Former army captain and West Pointer Rene Jarque, eloquent and outspoken advocate of reforms in the military establishment, is dead at age 40. In his abbreviated life, Rene had metamorphosed from being a young, idealistic officer aiming to follow the footsteps of his father, General Raymundo Jarque, in a distinguished military career, to that of a crusader, seeking an end to the scandalously corrupt, shamefully inept and intolerably abusive armed forces which he had been a part of and gotten to know and understand well.
It is one of the ironies of life that Rene Jarque’s path and mine should cross in a rather unique and non-adversarial context. I first met Rene in 1995 as he dutifully accompanied his father, General Jarque who, after having defected to the New People’s Army, came down from the hills of Negros to face the criminal charges leveled against him by feuding landowners and then Public Prosecutor Aniano Desierto. I was part of a party of lawyers and activists that met the General and provided him moral, legal and political support as he faced an uncertain and risky future.
I must admit a measure of wariness when I met this army officer; my activist instincts told me that despite his natural sympathy to his father’s plight, it could not be assumed that he had become open, much less sympathetic, to the Left as well. Our conversations were light but guarded; he struck me as an intelligent, soft-spoken, respectful and non-confrontational person but I reminded myself that I was talking to a dedicated and loyal military officer.
I would hear about his military career suffering in the years to come; he had been quietly placed in the freezer. Perhaps it had something to do with his father’s spectacular defection to “The Enemy” that had indelibly marked Rene as a non-conformist and potential troublemaker. Certainly, his critical views about corruption, lack of professionalism and mismanagement in the AFP that he wrote about unabashedly in military publications sealed his fate. It came to the point that copies of a military journal that he edited, was embargoed and set to the torch because it contained an article exposing corruption in the military and calling for reforms.
After Rene had prematurely been forced to retire from the military in 1998 and had started a new career as a business executive, I ran into him again and learned that his passion for advocating wide-ranging reforms in the military had not waned. Thereafter he would be tapped as a resource person by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, In Peace- Mindanao and other progressive groups especially after the so-called “Oakwood Mutiny” in July 2003 to explain what was going on in the military.
In November 2003, Rene helped convene the Action Against Corruption and Tyranny Now or ACT NOW!, an alliance of personages and groups that was appalled at the corruption during the incumbency of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and vowed to animate a citizens’ movement against government misrule, abuse and corruption.
Upon the initiative of Rene, the newly-formed anti-corruption network wrote an open letter to the officers and men of the AFP calling on them to put a stop to the practice of “conversion”, literally converting public funds into private monies by a series of criminal acts that involved the collusion of military officials and private supply contractors and appropriating said funds to enrich themselves. This was long before the scandal over the billions of money allegedly siphoned off by General Carlos Garcia and his cohorts using the strategic office of the military comptroller. Rene had hoped it would send even a small ripple of appeal to the remaining decent elements in the military establishment.
He also brought up a proposal to hold small forums inviting enlisted servicemen and not just officers “to serve as an outlet for soldier’s grievances besides the PMAAA and the AGFO” and to provide a venue for the men in uniform to meet with leaders of cause-oriented groups and exchange views. He had hoped such efforts would help lift the veil of misconception and prejudice that beclouded the mindset of each side.
I learned that Rene had resigned from his executive position in a Manila-based firm and had accepted instead a job that required him to be based for the most part in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. In the time that he was back home, we had an opportunity to speak at the same forum on corruption in the military in the wake of the case of Gen. Carlos Garcia and other implicated officers. We also attended the first hearing of the military tribunal trying Gen. Garcia’s case. I could feel the questioning looks of military men as they saw me enter the courtroom with the famous or notorious Captain Rene Jarque, depending on one’s point of view.
In February of this year, ACT NOW! invited Rene to deliver a paper on corruption in the military at a National Study Conference on Corruption held at the University of the Philippines. He graciously agreed and since he was abroad at the time, he was hooked up via long distance to answer questions raised during the open forum. Bishop Julio Labayen was at the conference and asked Rene how he explained the phenomenon of reform-minded officers in the AFP as dramatically revealed in the recent “Oakwood Mutiny”. Rene’s insights impressed the good bishop who remarked that he was hopeful for change in the AFP with advocates such as Rene persisting in his awareness raising efforts.
Captain Rene Jarque certainly belongs to a distinguished breed of Filipinos because he had the courage of his convictions, a moral courage displayed in the risky but principled choices that he made that affected adversely “success” in his chosen career and even his personal fortunes. Moreover, he persisted in his crusade while he could have quietly faded away from the controversial limelight when he was effectively forced to resign from the institution he loved and served to the best of his ability and with his integrity intact. He was able to maintain his links and command the respect of his peers and other active and retired military officers precisely because, even when they disagreed with his views, they could not doubt his moral integrity, intellectual honesty and willingness to make the necessary sacrifice to advance his convictions.
Rene was a rare kind of intellectual: he was a critical thinker who could not be satisfied with what has been ingrained in him but was open to the truths that he learned as he matured, from his experiences as a young officer fighting a counter-insurgency war in the hinterlands of Isabela province to his stint as a staff officer with a promising career in the AFP headquarters to his “downfall” as a maverick soldier railing against an institution that had gone terribly awry.
Rene was broadminded enough to respect the views of those in the revolutionary movement whose ideology and politics were diametrically opposed to what he had been molded to believe but whose basic values and concrete practice he had grown to admire.
Captain Rene Jarque remained a soldier at heart which is why he never gave up writing and talking about what he felt was wrong in the military. He also never gave up on the decent people he knew remained in the AFP.
In the last essay that he wrote, “What’s with the Armed Forces?” dated 25 July, he came up with some very radical proposals:
â€œThere is indeed a dilemma. Military intervention can restore order but… if the intervention is by the generals, no real change in politics and society will happen. In fact, it could be worse if a military or military-controlled government takes over… If the young officers intervene without the blessing of the chain of command, it will be a bloody confrontation with the “pro-government” forces. I think the best combination for a military intervention, if ever it happens or when it becomes “final solution” or “fait accompli”, would be the younger generation of the Officer Corps supported by broad popular support, including the progressive elements of the left. Perhaps then, we can expect real change in government.â€
Rene Jarque’s legacy to the struggle to bring about an armed forces that will truly serve the interests of the people and the country is surely enshrined in the hearts and minds of the patriotic men and women in uniform. Indeed, he has served his people and his country well and we are all very proud of him.