March 3, 2024

With so many of our government officials standing accused of graft and corruption, I remember Gen. Angelo Reyes, the former military chief and former secretary of the Departments of Defense and Environment, who was accused by a fellow alumnus of the Philippine Military Academy in a high-profile Senate hearing of pocketing money from the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Corruption was an explosive issue in the military and another PMAr, former military budget officer George Rabusa, has alleged that Reyes was among the recipients of payoffs of more than $1 million.
Emotions ran high when Reyes tried to confront him to protect his reputation but was restrained by then Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV with his now unforgettable and irreverent words, “No, no, no, you don’t have any reputation to protect,” “I believe this is the time of reckoning. You better find very good lawyers.”
A stunned Reyes, who served the government for 48 years, denied the accusations of course, but he was really bothered by the attack on his honor. A few days later he chose an honorable way out and died of a single gunshot wound in the chest after visiting the grave of his mother.
Public officials are exposed to the risk of being accused of wrongdoing, right or wrong, true or false.
The 1987 Constitution has provided a catch-all provision – Betrayal of public trust – which to my mind is so wide that even if the public officer takes a pee at the wall, he could violate the provision.
Article 11, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution reads “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice; and lead modest lives.”
This mantra sums up the high sense of idealism that is expected of every officer of the government.
As expressed by Justice Malcolm in Cornejo vs. Gabriel (41 Phil. 188), “the basic idea of government is that of a representative government, the officers being one man or set of men has a proprietary or contractual right to an office, but where every officer accepts office pursuant to the provisions of law and holds office as a trust for the people whom he represents. (Morfe v. Mutuc, 22 SCRA 424, 437).
The notion of a public trust connotes accountability and any betrayal, slight or large, big or small, relevant or not.
Today, a lot of public servants face the same dilemma as that of Reyes but no, we are not saying they should take the same route. Instead of procrastination, they should be allowed to answer fully, freely, competently all the questions that have been raised against them in the proper fora.
Netflix years ago: In the closing war scene of the movie “The Last Samurai,” Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) asked Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) while huddled in the trenches, their enemies pounding them with cannons, “What happened to the 300 Spartans?”
Captain Algren told Katsumoto that earlier, 300 of their warriors held off an invader’s horde in a place called Thermopylae. Katsumoto asked where the 300 troops were and Captain Algren answered: “Dead to the last man.”
Katsumoto smiles, enthused by the answer then together with his soldiers rushed the enemy on horseback, banners flailing in the wind, swords glinting in the sun until the “guttling gun” (.30 caliber machine gun in modern times) was finally used to quell the overpowering rebellion against the Emperor.
Ultimately, he committed hara-kiri, a ritual suicide by disembowelment with a sword, formerly practiced in Japan by samurais as an honorable alternative to disgrace or execution or surrender.
Indeed, some defeats are glorious victories. I guess there truly is victory in defeat.
Hail to Katsumoto!