What men do for honor and the morning-after migraine it brings

Why do I feel for the dismissed top two graduating PMA Cadet, Aldrin Cudia?

Firstly, I have professional and personal interest in issues concerning young people.

Secondly, I have a special regard for people whose work is to protect the community and the country.  No one from my family or past generations is or was in the military, but I grew up in communities with military bases.   The Gurkhas figured in my childhood and it was from them that I learned about soccer.  On afternoons, when I was supposed to be napping, I’d sneaked out of a back window and bike to the soccer field to watch the game and cheer with the others.  I didn’t understand how my friends could put up playing with inanimate dolls.  My idea of fun was outdoors and live games.  Baguio City then hosted the US Military whose base was Camp John Hay. The Americans were visible in community service and it is from them that I learned about building community-military goodwill. The City is also home to the Philippine Military Academy.  In my high school and college days, I’d sometimes meet on the road a company on their morning jog.  They’d turn to face me and sing whatever silly song up their sleeve at the time. I’d give them a bow for the song and attention.  I’d also silently wish them long and fruitful lives, if that’s possible.  (Those were cadets in the late 80s and early 90s when they actually practiced gentlemanly behavior in public.  I don’t think today’s cadet, say, finding himself or herself next to an elderly with grocery bags would offer to help carry and load them to the waiting taxi or car.  I haven’t seen one do it, yet, in the mall.)   Their visibility in my community opens my mind to their issues and concerns.  As one community member to another, it hurts me to see field soldiers with families and many veterans not given the benefits – decent housing, retirement, etc. – they deserve.

Thirdly, I too was a student and know too well what campus life was.  I wasn’t a perfect student.  I suffered a depression, although I didn’t know I had, after my grandmother died.  I felt I went to the grave with her.  I felt for the first time in my life the finality and utter forever-ness of death.  At 16, I understood what the Bible meant by ‘vanity of vanities’.  I sat in class with my head reeling with questions of the meaning of life knowing at some point death is the end, why live at all, the significance of school and working on formulas in the scheme of things, and the like. I went from 16 to 70 that summer.  I went to college with my mind residing in another planet.  I was in a black hole struggling to get out of it.  It was a struggle to show up in my classes which started at 7:30.  I often showed up at around 8:15.  After five times or so, the professor and my classmates learned (or, chose) to ignore my coming in late because perhaps I always aced the tests (it was  Business Math class for the first year).  I didn’t offer any explanation (I didn’t know how to explain what I was going through and I didn’t understand it myself) and no one asked.  Well, except the guidance counselor from whom I had to retrieve my class card (dropped, after three consecutive absences or tardiness).  To her, I uttered the standard justification and apologies.  In turn I received the standard admonitions.  After that, I went out to the book store and chanced upon ‘Scripts People Play’. There are people who I feel in my gut I can trust even the weirdest stories with and I knew it wasn’t her.

In my sophomore year, I had this impossibly huge crush on my class professor.  My mind became a blank slate every time I was in his class and nothing he said entered my head.  Nothing.  I only saw, him.  I think he knew what was happening to me. And I think he laughed at me. Because if he asked my other professors, say, in law, they’d have recommendations of me as an otherwise bright student. During the final exam, he circled the room as he usually did to rule out cheating, and every time he came to my row I crumbled into nothing.  My mind became nothing.  So I wrote nothing.  I submitted my paper with just my name and the date on it.  I think he understood, meaning, he understood how terrible the experience of “love” can be at rare times, because when I went to get my grades during the school break, I saw that he gave me a passing grade.

In my senior year, I purposely scheduled my last accounting subject for the final semester.  For some reason, in my basic accounting classes, my head installs a firewall that resisted the words of my professors. Filing out of the room after an hour, my head held nothing.  But, oddly, I was earning some of my allowance by helping mother, an accountant, do some of the books after she taught me the basics.  (In retrospect, I think the missing link in class was motivation.  I was an Economics major so why did the college put in accounting subjects in my course?  The college can’t give a good explanation.  I thought it a total waste of time studying it.  I think that was the cause of the resistance put up by my head then.)  I think that my professor in my last accounting subject took pity on me. I did my best in the final exam although I knew my best was practically just doodles on the spreadsheet.  Yet my professor gave me a passing grade. I wouldn’t have graduated in the time my family expected me to if I got what I deserved.

I don’t mean to say I prayed that my professors pass me.  No.  In fact, I was scared shit certain that I was to bring home a card of failing grades. I’d have done everything not to break mother’s heart.  If I had to enroll for summer classes, which I abhor, I would.  I was more concerned about my mother’s reaction because if it was just me I don’t see academic grades as defining who I am.  I believed I am more than what my professors could grade me.  And it wasn’t that I was not a performer because I was President of the Economics Society for two years.  I just had certain questions which I believed were valid that the institution can’t answer.  And I suspect my professors, at least those who went beyond their call of duty, understood these demons I was struggling with.

On my part, I was thankful and grateful.  Of course.  Let me describe the feeling this way:  Catholics are extolled to be always thankful and grateful for God’s mercy and dying on the Cross because being sinners these are undeserved. This was an abstract concept to me, until life hands you practical experiences along that teaching.  

