In trying to pin down Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson on drugs, kidnapfor-ransom and money-laundering charges, AFP Intelligence Chief Victor Corpus has clearly picked a formidable target. Lacson is a senator who has achieved one of the fastest role transformations in our political history. Yesterday he was just a policeman, today he is a senator, tomorrow he may be president. This prospect terrifies Col. Corpus.
He is convinced that such transitions are precisely what laundered drug money makes possible. He has seen enough dangers to our nation’s life to make him believe that we may be just a step away from those Central American states that foolishly permitted themselves to be captured by criminal syndicates. The drug lords first bought the police, then they got the judges, and finally they corrupted the entire political system. Today they are the government. This is the scenario that Corpus sees and fears.
Is he imagining things? Can he be trusted?
Let us look at the history of the man, at the many wars he fought silently in his heart, and his own life-defining reversals.
Upon graduation from high school at the De La Salle College in the early 1960s, Victor Corpus made plans to become a Jesuit priest. But his father, a colonel in the Armed Forces, persuaded him to give the military career a try. To please his father, he took the entrance exam at the Philippine Military Academy, and when he passed it, he took it as a sign that a soldier’s life was indeed his destiny. But, of all places, the PMA became the origin of his ideological awakening. It was there that his middle class certitudes were first challenged. Released from his own personal moorings, he joined the militant Kabataang Makabayan while still a cadet.
He joined the Philippine Army as a lieutenant in 1967 after training with Airborne and Special Forces. But against his personal wish, he was transferred to the elite Special Forces of the Philippine Constabulary. He tried to move to the Navy, but found himself stuck with the notorious PC. There he saw how smugglers and warlords routinely corrupted military officers. In 1970, he managed to secure a reassignment to teach at the PMA. In December of that year, Corpus defected to the New People’s Army, after raiding the PMA armory. His defection stood for the emancipatory impulses of an entire generation of young Filipinos.
It was a critical period in the country’s history. Students everywhere were restless. Conditions in the countryside had deteriorated. The hunger in the cities stood in stark contrast to Imelda Marcos’s extravagant dinners and fabulous clothes. Her husband had just won a second term under fraudulent and violent circumstances. The United States was fighting an unjust war in neighboring Vietnam, using its bases in the Philippines as staging platforms for its imperial aggression.
Corpus the rebel spent five years with the NPA, teaching military strategy and tactics to newly recruited guerillas. His dedication was so outstanding that in 1975 the Communist Party elevated him to its Central Committee. He enjoyed the trust of the party’s highest leaders. But he was already nurturing doubts about the way the party was being run. It was not measuring up to those ideals that he thought set it apart from the government they were fighting.
His disillusionment with the movement became complete when he learned that the highest leadership of the party plotted the bombing of the Liberal Party’s proclamation rally at Plaza Miranda in 1971. Until then everyone had assumed that it was Marcos who ordered that barbaric attack on his political enemies. Corpus was convinced that a movement with no qualms about killing and harming innocent people in the pursuit of political objectives was in no position to save the country. One night in January 1976, while waiting to be fetched for reassignment to Mindanao, he slipped out of the “safe house” in which he was staying and called a PMA classmate. He surrendered, but the military announced it as a capture. He stayed in jail for the next 10 years, earning his freedom only when Cory Aquino released all political prisoners to fulfill a promise she made before Edsa I.
Upon his release, Victor Corpus was given back his military commission in the AFP. But not everything was well within the military. In August 1987, some of his former students at the PMA asked him to join them in a bid to oust the Aquino government. He refused and turned around to expose the scheme. He felt he had seen enough of military adventurers of various stripes who, goaded by personal ambition, launch reckless operations in the name of certain ideals.
His career as a soldier has been on a roller coaster ever since. He was assigned to a small command in Panay, where he became a farmer. He won a fellowship to Harvard to study public administration. After Edsa II, he was named head of the Intelligence Service of the AFP. This is the same agency that compiled a dossier on him from the time he was a young PMA instructor with doubtful political leanings until his defection to the NPA.
His critics who note the numerous times in which he has turned his back on the things he believed in now ask whether such a man has any credibility left. They say he is either naïve or dishonest or both.
Victor Corpus is anything but dishonest. Here is someone who strives to live his philosophy but refuses to be a captive of any dogma. His eyes are open, his intrinsic faith unshaken. This is a person who is not afraid of re-inventing himself. He has fought many silent wars with himself, and he is free. He may make mistakes, but no one can question his motives.
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