“Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the
military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the
protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure
the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the
Section 3, Article II, Philippine Constitution
BEFORE December 2000, I did not know General Angelo Reyes personally – only in name as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. I did not know he had a stint in Harvard University.
December 2000 was an interesting time in the Philippines. President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was facing an impeachment move in the House of Representatives. In the view of the ordinary observer, the possibility of impeachment was not only remote, it was nil. The reason was simple – Estrada had a majority in the House of Representatives and also in the Senate. To impeach a President of the Philippines under the Constitution, you need one third vote of all the members of the House of Representatives. There was no way the Estrada opponents could muster the numbers.
To traditional politicians and the man in the street, impeachment is a game of numbers and Estrada had the numbers to frustrate an impeachment. Equally in the Senate, after a full blown trial, two thirds vote of all the members of the Senate is necessary for conviction. Estrada had the numbers as well. So the door to impeachment was closed. Even if opened, the door to conviction was closed in the Senate.
The need to remove Estrada as president being viewed impossible, there was need to find other avenues to remove him to protect the national interest. There were only two constitutional provisions which had to be invoked, singly or jointly, to remove Estrada as President of the Republic. First is section 1, Article II of the Constitution which provides that – “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” Second is section 3, Article II of the Constitution which states that – “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State.
Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.”
It is the constitutional duty of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be the protector of the people and the State that made General Angie Reyes strategically important. And, of course, coupled with that, was the serious national situation with the Estrada presidency.
As detailed in my book, Ideas, Principles and Lost Opportunities, this was how the Angie Reyes participation unfolded in the continuing struggle for change, several paragraphs of which are quoted here for accuracy.
“Estrada had no significant policies that could have introduced meaningful changes in the life of our people. So confronted with another lackluster, graft-ridden and incompetent administration, General Abenina and I started exploring possibilities of dramatic constitutional changes of government by getting in touch with similar spirits, like General Fortunato Abat and Commodore Mike Apari. Abat was Secretary of National Defense of President Ramos and former Commanding General of the Philippine Army (CGPA). Mike Apari was a veteran of the anti-insurgency and anti-smuggling wars in the South.
“…Somewhere along the way, like normal approaches of military men in such situations – they decided to approach and convince Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines General Angelo ‘Angie’ Reyes, to withdraw his support of Estrada.
“Reyes was perceived to be a through and through Estrada loyalist. While it is true he was an Estrada camp follower, he was also a professional soldier, an intellectual who thought of every move he made. Somebody insisted, the man was patriotic, just like St. Thomas More, who had echoed that historic line, ‘I am the King’s servant but God’s first.’
“The fateful day to meet Reyes was scheduled by Abat and Abenina. It was in the middle of December 2000. What a time to plot a presidential ouster, when Christmas was in the air with ‘You’re All I Want for Christmas’ and other carols punctuating the cold Christmas mornings. We waited at Reyes office at Camp Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City as he had an ongoing command conference.
“After the usual greetings and introduction, Reyes asked the group, ‘What can I do for you?
“Angie, we are here to convince you, to withdraw your support for Estrada for a much needed change of national leadership,” Abenina explained.
“But that is against the law and the Constitution!” Reyes countered.
“That is not quite accurate, as Bono Adaza will explain,” Abat interjected.
“General Abat is telling the truth, withdrawal of support is not illegal or unconstitutional.
You know General, under section 1, Article II of the Constitution, sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. Under section 3 of the same Article, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State.
When the national situation is so serious due to failure of presidential leadership, like what is happening now, your withdrawal of support is both legal and constitutional. It is almost the same situation as Edsa 1,” I explained.
“Then, when do you expect me to do it?” He asked the group.
“Now,” I replied.
“Are you recommending it to me?” He asked me intently, looking straight into my eyes.
“Of course not,” I readily answered.
“Why, do you think you have more balls than me?” He asked, offended by my reply.
“It’s not that. It’s just that I’m not sure that you will do it. For all I know, you’ll report me to President Estrada and I’ll be facing a charge of inciting to sedition,” I replied, concerned on what he would do.
“He broke with a faint smile and said, ‘I’ll cross my bridge when I come to it.’ ”
“General, you cannot wait for that moment. You have to cross that bridge in your mind now, because you might hesitate, and in the words of Shakespeare, ‘In the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions.’ I do not like to see your bones bleach with the countless millions,” I said waxing poetic with the hope I would titillate his academic taste and Napoleonic courage.
“This is a judgment call,” he answered, looking more serious and determined. My speculation is that the seriousness in his face, as we left his office, reflected that the message I had conveyed, sank in. I was convinced he would cross the Rubicon.
Part 2 of this 3-part series on General Angelo Reyes will come out on Thursday, November 5 and part 3 on Saturday, November 7.