BATANG MINDANAW: Secrets of the Kill by Randolph R. Reserva

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/19 February) — It would have felt like flying from Hong Kong to Moscow at sunset – looking outside the window of the plane, he would have seen how the aircraft moved in perfect rhythm with the rotation of the earth. Looking far forward, a little trace of sunlight would still be apparent; the night does not start all over the world all at once. Behind him, darkness is in pursuit – at some point, it’s bound to catch up.

A metaphor of Angelo Reyes’ last moments. He was after all a man with an illustrious career seeing the faintest sign of light and hope at the end of a tunnel, while being ruthlessly hunted down by the dark secrets of the past. How he ended the story would have made Ernest Hemingway proud – with the only difference being Hemingway’s double-barreled shotgun in his mouth, while Reyes had a handgun staring at his heart.

Whatever drove them to take their lives is a thing of mystery; a thing for secrets and secrets alone. Surely there must have been a certain level of depression involved. Surely, cognitive stress played a big part that set the motion rolling, ending up with the kill. Surely, for we cannot be totally sure; suicide defies the logic behind every functional behavioral response.

There is only a fight or flight response, a binary choice where one wins over the other. However, suicide seems to be an evolutionary residue of that one person who, in the history of mankind, did those two things at the same time: to flee the situation in order to win the fight.

It is perhaps the perfect escape when the blunders are too much to take, with the classic elements of combat taken into consideration. That must be enough to consider suicide a self-directed form of aggression. In fact, both externally and internally directed aggression shares the same serotonergic blueprint; the same system governs the mind of the killer, notwithstanding who the victim is.

As for Angelo Reyes, the system prevailed as if there were no obstacles present to stop him from pulling the trigger. There were only secrets pushing him to do it, secrets he defended with his life. Secrets that he took to the grave.

It is perhaps because of these secrets that his act of suicide becomes the perfect model for aggression. In the realm of philosophy that is – as aggression refers to forms of behavior that is intended to cause pain or harm, Reyes through his death caused pain to his family and to the Filipino people who hunger for truth. His death perpetuates the harm kept alive by corruption – through his death he probably caused more harm to the soldiers in the lower ranks. They are the true victims of a system rotten to the core.

However, the word intended makes his act of suicide a rather indirect form of aggression, just as hara-kiri defies the dishonor of taking one’s own life. In both cases, the honor in ending one’s life to redeem one’s self overshadows the act; the end ultimately wins over the bloody means. Still, one cannot deny that to yield to a bullet or blade to take away one’s life involves the madness of an aggressor wielding power over a helpless victim who cannot do anything but submit to his fate.

To the common man, suicide is the worst form of aggression. The gallant man that Angelo Reyes was, suicide couldn’t have been the most honorable thing to do under the circumstances. Hara-kiri, some mutter respectfully, in awe; but most others seem to consider it as nothing close to being honorable. He could have faced those allegations like a man; like a soldier, no less than the conqueror of Camp Abubakar. He could have spilled the beans on everyone, releasing the pressure of the secrets that ultimately consumed him to death. But he did not. He died gagged.

Like Hemingway, Reyes was at the brink of depression. Unlike Hemingway, Reyes came to the edge too fast for his own liking.

The darkness behind him caught up fast, and the misfiring neurons that wanted to shed light on the situation didn’t miss at gunpoint, when his life finally hung on balance.

At first look, it might have been a grave mistake on my part to judge his suicide as overtly aggressive – the gun, the bullet, and the blood on his parents’ tombstone were just not enough to make the cut. Perhaps out of pity and the fact that the circumstances leading to his death are demoralizing to individuals in search for the truth. The dire consequences of what he did takes us away from the inquiry of why he did so; we are awash in the future implications of his death, humanizing an act that is in every bit inhumane and violent.

In metaphor and philosophy, we cannot judge an aggressive act based on the whys. Suicide is a means and an end all the same. Perhaps we can just look back and wonder how we could not have known that he was about to take his life. That way we could have extracted the secrets from him before he took them to the grave with him.

But that too would have been pointless; a man like him would have kept the aggressive desires so well hidden that even his children missed the intent. He was a battle-hardened soldier, unfazed by the kill. You could draw homicidal intent all over his face and think that it’s justified. The thing is, homicidal intent could share the same face with suicidal intent; aggression has, after all, a two-faced identity.

Still, the point remains: Dead or alive, aggression has always provided a way out of messy circumstances. The solution is not always in our hands. Must we learn to trust fate that at some point in its unfolding a chase by the darkness will still find some light? Must we concede to fate, wishing that in the end there is hope for redemption? Quoting the hound of his darkness that was Trillanes, “I wish things could have ended in a more pleasant way.”

Or must it be the other way around? Is aggression nature’s way of exhibiting total control over fate? For Angelo Reyes, it must have been the last swansong in his arsenal. Quoting the man, “I have reached a dead end…”

Meanwhile, the secrets of the kill lives on, flying towards the slightest hint of light at the distance, hiding in the darkness of death till the very end.

Randolph R. Reserva is a third year AB Psychology student at the Ateneo de Davao University. He wrote this piece on 8 February 2011, a few hours after former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes shot himself in front of his parents’ graves.

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