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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Anatomy of the honor issue at PMA




Former PMA Cadet Aldrin Jess Cudia


I've been reading on the case of former PMA Cadet Aldrin Jess Cudia, who was said to be a candidate for salutatorian of graduating class 2014, before he got into trouble for allegedly "lying" and was dropped from the rolls, unable to graduate last Sunday. There appears to be a lot of shenanigans, however, surrounding the decision of the Honor Committee (HC) that investigated Cudia's case and decided on his expulsion from the Academy---thus making the issue even more controversial than it already is.

The Cudia case occupied center-stage last Sunday when PMA class 2014 graduated with President Aquino as its guest of honor, but with the embattled cadet absent from the ranks. The decision of the 9 PMA cadets to punish their colleague for alleged "lying" about the reason for his being two minutes late for class in November last  year, was upheld unquestioningly by the nation’s premier military academy. But this finding of the HC is contrary to the results of the investigations by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Public Attorney's Office.  

The result is that where before the HC’s decisions on the life and fate of various cadets over decades have been held sacrosanct by PMA (patterned after the system in various military schools around the world), now it’s being questioned by civilians, especially the netizens, who like to juxtapose the Cudia issue against the controversies surrounding select military figures over time.  To the civilian populace what’s two minutes of being late for class when talking, for instance, of the many millions supposedly squandered by military grafters that hit headlines big in the past.

But this can only muddle the issue at hand even more.

XXX

Two glaring issues in the Cudia case stand out for which there cannot be any subjective interpretation. One is that the HC, tasked with investigation of the case and ultimate decision (a 9-0 vote results in the expulsion of Cudia from the Academy, while an 8-1 vote exonerates him), voted 8 guilty and 1 not guilty on Cudia. This vote was announced in the HC meeting but interestingly, it was not entered into the minutes and presented as "initial only" when there is no such voting in its written rules. It ought to be mentioned here that cadet Cudia had faced a case before the HC too in the past, but he was exonerated.

A CHR report that circulated in the internet indicates that with this split vote, HC chair Mogol called all 9 members into a “secret” room known as the "Chamber" and when they came out, it had already become 9-0---meaning, the one cadet for Cudia's acquittal had turned around. This became complicated when a senior PMA officer named Commander Jaime B. Tabuada later executed a sworn affidavit attesting to a certain Cadet Lagura’s admission to him of the "chambering" and pressure to reverse his vote. This testimony by Tabuada was corroborated by Cadet 2Cl Ma. Debbie Jocson.

This revelation is not good for HC at all, for while it insisted that Cudia, like all cadets, “should not lie, steal or cheat,” the HC appeared to have acted far from honorably in securing a retraction under duress.

XXX

CHR said in its report that Cadet Cudia was deprived of due process and the HC disregarded its own written procedures; for these reasons, CHR strongly recommended that PMA and HC respect and uphold the 8-1 vote, officially pronounce Cudia as NOT GUILTY and "restore his rights and entitlements as a full-fledged graduating cadet and allow him to graduate (last) Sunday, March 16, 2014." 

But as it turned out, Cudia was expelled even after his family met with the President for two hours last Saturday in Baguio City. Here the Chief Executive was being prudent and wise---rather than infuriate the Academy and its scores of graduates over the decades by siding with the embattled cadet, P-Noy tossed the problem of Cudia to AFP Chief of Staff Emmanuel Bautista. The CS is now under the gun.


The accusation against Cudia of "lying" about his tardiness may be rooted in large part on the military’s notorious difficulty with the written and spoken language (as a former military wife, I often noted in many speeches of officers how subject and verb were frequently mutually antagonistic, especially when delivered before soldiers with mouths agape!). Cudia’s problem arose when he insisted at the immediate moment of confrontation that “Our class was dismissed a bit late and I came directly from the 4th period class.”  He meant that just a cluster of that class was dismissed late. A case of "semantics" is how non-PMAyers look at it.

