COMMENTARY: When ‘mistahs’ cross paths by Edwin G. Espejo

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 February) — Among graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) there is an unwritten rule of never ratting on a mistah and there is one question they ask to make sure one is not telling a lie – “Are you all right, Sir?”

Members of each graduating class at the country’s premier military school are closely knit, their bonds extending beyond family ties.  They may find themselves at opposing camps in the vicious cycle of power struggle inside the military establishment but they will never shot at each other.

Classmates at the PMA call each other mistah.

Thus, when the late former Armed Forces of the Philippine chief of staff Angelo Reyes went out of his way to confront Senator Antonio Trillanes, he chose a mistah of the Senator to hand his letter seeking clarification on allegations coming from the senator that powerful forces are protecting Lt. Gen. Carlos Garcia (retired), former comptroller of the military.

Garcia, also a graduate of the PMA in 1971, is charged with plunder before the Philippine graft court.

Reyes graduated seventh place in his PMA Class of 1966.

Senator Trillanes was born in 1971, five years after Reyes graduated from the same military academy that Trillanes graduated from in 1995.  In 2003, Trillanes led junior officers in a failed power play now known as the Oakwood Mutiny on alleged widespread corruption.

Reyes was then the defense secretary of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Graduates of the PMA usually are civil with each other but during a hearing at the Philippine Senate when Reyes tried to defend his reputation amid accusation that he pocketed at least P150 million (US$3 million) in slush and send-off money while serving as AFP chief, Trillanes boomed that the former AFP chief has no reputation to protect.

It tore into Reyes’ heart.

Two weeks later, Reyes shot himself in front of the grave of his mother whose name he promised not to besmirch.

It was a tragic ending to a strong-willed military officer who rose to become the military’s top honcho but nevertheless was hounded by controversies to include his withdrawal of support from former President Joseph Estrada who was immediately ousted from office in 2001.  Reyes was then the chief of staff of the AFP.

But there is a sidebar to the Reyes and Garcia investigation now pending in both chambers of Philippine Congress.

Two PMA classmates belonging to the Dimalupig (Indomitable) Class of 1981 are crossing each other’s path, albeit in a different manner. (

Whistleblower George Rabusa, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Philippine Army who dropped the bomb on widespread corruption in the Philippine military, has pointed to Brig. Gen. Benito de Leon to have accepted P10 million intended for then AFP chief of staff General Roy Cimatu, now also retired but still serving the government as special envoy to the Middle East.

Lt. Col. Rabusa and Brig. Gen. de Leon have appeared before the House Committee on Good Governance but on separate occasions.

Rabusa named Brig. Gen. de Leon as the bagman of Cimatu, perhaps in the manner he was then the bagman of Lt. Gen. Garcia, his former boss at the J6 staff of the AFP.

De Leon made his first appearance in the ongoing investigation and admitted he acknowledged receiving P10 million from Rabusa.  De Leon, then a lieutenant colonel, was then executive aide to Cimatu.

Both Lt. Col. Rabusa and Brig. Gen. de Leon have admitted irregularity in the release of the P10-million fund.  For Lt. Col. Rabusa, he was just continuing what had already been long in place in the AFP.  For Brig. Gen. de Leon, he was accepting it on behalf of his superior whom he duly notified.

It would be interesting to see where this revelation between the two 1981 PMA mistahs will lead to.

When the issue first broke out, this writer tried to interview Brig. Gen. de Leon but he politely declined.  He then said his class was to meet later in the day to weigh the revelations of Rabusa before the Senate.

The following day, the Dimalupig class issued a statement in support of Rabusa.

Rabusa may have his own reason why it took more than two weeks before he mentioned the name of de Leon.  But the statements of Rabusa towards his classmate were apparently crafted in a way that dignity and honor among mistahs are to be respected and upheld.

For Rabusa, there is no turning back.

For Brig. Gen. De Leon, this is his crossroads.

Known as a decent military officer and a gentleman, de Leon has what it takes to be a future chief of staff of the AFP, according to observers who have been following career paths of AFP chiefs.

Brig. Gen. de Leon is among the high ranking military officers who drafted Oplan Bayanihan, an operational plan to combat insurgency which essentially admitted that military approach alone cannot solve the problem and which proffered that the AFP should turn itself to be truly soldier of the people in order to address the insurgencies in the countryside. (see related story on Brig. Gen. de Leon here

But with the AFP fund mess scandal at present being investigated by Congress, both past and the future of the Philippine military establishment are also on trial here, along with the officers who are involved in plunder.

Both Rabusa and de Leon will play important role in the unfolding events and may be key to the past and future of the AFP. (Edwin G. Espejo writes for