MANILA, Philippines – Several Facebook posts stirred a debate on the practices inside the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), in particular the Honor Code, just as the school prepared for the arrival of thousands of alumni for their annual homecoming Saturday, February 15.
The foster parent of graduating Cadet Jeff Aldrin Cudia said on Facebook that Cudia was in danger of being “dismissed from service” because of a “trivial matter.” Cudia was being punished for going to class 2 minutes late, she sai d.
“I hope they would be fair. This kid worked so hard and endured so much (never cheated) for 4 years to be among the top then for such a flimsy reason, you will deprive him of serving the country?,” wrote Ched Estigoy Arzadon in a Facebook post on February 9. Arzadon is the foster parent of Cudia who hails from Pampanga.
Two days later came the bad news. “The unthinkable happened," Arzadon posted on Facebook February 11. "He was denied the chance to fulfill his dream to serve as a soldier…. Please pray that this fine young man will find another chance to serve the country and his family.” Her Facebook posts on the issue are public.
The family is hoping the decision can be reversed. Arzadon said some PMA alumni are helping them. “The problem is not the whole culture or institution but a few bad eggs," she said.
(On Tuesday afternoon, the military spokesman announced that Armed Forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista has ordered a reinvestigation of Cudia's case.)
What makes the case heartbreaking is that Cudia is supposed to graduate with honors in March. He topped his Navy class and is a deputy class baron, a key leadership position.
It is not clear if the decision is final or if the only reason for his dismissal is indeed what his foster parent is claiming: that he was late for 2 minutes in class.
Rappler has been trying to get the side of the academy since Saturday, but the spokesperson refused so far to give a statement.
Not the complete story?
The social media posts have been the talk of the town in military circles.
It is not the first time that a cadet is dismissed over alleged violations of the Honor Code, but PMA graduates are not used to seeing Facebook posts about actions imposed on cadets. These cases have always been strictly confidential.
Cudia is getting a lot of sympathy as the family’s Facebook posts continue to spread in social media. But it is not the complete story, according to some military officers who spoke on condition of anonymity since they had no authority to speak on the issue.
PMA graduates said there is a relatively tolerable punishment for tardiness under the PMA Graybook. And it's not dismissal, they said.
A PMA insider told Rappler that the story is “deeper” and that the case involves a violation of the sacred PMA Honor Code. But he would not elaborate.
The code implores cadets: "We, the cadets, do not lie, steal or tolerate among us those who do so.”
What sister says
A recent Facebook post by Cudia's sister Anavee offers a narrative of what happened.
She said Cudia was slapped with 11 demerits and 13 hours of touring (marching) as punishment for his tardiness. He approached his tactical officer to appeal the punishment. He had a good reason because a teacher in an earlier class dismissed them late.
When Cudia was asked why he was late, he supposedly said: The professor dismissed them late. It was decided that he lied and violated the Honor Code. Apparently, they were dismissed on time but the professor asked them to wait after class because he was going to give them something.
"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?," Anavee wrote. (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?)
Anavee added that Cudia's tactical officer is not very fond of him. "Napag-initan si Aldrin ng kanyang tactical officer kaya naging makitid ang kanyang pag-iisip sa pagpataw ng kaparusahan. Siya lang ang titser na nagbigay ng mababang grado sa kapatid ko dahil matanong siya sa klase. Bata pa lamang si Aldrin ay palatanong na at palabasa pa. Masama na po pala ang magtanong. Ang masaklap ay HINDI SYA KINAUSAP ng mga matataas na opisyal sa PMA at nakinig lamang sa tactical officer at sa Honor Committee." (They're picking on Cudia. 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.)
The post also claims that the committee vote asking him to quit was not unanimous, but that the one who wanted to absolve Cudia was supposedly persuaded to change his mind.
Anavee said they will fight it out. "Nagpapalakas sa amin ang madaming taong tumutulong at nagdadasal para sa amin. Kung matalo man kami, madaming tao na ang nakakaalam ng nangyari," she said. (Our resolve is strengthened by the support we're getting. Even if we lose this fight many people are now aware of what really happened.)
'Civilians will never understand'
The controversy raises questions about the secretive nature of this military process.
The Honor Code is a curious culture inside the academy that binds alumni together. It is an honor system that PMA alumni are very protective of.
"Civilians will never understand," they told us in interviews. And they're right. After all, many PMA graduates have been linked to dishonorable conduct: corruption, kidnapping, murder, among others.
The Honor Committee that implements the code is composed entirely of PMA students. What they discuss and the processes they execute are completely confidential even to the PMA command – unless complaints are brought up to the superintendent.
As members of this committee, select cadets receive complaints from any cadet from first to senior year.
A cadet who is found guilty by his peers of violating the Honor Code is expected to “resign honorably.” It's a gentleman's agreement. This means he or she cannot be commissioned anymore in the military.
He has another option: to stay in the service but face ostracism.
In the past, a son of a high-ranking general and even the chairman of the Honor Committee were forced to resign over supposed violations of the Honor Code.
Need for transparency?
But lack of transparency always raises questions.
How much of the proceedings can be kept confidential when at stake is the future of promising cadets? Was Cudia’s offense so grave as to merit a dismissal?
A PMA insider defended the confidentiality of the proceedings. It is meant to protect the reputation of the cadets so they can pursue careers outside the academy without the stigma of a code violation, the insider explained.
Like in the case of Cudia’s foster parents, there have been previous attempts “to go against the system.”
Some cases even reached the courts, according to an alumnus. One particular case brought to court prompted the PMA command to step in and force a reversal of the Honor Committee’s ruling.
One cadet who decided to go against the system chose the other option: stay but get ostracized. He eventually resigned as a 2nd Lieutenant because of the way he was treated by his cavaliers, according to a graduate.
This option is tough. "Aso ang trato sa iyo," explained a graduate. (You're treated like a dog.) You eat alone in the mess hall. They vandalize your room and your uniform. They kick you around. They don't talk to you.
A PMA graduate fears this could happen to Cudia if he insists on going against the system. “He can graduate but what is the consequence? The people who know what happened will ostracize him.”
Another graduate said: “Cadets who resign get more respect.”
For violating the Honore Code, one cadet in the 1990s was discharged shortly before his graduation. He resigned but he was able to join the military through the Officer Cadet School (OCS). He rose in the ranks and eventually earned the respect of his classmates.
Lacson and the Honor Code
In his keynote speech at the alumni homecoming last Saturday, former senator Panfilo Lacson spoke about the Honor Code and criticized PMA graduates who have abandoned it.
"We do not wait to be challenged by another cavalier. The real test is a challenge to ourselves. Both at the start and end of the day, we say, we say "all right, sir" when no one is looking,” he said.
As a senator, Lacson once angered fellow PMA alumni when he invoked the PMA Honor Code and publicly questioned an upperclassman’s integrity. In the PMA tradition, a junior cannot question an upperclassman in public.
“All right, sir?,” Lacson asked then Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes during a Cabinet Question Hour in the Senate. Under the Honor Code, one is expected to say “All right” to mean he did not violate the code.
Reyes was being grilled over accusations of corruption. He avoided Lacson's question and replied: “Your honor, I’m still under oath.”
Years later, after getting dragged into the "pabaon" corruption scandal in the military, Reyes committed suicide in 2011. To his family, it was an honorable death. – Rappler.com