 43
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,080 1,020 1,050 135
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on The Philippines



Update No: 084 - (26/02/11)

Death of a soldier
Falling on one’s sword is not a claim to heroism, it is merely an act of dignity.

On 8 February, Angelo Reyes, a former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and a key figure in the Arroyo government, took his own life with a single gunshot to the chest. He did it while visiting his mother’s grave.

Reyes played a major role in installing Arroyo to the presidency. He was AFP Chief of Staff under the Estrada administration and it was his act in withdrawing the support of the military for his presidency that led the Chief Justice of the Philippines to declare the presidency vacant clearing the way for Arroyo to be sworn into the post (see our commentary last month).

This writer knew Reyes personally. We were not ‘friends’ merely nodding acquaintances whose paths often crossed at cocktail parties and other functions. He knew me as (then) head of the Economist Corporate Network in the Philippines and was a guest more than once at our meetings. He was always affable, forthright and reasonably modest. He did not turn up to meetings in a limousine with an entourage of bodyguards; he rode in a panel van. He was the very model of a [modest] major general.

After resigning his military post in 2003, Reyes joined the Arroyo Cabinet; firstly as Secretary of Defense, then head of Interior and Local Government and later as Secretary of Energy. Because of his military and leadership skills, he was widely regarded as one of the more able and effective members of the Arroyo team which is why he was given some of the most difficult portfolios to run.

Was Reyes a good man? I believe that he was but then, to answer the question properly, you need to define your reference frame.

The Arroyo Government which lasted nine years, was despotic and venal. It took plunder of state coffers into a whole new dimension. It was brazen and opportunistic. Those that tried to blow the whistle on corrupt practices were themselves turned into targets; people lost their jobs and even their lives because they tried to expose what was happening in the country. The judiciary was infected and legality turned into legal opportunism. False evidence was often invoked in criminal cases to force the hand in what were essentially business disputes and the verdict went in favour of the highest bidder. The Office of the Ombudsman was turned into a personal fiefdom of the president and was there to protect the status quo.

No wonder then, that many people, even good people, took the easy way out and went along with it. Self-interest—and in some cases survival—dictated expediency. Some simply chose to turn a blind eye, claiming it was none of their business; and yet as the infection spread, it became increasingly difficult to stay on the side of the line that represented integrity.

As Prof. Philip Zimbardo discovered in his famous 1971 psychological experiment in which he took a group of students into a simulated prison environment in which some were randomly chosen as guards and others as prisoners, culture affects moral choices. This two-week experiment had to be shut down after only six days when some of the ‘guards’ became brutal and sadistic while the ‘prisoners’ showed signs of extreme stress (

That seminal study showed how good people can become evil and the effect that environment plays on such decisions. Social influences can have a profound impact on the way people think and act.

Carry this experiment forward into the Philippines of the first decade of this century and it is easy to see how many people ‘crossed the line’ without even realising it’ or (more likely) they realised it but then engaged in self-justification: ‘everyone is doing it’; ‘if I don’t, someone else will’; ‘ my promotion [or government position] depends on it’.

By Filipino standards, Reyes was not a bad man. But it appears that he too may have crossed the line. Perhaps he did not even realise it until recently; either that or he had been living with a troubled conscience for some time.

In the weeks leading up to his death Reyes had been named in a Senate enquiry into corruption in the military. At that hearing, a former budget officer of the AFP, Col. George Rabusa admitted serving as a ‘bagman’ for three former chiefs of staff: Angelo Reyes, Diomedio Villanueva and Roy Cimatu.

It has long been alleged that the military operated a system of ‘pabaon’ or incentive pay to reward senior officers. Funds were skimmed from the regular military budget and converted illegally to cash for senior officers. The higher the rank, the higher the IP. The system has been tolerated for a long time for no other reason that necessity. Armed forces pay (as is the case of cabinet officials) is so low as to be ludicrous. A senior army officer or a cabinet secretary may have an official take home pay of less than $500 a month whereas a ‘C’ level executive in a middle-ranking local company would take home ten times that amount. It all comes back to the gini coefficient but that would take us off on an entirely different tangent.

Despite being a mere colonel and on a modest salary, Rabussa enjoyed a lifestyle not far removed from those he served. So far, 16 different bank accounts have been identified as belonging to him, he built houses, owns several cards (and not ‘clunkers’ either) and he and his wife have travelled overseas a number of times.

At the Senate hearing, it was alleged that Reyes had received over PhP100 million (around $2.3 mill. or £ 1.4 mill.) during his time as Chief of Staff including PhP50 mill. as ‘send-off’ money when he retired from the military.

Measured against a Filipino yardstick, these were modest amounts and, accepting the allegations as being ‘reasonable assumptions’ Reyes may have not had second thoughts about accepting them. They were no more than his due. Indeed, when considered against the plunder allegations against former President Estrada and against his successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, these amlounts pale into insignificance.

But times have changed; goalposts have shifted and these acts are now being measured against a different yardstick. Over the past decade, corruption had become so endemic that it had to be exposed. The country was breaking under the strain and the Philippines now has a government that is willing to expose it.

Following his 1971 experiment, Prof. Zimbardo defined evil in the following terms:

‘Evil consists of intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others - or using one’s authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf.’

Eventually, Reyes realised that he too had crossed that line. Reportedly, just a few days before his death he had told his long-time friend, Navy Commodore Rex Robles, ‘wala na ito, pare’ [this is the end, buddy].

Right now, there are probably many people in the Philippines that realise they too were seduced into crossing that line and are living with the consequences. For Reyes, that realisation appears to have become too heavy a burden to bear.

May Angelo Reyes rest in peace.

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