Angelo Tomas Reyes, 65: Tragic end for achiever
- Alexis Romero () - February 9, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The suicide of former defense secretary Angelo Reyes yesterday was a tragic end to a distinguished career.

Some sectors view him as “corrupt” and “bloodthirsty” but for most people, Reyes was a professional worker with remarkable public relations skills.

Reyes made headlines when he joined the call for the ouster of President Joseph Estrada in 2001 when he was chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Two years after retiring from the AFP, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tapped Reyes to head the defense department, a post he held until 2003.

Reyes was then shuttled to different Cabinet positions during the Arroyo administration, and also served as interior secretary (2004-2006), secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (2006-2007) and of the energy department (2007 up to 2010). He was never confirmed by the congressional Commission on Appointments in any of these posts.

Reyes could be described as the handyman of Arroyo, possessing the skills and expertise to work in the different departments to which he was assigned.

Reyes held a master’s degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (1991) and an MBA from the Asian Institute of Management (1973).

Reyes also studied at the Northwestern University in Chicago and at the Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterrey, California for logistics management.

Reyes was a member of the Class of 1966 of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), where he graduated in seventh place.

He specialized in Army Special Forces intelligence operations and went on to work as military assistant to then Prime Minister Cesar Virata and director of management information services.

Prior to his designation as AFP chief in 1999, Reyes headed the Southern Luzon Command.

Reyes took courses in combined strategic intelligence in Washington.

He emerged the top graduate of the command and staff course at the AFP Command and General Staff College in 1993.

Reyes had a distinguished career in the military and was a recipient of various awards, including the Philippine Legion of Honor (degree of officer), military outstanding achievement medal, seven Distinguished Service medals, and cavalier award from the PMA Alumni Association.

He also fared well at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business in the trust corporations management course.

Reyes was the valedictorian of the Class of 1960 of the Cubao High School (now Ramon Magsaysay High School) in Quezon City.

Reyes was born on March 17, 1945 in San Miguel, Manila, to Pablo Reyes and Purificacion Tomas Reyes, both public school teachers.

He is survived by his wife, Teresita Pernia Reyes, and five sons – Pablo, Angelito, Marc, Carlo and Jude.

‘The final act’

The apparent suicide by Reyes stunned the nation in the wake of the corruption scandal involving the military.

Last month, former AFP budget officer George Rabusa accused Reyes of collecting P50 million in “pabaon” or sendoff money upon his retirement from the AFP, in addition to P5 million monthly.

Rabusa claimed Reyes pocketed around P100 million during his 20-month stint as military chief.

Reyes denied the allegations and claimed that he never received money through illegal means.

The energy sector, where Reyes last served in the government, remembered him as an advocate of transparency.

As far as Fernando Martinez, the chairman of the Independent Philippine Petroleum Companies Association is concerned, Reyes died a noble man who served his country to the best of his ability.

“As Secretary of Energy, he made efforts to make it as transparent and open to all stakeholders and did his best to make it as equitable and fair. He had his detractors but in sum he fought a battle and won most of it in the service of his country,” Martinez said.

Martinez said what Reyes did was “heroic.”

“Secretary Angie Reyes’ final act of taking his own life in front of his mother’s grave is tragic but somehow reflects his sacrificial character to end (what) he, his family and close friends are suffering from the current controversies he’s facing. It was a heroic act for me,” he said.

Prime Berunia, who worked as media relations officer of Reyes for nine years, said the former general took time to face all those who visited his office.

“He was willing to talk to those who dropped by his office. He was often late because he faced all those who wanted to talk to him,” Berunia said.

Berunia said Reyes was a strict boss with a strong personality.

“As a military man, he wanted everyone to deliver. But he was very protective of his family,” he said.

Lorelei Fajardo, deputy presidential spokesperson of the Arroyo administration, said she knew Reyes as “an officer and a gentleman.”

“I know him as the emblematic officer and a gentleman. He was an esteemed colleague,” she said.

Lawyer Bonifacio Alentajan, Reyes’ counsel as he faced the corruption charges, described his client as a principled man.

“He was a reasonable person. He was a principled individual. He does not want corruption,” Alentajan said.

Former Interior secretary Joey Lina said he would remember Reyes as a dedicated public servant.

“He was one of the so-called three tenors and I was pretty close to him. We worked together for the Cabinet… He was a professional… the image I have of Secretary Reyes is that of a professional and dedicated servant,” Lina said.

Reyes, Lina and former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Bayani Fernando formed the so-called three tenors of the Arroyo administration who held concerts on special occasions.

Even retired Lt. Col. Rabusa, who claimed that Reyes amassed millions during his stint as military chief, said the late general was like a brother to him.

“I said we were close before and I treated him like a brother. But I cannot do anything. I just stood by the truth so I hope they do not blame me (for his death),” he said.

Officials and employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) led by Secretary Ramon Paje expressed sadness over the death of Reyes.

“There is no doubt that he served our country and environment with utmost dedication, energizing the DENR with his passion for results, his zeal for enforcing laws, especially the drive against illegal logging, and his keen sense of command and responsibility,” Paje said.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government said the administration of Reyes was characterized by his overall vision of a “sense of community under the rule of law.”

The Energy department led by Jose Rene Almendras said they are “at a loss (for) words” on the death of Reyes.

“The people of the Energy (department) will never forget former Secretary Reyes’ contributions and strong ties forged within the energy sector,” Almendras said.

When Reyes was energy secretary, militant groups accused him of serving as spokesman of oil companies when they raised pump prices.

Critics claimed Reyes did not have the capability to lead the energy department, which requires technical knowledge.

During the May 2010 polls, Reyes tried to run as representative of 1-Utak party-list, which represents transport workers. Some groups, however, tried to block his congressional bid, saying he did not belong to the transport sector. The group was forced to drop Reyes as its representative.

1-Utak chairman Vigor Mendoza said Reyes is a personal friend.

“We were shocked. We know Secretary Reyes as a very strong man, he advocated the cause of the transport sector,” Mendoza said.

Reyes drew flak from some Muslim groups when he implemented the all-out war policy of the Estrada administration against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2000.

The MILF has accused Reyes of launching “treacherous” attacks during the conduct of Eid’l Fit’r prayers, and described him as “bloodthirsty.”

Journalists who covered Reyes knew too well that the former Cabinet secretary was viewed as an authoritative figure by his subordinates.

“When he delivers a speech in the field, he does it with an authoritative tone,” said Joy Cantos, former president of the Defense Press Corps.

“But during his free time, he loved to belt out songs of the group Michael Learns to Rock,” she added.

Donnabelle Gatdula, energy reporter of The STAR, said Reyes was often friendly to the press but was sometimes misconstrued as grumpy due to the way he expressed his feelings.

“As DOE (Department of Energy) Secretary, he was a doer. He wanted action rather than talk. He always used words like ‘banat’ to express command for his subordinates to act promptly,” she said.

Gatdula said Reyes even wore a costume and danced with energy reporters during the Christmas party of business journalists in 2008 to show his support. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Perseus Echeminada, Rhodina Villanueva, Donnabelle Gatdula, Roel Pareño

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