Cadet Cudia and the Constitution

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By Tibs Palasan, Jr

Spark of Law

Friday, March 14, 2014


THE Philippine Military Academy's Cadet Review and Appeals Board has decided to uphold the dismissal of Cadet Aldrin Jeff Cudia, who filed an appeal after he was dismissed from the academy last month.

The system has worked and has written finis to the controversy. We are supposed to say amen in unison. After all, the system was upheld.

Not so fast fellows. There is more than meets the eye.

Cadet Cudia was dismissed for lying that he was dismissed late by his professor, Maria Monica Costales. Cadet Cudia was late for his next class by two minutes.

The truth was that Professor Costales asked Cadet Cudia to wait for the grades. Instead of saying he was told to wait by his previous professor, he said he was dismissed late. This, the Honor Committee deemed a lie.

There is here a problem with semantics. Professor Costales in her affidavit told Cadet Cudia to “wait” for the grades. When Cadet Cudia reported for his next class where he was late for two minutes, he said he was “dismissed” late in the previous class.

Whether Cadet Cudia has English as his native tongue or only his second language, he could have rightly said “I was dismissed late” rather than saying “My professor told me to wait.” Either statement, the effect was that Cadet Cudia was dismissed late by the professor of the previous class.

There was no sense in insisting that Cadet Cudia was lying.

What is more disturbing here is that the dismissal of Cadet Cudia was done by the Honor Committee of the PMA. When the Honor Committee is tainted with dishonor, it sends shivers to the spine. It reveals a distorted concept of honor in our premier military academy. The committee’s name is an oxymoron.

For one, there is clearly a strained and rigid interpretation of the word “dismiss.” It can either be due to lack of the facility in the use of English language or an interpretation of the word to suit the plotters. In either case, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, something that we should dig deeper.

Cadet Cudia was to graduate salutatorian of the class. One of the members of the Honor Committee was a rival to that distinct honor. Conflict of interest requires that he should not have taken part in deliberation and in the voting. Honor and delicadeza, these two must be observed by no less than the members of the Honor Committee. Neither of the two virtues extolled by the academy was observed by the member concerned.

To further blacken the Honor Committee, the voting was rigged.

Cadet Cudia presented an affidavit executed on March 6, 2014 by the Philippine Navy's Commander Junjie Tabuanda before the Commission on Human Rights.

The affidavit detailed Tabuanda's supposed conversation "sometime in the morning of 23rd or 24th of January" with a certain Cadet First Class Lagura, a member of the Honor Committee who admitted to voting "not guilty" for Cudia.

In the affidavit, Tabuanda said Lagura told him that he indeed voted to acquit Cudia but was pressured by the other members of the committee to change his vote.

On three counts, Cadet Cudia was not accorded due process. First, the interpretation of the word “dismiss” was rigidly applied. Second, the Honor Committee member who was eyeing for the honor spot among the graduates should have disqualified himself as he was competing with Cadet Cudia as salutatorian. Finally, since the rules of the Honor Committee required unanimous vote in case of dismissal, the “not guilty” vote of Cadet Lagura should have prevented the verdict of dismissal.

What is terrifying in this brouhaha is the far-reaching significance of the comments of the PMA alumni who now occupy sensitive positions in the government. To paraphrase former Senator Lacson: “The Honor Committee has decided based on its internal rules. Let it be respected.” Other alumni too defend, right or wrong, the Honor Committee.

The honorable PMA alumni, many of whom have dishonored the premier military academy and the country as well, must be reminded that the Honor Committee is not untouchable, that it is not beyond the constitution.

When the Constitution mandates that “No one shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law,” it allows of no exception.

Cadet Cudia must be accorded that right. He did not lose that right when he entered the portals of the academy.

The military institution must bow to the supremacy of the Constitution.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 14, 2014.

Opinion

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