Ex-AFP chief’s son ‘violated’ code, managed to graduate

Carmela Fonbuena
In 1956, the PMA overrules an honor committee decision to expel the son of the AFP chief of staff, triggering unrest in the academy

EXONERATED: In a rare move, the PMA Command in 1956 reversed the ruling of the Honor Committee

MANILA, Philippines – It happened at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in 1956, more than half a century ago, but the incident and the issues surrounding it continue to haunt the institution to this day.

The PMA Honor Committee at the time found Third Class Cadet Francisco Vargas – son of then Armed Forces chief of staff Lieutenant General Jesus Vargas – guilty of cheating. It was a violation of the PMA Honor Code, and the young Vargas was expected to resign and leave the academy.

The Honor Committee, after all, is a powerful body composed entirely of PMA students.

To the cadets’ suprise, however, the PMA superintendent, backed by the academy’s Board of Officers, refused to carry out their decision.

What followed was a “tense” series of events in the academy. 

Among the personalities at the PMA during this period were Honor Committee chairman Cadet First Class Ramon Farolan, who would become an air force general and customs chief under the administration of former president Corazon Aquino; Cadet First Class Jose Almonte who would also become a general and later national security adviser of former president Fidel Ramos; and Cadet Second Class Ramon Montaño who would become chief of the defunct Philippine Constabulary.

In an interview, Montaño recalled how the senior cadets launched a “mutiny” to protest the PMA command’s decision to overrule a committee verdict expelling Vargas and fellow cadet Rafael Enriquez, who was a son of a former Rizal Judge.

They refused to attend their classes and join cadet formation. Montaño said the entire cadet corps including the Honor Committee members – about 200 of them – also threatened to resign en masse. The command did not accept their resignation.

This was one of the very few instances since the school was founded, when the decision of the committee was reversed, according to PMA sources,” the Manila Times reported then.

2 cases: Vargas and Cudia

The Vargas case put on the spotlight the PMA honor system and its impact on the academy and its own cadets.

At least 58 years later, another case subjects the honor system to further public scrutiny.

On Tuesday, March 11, a PMA board rejected an appeal by graduating Cadet First Class Aldrin Jeff Cudia to reconsider a committee decision to expel him.

The Cudia controversy first exploded on Facebook. His family and supporters claimed he was being punished for a minor mistake – making conflicting explanations of why he was late in one class. His expulsion is a grave punishment for someone who was eyeing to graduate as salutatorian and as No. 1 in his Navy class, they said. (READ: Did Cadet Cudia lie? Document shows details and VIRAL: PMA alumni post cadet photos on Facebook)

But this time around, the PMA did not reverse the Honor Committee decision. Cudia is not graduating this Sunday, March 16. (READ: Cudia not graduating)

Cadets are dedicated to the Honor Code in a way that PMA alumni said “civilians will never understand,” because they did not go through the strict standards set by the academy for future officers of the military.

It’s an honor system that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is now investigating. The CHR wants to know if the system has to be fixed to make training in the academy better suited for an organization that bows to civilian authority. (WATCH: Video: CHR probes PMA cadet dismissal, examines honor system)

Grumbling

Like Cudia, the case of Vargas was one of the rare instances when the academy’s internal proceedings were exposed to the public.

In 1956, the Manila Times was among those who followed the developments closely, especially after cadets got disgruntled over the decision of the PMA command to reverse the Honor Committee’s decision.

The unrest triggered by the reversal prompted then Defense Secretary Eulogio Balao to order an investigation of the “tense situation” in the academy.

Balao was concerned because the case “threatens to rock the very foundations not only of the Academy but also of the military establishment,” reported the Manila Times on March 14, 1956. 

The cadet corps asked to meet with the defense secretary who later on ordered another probe. “While details of the meetings were not disclosed, it is presumed that they took up the case of the alleged violation of the Honor Code,” read the report. 

Then PMA Commander Brigadier General Leoncio Tan led the probe.

As the issue blew up in the media, the AFP chief then, Vargas’ father, vowed the investigation would be fair. The newspaper reported that he “welcomes [the] immediate institution of court martial proceedings against [my] son to put an end to the unfortunate situation.”

“As a father I have reared my children under the same code of ethics that I have imposed upon myself. But like any other father I consider it my obligation to see to it that the personal rights of my son are protected,” he added.

How the case began

The Honor Committee found Vargas and Enriquez guilty of cheating in at least 2 instances.

In August 1955, classmates witnessed how Vargas, after a class, supposedly gave his recitation notes to Enriquez who was in the next class. But a subsequent re-investigation “established that the contents of Vargas’ notes were not taken up in Enriquez’s class,” according to the news report.

A month later in September 1955, two members of the Honor Committee reportedly found the notes of Vargas in the book of Enriquez. It was a formula from a textbook on Thermodynamics. Enriquez was supposedly scheduled to give a recitation on this before the notes were discovered. 

On the same month, the Honor Committee declared the two cadets guilty of cheating. 

“Vargas admitted that the notes were his, but he claimed he did not know how these got into the book of Enriquez. Enriquez also claimed he did not know how the notes got into his book,” the newspaper reported.

The PMA Board of Officers reviewed the committee decision and reversed it, concluding that Vargas and Enriquez should not be expelled. 

Vargas eventually left

Tan, the PMA commander at the time, upheld the decision exonerating Vargas and Enriquez.

Tan noted that it wasn’t Vargas who gave Enriquez his notes in the September incident. Enriquez was also unable to use the notes because these had already been confiscated, he added.

Enriquez was also supposedly unable to use the notes of Vargas in the August incident because he threw them away when he saw that he already knew the formula indicated on the notes.

According to a news report, then PMA superintendent Colonel Marcos Soliman reported to the defense secretary that the cadet corps had a “favorable reaction” to the results of the investigation.

The same report talked about possible ostracism of the two cadets, who were able to graduate from the PMA and were commissioned as officers. But the two eventually quit the military in their early years in the organization, recalled Montaño.

“We ostracized them. They resigned…. When you are ostracized, you are treated like you have an infectious disease. They don’t touch you. They don’t talk to you,” Montaño said. (READ: Ostracize Cudia, PMA cadets ordered)

Who made the right decision in the first place? The Honor Committee or the Board of Officers? In the secret world of the academy, who knows?

Vargas later married Teresita Magsaysay, the eldest daughter of the late President Ramon Magsaysay. Enriquez joined Philippine Airlines. – with research from Riziel Cabreros/Rappler.com

(This incident at the PMA is among the recollections of retired General Jose Almonte in the biography that Rappler editor-at-large Marites Vitug is writing.)

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