Did PMA cadet Cudia lie? Document shows details

Carmela Fonbuena
Exclusive: A PMA instructor defends Cadet Jeff Cudia in his appeal, but this is rejected by the Honor Committee

ORIGINAL SIN: The delinquency report for Cadet Jeff Cudia's tardiness

MANILA, Philippines — The misfortunes of Cadet Jeff Cudia at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) began on Nov 14, 2013. He was 2 minutes late for his 3 pm English class (ENG 412) on that day because he said they were “dismissed a little bit late” in a previous class.

This led to his dismissal from the academy because the Honor Committee declared him guilty of lying in his “explanation” of his tardiness, a violation of the PMA Honor Code. 

Here’s what happened, based on Cudia’s appeal that was obtained by Rappler. This is the document that he submitted to the Honor committee after it declared him guilty. The committee refused to re-open the investigation.

We also talked to a PMA alumnus familiar with Cudia’s PMA case files to present the other side of the narrative.

Instructor: Maria Monica Costales

They had a long exam in Operational Research (OR 432) that day. When the bell first rang at 2:55 pm, signalling the class dismissal, Cudia stood up to submit his paper to instructor Maria Monica Costales.

Cudia then asked Costales about his deductions in a previous exam. After the chat, Costales instructed Cudia and some cadets to wait so she can give them their section’s grades for the earlier exam.

Two bells rang, signaling that it was already 3 pm, but they were still at the hallway waiting for Costales. There were 5 of them who waited for the instructor and all of them were late for the next class.

Tardiness is a serious offense in a military school. Cadets are always required to explain when they’re late. If the explanation shows that it was not the cadet’s fault, the punishment may be waived.

Cudia wrote in his explanation: “Our class was dismissed a little bit late and I came directly from 4th period class….”

Tactical Officer: Major Dennis Hindang, PAF

A month later, on December 19, Cudia learned that he was given 11 demerits and 13 hours of touring (marching) as a punishment for his tardiness. He approached Major Dennis Hindang of the Philippine Air Force (PAF), his tactical officer, to appeal the decision.

The tactical officer is like a father to the cadets. He is tasked to monitor the daily activities of cadets under him. He gives them grades for Conduct, which is part of the regular computation of a cadet’s grades.

“Not because I don’t want to serve punishment, but because I know I did nothing wrong, I obeyed instruction, and believing that  my reason is justifiable and valid,” Cudia explained in his appeal.

But Hindang told Cudia that he talked to Costales himself. The class was dismissed on time. Cudia explained to Hindang what happened in Costales’ class. He was told to file his appeal in a written form.

Cudia wrote in his appeal: “I strongly believe that I am not in control of the circumstances, our 4th period class ended 1500H and our 5th period class, which is ENG412, started 1500H also. Immediately after 4th period class, I went to my next class without any intention of being late Sir.”

This is where the problem began for Cudia. A month later, on Jan 7, 2014, his tactical officer filed an honor report against him.

“Lying that is giving statement that perverts the truth in his written appeal, stating that his 4th period class ended at 1500H that made him late in the succeeding class,” Hindang wrote.

Graduation was 2 months away. Cudia is supposed to be salutatorian of PMA “Siklab Diwa” Class 2014. He is also the top of the Navy class. A promising military career was waiting for him.

Honor Committee

The PMA Honor Code states that a cadet should “not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those among them who do so.” It’s a culture that binds alumni together and they are very protective of the code.

The Honor Committee, composed of cadets, investigated his case. The proceedings of the committee were confidential. The PMA has refused to divulge details of the case but maintained the powerful committee followed due process. (READ: PMA: It’s not about cadet being late)

In February, a month before graduation, Cudia was declared guilty of honor violation. He was expected to “resign honorably” and leave quietly like other cadets who were found guilty of violating the code.

But he didn’t. He sought an appeal of the decision and presented a letter from Costales herself saying Cudia’s excuse was “reasonable.”

