CHR probes PMA cadet dismissal, examines honor system
MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has intervened. It is now investigating if the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) violated the human rights of Cadet First Class Aldrin Jeff Cudia when he was dismissed because he supposedly lied in explaining the reason for his tardiness in class.
While she will not make conclusions for now, CHR chairman Loretta Rosales told Rappler she was shocked by the details of the case. "I am just as shocked as everybody else that a salutatorian, a bright boy, should not be allowed to graduate because he lied. When you look into the lie, I think it was just that he may not have been able to explain himself as accurately as he should have," Rosales told Rappler in an interview Sunday, March 9. (READ: Did PMA cadet Cudia lie? Document shows details)
The CHR will investigate if his right to be heard and his right to due process was violated. "If you are going to accuse him of anything, he was not being very accurate. He said they were dismissed late. That was not accurate. The class was dismissed on time but a few of them were asked to stay a little bit longer because the teacher had to talk to them about their grades," she said.
He also has a right to education, Rosales added. "His performance in education, as best as possible, should not be compromised and undermined by an ambiguity in the interpretation of his explanation. My goodness, are you going to sacrifice his ranking as salutatorian – which is important to him whether he continues in the military or whether he continues outside later on?
The chances of Cudia to graduate with his classmates on Sunday, March 16, is now slim, according to sources. He was unable to join the on-the-job training, one of the academic requirements of the PMA. He was also not among the 223 cadets who were welcomed by the major services last week. (READ: No Cudia in welcome dinners for PMA 'Siklab Diwa' Class of 2014 and Cudia's name not on PMA graduating cadets list?)
Cudia was supposed to graduate salutatorian and top of the Navy class, which would have entitled him to be the recipient of the Navy saber.
Questions on confidentiality
Cudia's family sought the help of CHR regional office in Baguio City. Regional director Harold Kub-aron reported to Rosales last week the developments in the investigation.
The local CHR office invited last week the personalities involved in the case including Cudia's professor and the members of the Honor Committee. But it was the PMA lawyers from the Judge Advocate General's Office (JAGO) who faced CHR and sought to reset the invitation to Tuesday, March 11.
Kub-aron told Rappler the CHR required the PMA to allow the cadets to talk to CHR. "We will investigate the human rights aspect, the due process," he said. Cudia has submitted his affidavit to the CHR.
Rosales also raised questions about the poweful Honor Committee and its confidential proceedings.
"I understand it is made up of students. Students are fine but they don't have a lot of experience. They are idealistic but these are the questions I will ask. When it comes to the wisdom in considering the ramifications [of their actions], it's not black and whilte. There is a lot of gray there. Did he lie? Or was he just inaccurate?"
Rosales said transparency is also very important in a democratic society. "You can only know if something is correct if there is a check and balance.... When you talk about the integrity of the process, we are talking about transparency. Hindi mo dapat itinatago 'yan. Otherwise, kulto ang labas mo diyan," she said. (It's not supposed to be hidden. Otherwise, we'd end up with a cult.)
The PMA command ordered Cudia's dismissal following a decision by the PMA Honor Committee – a body composed entirely of students – to declare him guilty of violating the academy Honor Code when he supposedly lied about the reason he was late in one class.
The PMA Honor Code implores cadets not to lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those among them who do so. Cudia was expected to "resign honorably" like other cadets declared guilty of violating the code.
But Cudia proved different. He has waged a war against the powerful Honor Committee, which he said violated the code themselves. He filed a written appeal but the honor committee refused to re-open the case. (READ: PMA cadet fights back, gets support)
The posts of Cudia's family on Facebook became viral, giving the public a rare glimpse into otherwise confidential proceedings at the academy. The public outcry prompted Armed Forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista to order a re-investigation of the case.
But a week before the graduation on March 16, PMA is not done with its probe because Cudia has yet to submit his appeal, according to military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala.
Zagala said Cudia sought to extend his deadline to submit his appeal 3 times. On March 4, when it was expected by the PMA, he supposedly asked for another 15-day extension. (READ: Cudia faces PMA appeals board)
"This review is an opportunity for him to state his case. More than sympathy for him, we seek fairness and to find out the truth," said Zagala.
The list of honor students is scheduled to be released Monday morning, March 10.
Review honor system
Rosales said CHR cannot guarantee that the commission can help Cudia graduate on March 16, but she vowed that the CHR will look into the academy's PMA honor system to see if there's a need to reform it.
The AFP is currently undergoing a "transformation" from its past record of human rights violations. Against this backdrop, Rosales said it is important to look into the internal processes of the academy.
"The PMA is the one that molds the consciousness and the mindset of the future military officers. They are vital. They are crucial. What they learned in the academy will guide their behavior when they are no longer with the PMA," Rosales said.
"The PMA is an educational institution. It will determine the difference between whether or not the AFP can in fact evolve and transform itself from the opressive behavior and fascistic practices of the past dictatorship," she said. Rosales is a former political detainee under the Marcos dictatorship.
Rosales appealed to General Bautista to instruct PMA Superintendent Major General Oscar Lopez to cooperate with the CHR.
"Please open the institution for fair and just investigation. The most important thing is to be able to come with the truth and provide access to justice for one who feels he was wronged," she said.
Rosales reminded the general of the La Breza Declaration they signed last year. They committed to ensure that the military follows standards and laws on human rights.
At the end of its probe, Rosales said CHR will come up with a report that will specify possible recommendations to reform the PMA honor system. – Rappler.com
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