I think that if my professors closed their minds to what I was personally going through then and went ahead and gave me failing grades, it’s likely I’d have become bitter and hard. On the other hand, individuals as for example terminally-ill patients who are given a second lease at life are moved to make a pledge, out of gratitude, to do selfless works the rest of their lives.

But for Cadet Cudia, he deserves to be up there on the marching field, without cause for shame or embarrassment, with his peers, delivering a speech, making his family and those who believe in him proud.  The information of foul play in the voting of his peers, members of the Honor Committee, who decided over his fate and future, clearly indicates bad faith.

Commander Junjie Tabuada of the Philippine Navy executed an affidavit detailing his conversation in January with Cadet First Class Lagura, who was in his office at the PMA headquarters in Fort del Pilar, Baguio City. Lagura is a member of the Honor Committee who, according to Tabuada, originally voted to acquit Cudia. (The document does not provide Lagura’s first name.)

Tabuada said in his affidavit that Lagura was in his office in the morning of either January 23 or 24, giving him an opportunity to ask about Cudia’s case.

Tabuada’s affidavit reads:

“When he was about to leave I called him, ‘Lags, halika muna dito,’ and he approached me and I let him sit down in the chair in front of my table. I told and asked him, ‘Talagang nadali si Cudia ah…..ano ba ang nangyari? Mag-tagalog or mag-Bisaya ka?’ He replied, ‘Talagang NOT GUILTY ang vote ko sa kanya sir,’ and I asked him, ‘oh, bakit naging guilty di ba pag may isang nag NOT GUILTY, abswelto na?’ He replied ‘Chinamber ako sir, bale pinapa-justify kung bakit NOT GUILTY vote ko, at na-pressure din ako sir kaya binago ko, sir.’ So, I told him, ‘sayang sya, matalino at mabait pa naman’and he replied ‘oo nga sir.’ After that conversation, I let him go.” (I asked him about what happened to Cudia. He said I voted not guilty, sir. I asked, but if you voted not guilty, shouldn’t he been acquitted then? He replied: I was put in chambers and was asked to justify my not guilty vote. I was pressured to change my vote, which was what I did, sir.)

via Rappler

Furthermore, from the same news source, the PAO handling Cudia’s case revealed that

the committee also abused its discretion when “it failed to consider the explanation of Dr Costales,” the instructor who made Cudia wait after class and subsequently caused him to be late in the next class.

Cudia’s case goes beyond his academic and personal plight to the Academy’s rules of the game that is the Honor Code System. A PMA alumnus views the system as

it is hard to track down cases of Honor Code violators. There is a strict implementation of the Honor Code at PMA. The mere act of resignation already restores your honor. And this ends the cause of the investigation. That is the honorable thing to do. When you get out of the service, they will not question you. They already know.  Cadets guilty of the honor code are expected to resign honorably– something Cudia did not do.

via The Philippine Inquirer

In cases when a cadet does not leave

…even if Cudia would have been allowed to graduate, he will face ostracism throughout his military career.

In the late 1970s, a son of a general who was in his third year at PMA was found guilty of cheating. He was ordered dismissed by the Honor Committee but his parents took it to local courts. The cadet was allowed to go on and was able to graduate.

But the young officer only lasted about two years in the service because he did not survive the ostracism.

Moreover, the Academy appears uncomfortable at making Cudia’s case public knowledge, as the official spokesperson of the Academy is quoted by The Philippine Inquirer

PMA spokesperson Major Agnes Lynette Flores refused to give details on previous cases of Honor Code violators, saying it was confidential.

Cudia’s case was only known because he brought his case to the public.

What is disturbing in these is that the Code rules are placed on a pedestal, above the law of the land hence in danger of sidestepping human rights.  Moreover, we are about to have a law that upholds the freedom of information which will render moot the Academy’s confidentiality cloak over its policies and rules.  (By the way, the Academy is run on taxes so confidentiality is a shaky argument.)  The honor that the system worships, in instances when Honor remembers to humor men, has taken a face that does not at all reflect Honor’s calm and wise face.  Cudia’s case is such an instance, when men, in hot pursuit of Honor, dishonor themselves instead. The young Cadets, Cudia’s peers, who comprised the Committee members as well as the officials of the Academy with their stamp of approval, have trained their eyes on one thing to the exclusion of everything else.  Honor dished out as a stand alone virtue, untempered, is extremism, dangerous.  It was the root of Hitler’s obsession to purify his race of the impurity who in his mind were the Jews.  He thought he’d honor his race if he did that.  But, honor, the good kind, coexists with the other virtues. Men just need to discover the right balance of these.

If I were the President, on whose decision Cudia’s fate now lies, I’d have the graduation of the Cadets postponed until such time Cudia’s case is resolved fairly instead of me being pressured to make a decision in time for the graduation on Sunday.  I’d give the Academy officials a blast for pressuring me into it.  They started this whole blasted honor cult, let them resolve it.  Honorably. Until they do, nobody will graduate.  Because when I go down to the field to shake the hands of those new officers, I want to make contact with honorable hands.  I don’t want to look into faces on which betrayal of their brother are palpable.  But again unbelievable that Generals and their officers permitted an otherwise simple problem to reach my table which they themselves could’ve resolved, if only they be honorable gentlemen!

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