February 8, 2011
SENATE investigators forged a consensus to suspend for a week their ongoing inquiry into Armed Forces irregularities in deference to Tuesday’s sudden death of former Armed Forces chief of staff Angelo Reyes.
But senators, in separate interviews, affirmed they remain undeterred in their efforts to uncover anomalies and craft the needed remedial legislation that would introduce long-awaited reforms in the AFP.
Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III confirmed an emerging consensus among senators, in talks with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, to defer the joint hearings of the Senate blue-ribbon and justice committees looking into anomalies in the military, to which Reyes was linked by whistle blower retired Lt. Col. George Rabusa, a former Armed Forces budget officer.
Sen. Francis Escudero, who co-chairs the joint committee inquiry, moved to postpone hearings this week even as the senators convey their sympathy with the Reyes family, saying, “the most prudent thing to do is to defer the hearings” since it could not be avoided that Reyes’s role in the matter being investigated will be raised.
Sotto said that, in effect, the Senate hearings in the case will be “suspended indefinitely…until the members of the Senate feel it is proper to call it again.” But he quickly added that “this does not mean that the Senate is backing down the investigation of corruption in the Armed Forces…as I said, prudence dictates [it].”
In a statement, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, blue-ribbon committee chairman, said the news of Reyes’s suicide at his mother’s tomb at Loyola Park Marikina early Tuesday morning “came as a shock” to the senators.
“We share the pain of the Reyes family in this time of great loss. We condole with them and assure them of our prayers,” Guingona said, adding, “It is unfortunate that our last interface with the late secretary should be under difficult circumstances.”
Still Guingona assured that the death of Reyes will only firm up the senators’ resolve “to bring the current probe on issues hounding the Armed Forces to a swift, just and rightful conclusion. We are confident that Secretary Reyes shares with all of us the aspiration to help shed light on military-related issues and help reform the institution.”
Just before noon yesterday, Escudero confirmed the official decision to suspend the Senate hearings on military anomalies for the meantime. “In deference to and given the untimely demise of Secretary Reyes who once served as a soldier and coworker in government, as cochairman of the Senate committees conducting the inquiry given that Senator Guingona is presently out of the country, I am deferring the hearings of the Senate on the plea bargain of Garcia for a week.”
Escudero explained the break would also “enable all of us to take stock and gain perspective of recent events and the steps we should take in the weeks and months ahead with only the best interests of our country and people, as well as the men and women in uniform in the Armed Forces, in mind.”
At the same time, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Reyes was a “victim of pervasive corruption,” adding it was tragic that “what started out as an investigation in aid of legislation has led to his apparent suicide.”
According to Pangilinan, “death is not a graceful exit to such a distinguished officer as Secretary Reyes. A more honorable way would have been to come out with the truth and win back the admiration of his fellow soldiers. This is now the challenge the other generals are facing.”
He asked his Senate colleagues to expedite the investigation on the irregularities within the Armed Forces and bring the system of corruption to light in order to give justice and meaning to Reyes’s death. “Reyes is a victim of a corrupt system. If his death should have any meaning, it should lead to real reforms in the Armed Forces in particular, and the entire government bureaucracy, in general,” he added.
In a separate statement, Sen. Miriam Santiago acknowledged that Reyes died with the presumption of innocence on his side because “technically” he never went to trial.
A former trial judge, Santiago noted that Reyes, during the Senate investigation, was a “person-in-interest,” or a “suspect” but his death extinguished both his criminal and civil liabilities.
“In other words, his criminal liability was totally extinguished, both as to the personal and the pecuniary penalties,” she said.
Santiago pointed out, however, that the Penal Code provides that the obligation to make restoration or reparation for damages devolves upon his heirs.
At the House of Representatives, however, the Committee on Justice junked moves by some of its members to postpone its hearing in the aftermath of Reyes’s death.
The committee, by a vote of 16 against five, decided to continue the hearing, despite the absence of Reyes, whom Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro said should have been in the hearing.
Rodriguez moved for the hearing’s postponement for one week, saying they should “give respect” to his death. (With R. Acosta)
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