Costales wrote: “I agree and consider that because Cadet CUDIA is under my instruction to wait, and the other cadets still have business with me, it is reasonable enough for him to say that “Our class was dismissed a bit late” (dealing with matter of seconds or a minute particularly 45 seconds to 1 minute and 30 seconds).”

Costales added: “And with concern to OR432 class, I can say it ended on time (1500H).”

Days before PMA alumni gathered for their annual homecoming in Fort del Pilar, Baguio City, on February 15, Cudia’s family expressed their frustration and anger on Facebook. Their posts went viral. (READ: 2 minutes late for class, PMA cadet dismissed?Cadet fights back, gets supportVIRAL: PMA alumni post cadet photos on Facebook)

In an unprecedented move, Cudia decided to remain inside the camp to fight his dismissal.

On February 21, the Honor Committee ordered cadets to ostracize him because of various violations including exposing the academy’s supposedly confidential processes and smearing the name of the academy. (READ: Ostracize Cudia, PMA cadets ordered)

A re-investigation is ongoing upon the order of Armed Forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista. (READ: AFP chief orders the review of PMA cadet’s case)

Did Cudia intend to deceive?

There are 2 questions cadets accused of violating the code are asked: Do you have the intention to deceive? Do you have the intention to take undue advantage?

“I appeal, in the name of clarity, fairness and truth that my case be reopened and carefully reviewed for I did not violate the honor code/system, I can answer NO to both questions,” said Cudia in his appeal.

Cudia’s sister Annavee expressed the family’s anger in a Facebook post: “Nang tinanong si Aldrin bakit siya nahuli, sabi niya sila ay nahuli ng pag-dismiss ang propesor nila. Sabi ng Honor Committee ay kasinungalingan daw ‘yun at dapat daw ay sinabi niya “pinahintay kami ng propesor pagkatapos ng klase.” Hindi ba pareho lang naman yun?,” she said.  (What the committee said was that he lied because he could have said he was made to wait for his professor. But isn’t that one and the same thing?)

She added: “Kung sinasabi nyo na nagsisinungaling ang kapatid ko, pati ba yung PROPESOR nila nagsabi na tama ang sabi ni Aldrin ay nagsisinungaling din?” (If you’re saying that my brother lied, are you saying too that his professor who said he was speaking the truth also lied?)

Cudia explained this nuance in his appeal: “My understanding of the duration of the “CLASS” covers not just a lecture in a typical classroom instruction but includes every transaction and communication a teacher does with her students, especially that in our case some cadets asked for queries, and I am given instruction by which were directly related to our CLASS. Her transaction and communication with our other classmates may have already ended but ours extended for a little bit.”

Alumnus explains Cudia’s violation

Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc, chief of the 7th Civil Relations Group and former Army spokesperson and a PMA graduate, attempts to explain Cudia’s case to civilians by writing the blog The Cadet Honor: My personal thoughtsIt’s the story of fictitious cadets Dugomon, Kulapu, and Boloy, whose stories he said resembles Cudia’s case.

In his story, cadets Dugomon and Kulapu gave an accurate explanation of their tardiness. Unlike Boloy, obviously referring to Cudia, they did not say that the class was dismissed late. They explained how they were checking their grades at the office of the instructor and it is why they were late.

Cabunoc argued that checking grades is a “personal reason” and not “authorized absence” that will exempt cadets from punishments.

An alumnus who is familiar with Cudia’s case files confirmed this was what happened in the case of Cudia. (He refused to be named because he doesn’t have authority to speak on the issue.)

This is the way some alumni look at Cudia’s appeal. He was insistent on getting his demerits revoked because he was running for honors and these would pull down his grade in Conduct, according to the same alumnus.

Conduct is a subject that contributes a big weight in a cadet’s overall grade every semester. Conduct accounts for 5 units compared to a regular subject which accounts for 3 units. His 11 demerits would affect his final grade.

Misplaced ambition?

“That was his motive. It’s misplaced ambition. He wanted a higher grade in Conduct so he lied,” said the PMA alumnus.

