Angelo Reyes’ Exit Strategy

An exit strategy is a means of getting out of a difficult or unfavorable situation. It is also a strategy to mitigate failure. At worst, an exit strategy is a way to save face.  At best, an exit strategy will achieve an objective far more valuable than the cost of continued involvement.

Yesterday morning, former AFP chief of staff Angelo Reyes decided on and executed his exit strategy.

In the military and in business, where exit strategies are mostly used, it is always advised that no one should ever go into a military conflict (war) or into a business venture without a comprehensive blueprint for getting out. Reyes, a military officer and a holder of an MBA degree, probably knows that concept well.  No doubt he is good at what he does for how else could he have survived leadership changes and military unrest and still manage to get key government posts through it all.

So what led him to decide that suicide was his best and only option? How could a proud, self-proclaimed God-fearing and self-righteous man living in a religious country that has the lowest suicide rates in the world bring himself to take his own life?  And why would any self-respecting and loving son and father put a bullet through his heart in front of the grave of his own mother with his children within hearing distance as if it were a scene from a bad Pinoy movie?

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who did not inhibit herself from the Senate inquiry per Reyes’ request, said Reyes died “with the presumption of innocence on his side because he never went to trial.” Was that the more valuable objective Reyes was aiming for in committing suicide?

Filipinos have this belief that one should not speak ill of the dead. Maybe Reyes was counting on that as well.  It seems to be working because people are already starting to pay their tributes and focusing on Reyes’ achievements rather than the crimes he has been accused of.  In fact, talks are underway about giving him full military honors and burying his body in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, a plan that would surely interest Imelda Marcos.

George Rabusa is overwhelmed with guilt, probably blaming himself for his kumpare’s suicide.  Some legislators now want to take things easy and be less hard on their resource persons lest it would lead to more suicides. Is this what some of them meant when they described the act of Reyes taking his own life as “noble” and “the ultimate sacrifice” like it is some sort of Japanese harakiri?  Or is it an extreme application of the Philippine Military Academy’s honor code on the part of its top graduate?

Dr. Joselito Pascual of the U.P. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2008, advocates “talk therapy” as a very helpful tool in overcoming depression. “Because when one talks, he gains insight. And that will lead to change.  More often than not, the patient will think of ways of changing and coping with the problem,” the doctor explained.

Maybe becoming a resource person in the congressional hearings would have been more cathartic for Reyes and a better exit strategy. Because he would have stood a good chance of redeeming himself before the eyes of his family, of the men and women of the AFP, and the Filipino people.  This kind of “talk therapy” may or may not change him or some things in this country in the end. But, at least, it would have contributed to some understanding and put on record that this public servant cooperated in bringing to light the truth somehow.

The fact that Reyes chose this more dramatic exit speaks volumes of the true character of the man.  He would rather die than tell the truth.  He would rather put a bullet through his chest than admit weakness.  He would rather leave his wife and children not only with dealing with the shame of having their family name dragged into unresolved corruption allegations, but also with the lifetime pain of the knowledge that your military general husband and father would rather die by his own hands than bravely face his enemies and prove them wrong or admit his mistakes.

If these are the kind of men that lead our armies then it should come as no surprise that we never win our battles against insurgents, separatist movements, and terrorists and that there are always incidents of adventurism in the military.  This is not speaking ill of or disrespecting the dead.  It is simply telling the truth.  More Filipinos should try that instead of committing suicide.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, February 9, 2011