XXX

Sideline observers I talked to about this unfortunate one-liner feel that the cadet candidate for honors must have been eager to exonerate himself from demerits. It turned out, as he stated in his subsequent explanation, that he and four other cadets actually met with theicr teacher, Dr. Monica Costales, after class, and that she asked them to stay for two minutes more so she could answer their queries on demerits in a previous paper and give them their service grade.

Cudia later said in his defense that they were merely following teacher's order and Costales attested to this fact in a statement later, but this appeared to have been ignored in the investigation.  For being tardy for two minutes, Cudia and the four other cadets got demerits and “touring” time (walking the campus), with Cudia getting more on both counts, on Dec. 19, 2013 (why this was so is not explained). At any rate, doubtless because he was vying for graduation honors, he decided to seek clarification from his tactical officer, PAF Maj. Hindang, as to why the punishment. Hindang advised him to write a letter to Senior Tactical Officer Benjamin Leander, seeking reconsideration of these punishments.

In that letter he told Leander that “I strongly believe that I am (was) not in control of the circumstances.”  Which is understandable---in the military one obeys his immediate superior’s command. 

In the meantime, reports indicated that Maj. Hindang reported Cudia as having violated the Honor Code.  

XXX

After that Cudia’s case went downhill fast. Dr. Costales was to complain that investigation of her decision to make the five cadets stay for two minutes was not on the same frequency as the accusers of Cudia. He found himself having to build up his defense, but he was not able to confront his accusers or present those who could defend him, as he was restricted to a holding center inside PMA where he was to remain until his appeal was resolved.  Meantime, the whole cadet corps was ordered to stay away from him, termed in the Academy as an "Order to Ostracize."

Cudia's isolation was both physical and psychological. Members of the HC were recruited from the Foxtrot Co., and briefed on the issues and procedure. Late in February Cudia asked PMA authorities in writing for extension to submit new evidence to support his appeal, arguing that his earlier requests for copies of documents pertaining to his case had not yet been acted upon; moreover, he couldn’t communicate with his classmates because of the “Ostracize” order.

Cudia’s parents wrote to Maj. Gen. Oscar Lopez, the PMA Superintendent, copy furnished the Chief of Staff and other concerned officers.  The CS directed Lopez to review the case and the latter in turn referred the matter to the Cadet Review and Appeals Board.

Maj. Gen. Lopez, writing to Cudia through his counsel, informed him of the denial of his extension request and the three-nights trial proceeded.  Cudia was asked on the first night what his plea was and he answered, “I did not violate the honor code and system.’  Proceedings were recorded with a voice recorder at the front and back of the trial venue.

Before the verdict was handed down, Cudia had already served nine hours of his 13 touring hours penalty, which he had sought to be reconsidered earlier. It’s interesting to surmise how things might have been if he hadn’t gone through the motion of seeking reconsideration of those punishments.

XXX

Earlier this month, the Cudia family contacted the regional office of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) which then drafted an appeal memorandum, and the CHR Cordillera Administration Regional Office for help. The CHR Regional Office denounced the HC for violation of the cadet’s human rights, namely, the right to Life, Education and Privacy of Communication and named 12 people, including a ranking PMA officer and all the members of the HC, as respondents in a case it filed.

The PAO Regional called for new investigation and voiding of the HC trial in the light of new evidence, such as the recantation of Cadet Lagura under duress. Above all, this trial has gone beyond the confines of PMA and rent its thick veil of secrecy. Today the civilian populace is very much into the debate of what’s honorable and what’s not.

Various alumni of PMA have called for closing of ranks behind the decision of the HC, but under the circumstances, how can this be done without damaging the institution itself that has produced great defenders of our country for many decades? A re-investigation and re-trial for Cadet Cudia is in order and AFP Chief of Staff Emmanuel Bautista can do no less.


I don't know Cudia aat all, but I don’t think he aims to return to the military where, as Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, a prominent PMAyer, puts it, he’ll just be treated “like a leper.” After all, there should be life after PMA. Obviously, however, like any other decent element, this young man is fighting for his good name and that he believes with all his heart that he did nothing wrong.




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