The alumnus has harsh words for Cudia. “If selfish ambitions drive you to excel, what will happen when you graduate? You will cheat your unit performance so you will become the best unit! These are the kinds of officers who will bow down to politicians so they can compete for a star rank,” he said.

Was Cudia appealing his demerits to save his grade? His foster parent PMA alumnus Dado Enrique told Rappler: “I asked Cudia about it. He denied it. To Cudia, he felt he should not have been punished because he was instructed by his professor to wait. Hence, he sought for the clarification for his punishment.”

Major Hindang vs Cudia?

Cudia’s sister spoke of a supposed ugly relationship between Cudia and Major Hindang, the tactical officer who filed the honor report against the cadet.

“The tactical officer is very strict, giving my brother low grades because he asks a lot of questions in class. He’s always been like that since he was a kid. Is it bad to ask questions? What made this worse was that no PMA official ever tried to talk to him to listen to his side,” Annavee Cudia said in a Facebook post that was already deleted.

She said the other cadets were given a lighter punishment for the same offense. They were awarded 8 demerits and 8 hours of touring.

Cudia’s family also turned the tables on the Honor Committee when he accused them of violating the very code they were sworn to protect. Enrique spoke of an alleged rigging of the intial 8-1 vote that would have absolved Cudia. This vote later became a unanimous 9-0 vote to declare Cudia guilty of violating  the honor code. (A cadet is dismissed only after a unanimous vote by the committee)

“What we are trying to breed here? We want PMA to breed the officers of the finest order. One day they will be generals of the AFP and we will have hope. But they’re still young in-aalow mo na dagdag-bawas,” Enrique told Rappler. (You allow them to do vote shaving and padding.)

What about corrupt generals?

As the academy and its honor code come under fire,  PMA alumni posted cadet photos to show their support for their alma mater. A number of cadets have been dismissed in the past but it’s the first time that their internal processes were made public this way.

Against the background of military corruption, pabaon, and conversion, it is hard for many outsiders to accept the reason for Cudia’s dismissal in the academy.

“Civilians will never understand,” alumni said in interviews. Do not impose civilians standards on a military academy, they added. 

Said reader eagle_eye22 in a long thread of comments to our series of stories on the case: “Don’t you dare ask civilians to shut up for lack of understanding, may karapatan kami mag-ingay dahil taxes namin ang nagpapatakbo ng PMA!!!” (We have every right to make noise because our taxes are being spent to run the PMA.)

Stories on Cudia are among the most discussed articles on the site. 

PMA alumnus Harlie Llave made an appeal to civilians in a comment he posted on the site: “The reason may look too trivial, too simple compared to the consequence of being denied the benefits of graduation. But its very simplicity, in its being followed no matter what is the consequence on the cadet that will be found guilty, is its very source of effectiveness. We just pray for the public to understand, even it it is hard.”

Stories on Cudia are among our most discussed articles.

Reader Jose Rodriguez commented: “For a promising Cadet to be meted such is way too harsh. How many PMA alumni members have graduated WITH HONORS, and have risen to be leaders of this land, 5 star generals etc only to abuse their authority and steal from the coffers of the land??? That code, whatever it is, has to be reviewed. It is a hypocrisy.”

The alumni are hurting from these kinds of attacks. “People only remember those who made mistakes, those who are involved in corruption. How about those who died defending our country from the commies? Officers who lead their men to save lives and properties from calamities and disasters?,” said Dei Jinn Taraki in another comment.

Alumni argued it becomes all the more important to continue the tradition of the Honor Code. “The reason why we hold the Honor Code dear to us is because we don’t want more Garcias and Ligots in the AFP,” said Mike Logico in a comment. He’s referring to the military’s two former comptrollers charged in court for allegedly pocketing millions of funds meant for soldiers.

The PMA envisions itself to be the country’s premiere leadership institution by 2015. Cudia’s case gives the public a rare opportunity to scrutinize its internal processes and look into possible areas for reform. — Rappler.com