Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lie, cheat, steal


published MST page A5, March 8, 2014

The honor system at the Philippine Military Academy is said to be crucial in determining the character of the students who would eventually become persons of influence in Philippine society.
The honor code states: “We, the cadets, do not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate among us those who do so.”
What would determine a violation of this code are an intention to deceive and an intention to take undue advantage.
According to the PMA Web site, the honor system transcends all ranks and class barriers. Indeed, it is a good way to ensure that our future military officers are molded to be the best individuals they could be.
But a PMA graduate from the 1980s –who asks to remain anonymous and whom we will call Z—proposes that the so-called honor system be abolished altogether. “Sure, it sounds good. But the system is applied inconsistently and is open to arbitrary behavior. So it is better to scrap it.”
The honor system now merits attention because of the case of Cadet Jeff Aldrin Cudia, who stood a chance of graduating second in his class but whose fate now hangs in the balance because of showing up late—by two minutes—for a class last November. 
Reports by Rappler traced the events of that day. Cudia’s previous class was dismissed on time but he and some classmates stayed around to look at their grades. Their professor asked them to wait.
They were late for the next class and when asked for an explanation, Cudia said they were dismissed late by the previous professor. Strictly speaking, they were not dismissed late. What made them late was their staying behind to look at the grades.
It was because of this discrepancy in explanation—the other classmates explained that well—that Cudia was meted by his tactical officer the penalty of 11 demerits and 13 hours of touring. 
But Cudia was running for salutatorian and 11 demerits would pull down his conduct grade too much so he appealed to his tactical officer and insisted that his original explanation would still hold. It was then the officer filed an honor case against him. Cudia insisted he did not intend to deceive and to take advantage.
A PA officer-blogger, Major Harold Cabunoc, wrote (http://rangercabunzky.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-cadet-honor-code-my-personal.html)  that any other person would have had the prudence to look at his grades another time because he would already be late for his next class, and tardiness is a serious offense at the PMA. 
The Honor Committee is composed of 32 PMA cadets who must decide unanimously on an alleged violation. The initial decision was not unanimous but the committee declared Cudia guilty anyway and recommended his dismissal. It was at this point that the cadet’s sister made posts on Facebook decrying the unfairness of the punishment. 
Soon, the committee ordered that Cudia be ostracized for “breaching confidentiality by putting documents in the social media, violating the PMA Honor Code, lacking the initiative to resign, and smearing the name of the PMA.”
According to my PMAer source, being ostracized is not a nice experience. “You don’t get any recognition from your peers whatsoever. You eat alone. Your classmates toss banana peels on you. Your things get ransacked.”
The chief of staff of the AFP has ordered a reinvestigation of the case; Cudia sits it out at a holding center in Fort Del Pilar.
The Siklab Diwa class of 2014 is graduating on March 16.
* * *
What my source finds appalling is the hypocrisy in applying the honor code when inside it is know that mediocre students sometimes magically make it to the Dean’s List.  “What is two minutes compared to this?” he says. “And these will become your top officials a few years from now.”
Z has left the military after serving more than 20 years. He is now with the private sector.
In some cases, honor code violation cases are brought to the attention of the committee but because there is no more time, the cases are not resolved and the cadets in question get lucky and graduate anyway. In fact, Z finds it curious that honor code violations are brought up only days before graduation.
“I can understand that you really go on survival mode at the PMA. For instance, when we came in, there were a lot of us. When we graduated it was half that number, and half of that did not even belong to our original batch.”
The greatest challenge he faced in his four years at the PMA was his ability to balance academics and physical activity. He graduated with no honor violations although he recalls being summoned by his officer for not citing all sources in a paper that he wrote. “It was an honest mistake,” Z said. “I rectified it immediately.”
Cadets must also get used to a regimented lifestyle where every move has to comply with the orders of superiors.
Z believes that abolishing the honor system would not significantly change the reputation of the PMA because it did not (does not) manifest on some graduates who held (or are presently holding) top government positions.
“We are essentially who we are even before we join the Academy.”
As a result, even with the honor system in place, you still see rotten products of the PMA in corrupt military officials, that Presidential Security Group member involved in ATM fraud, and even that valedictorian who was sent on scholarship to the US but was caught tampering with the price of a CD just to save 50 cents.
According to Z, every act you commit in the PMA has a corresponding consequence anyway. The honor system just opens up the cadets to arbitrary or capricious action from others.
Z advises Cudia to continue his action so long as he believes in his heart that he did nothing wrong.
But what about the so-called code of silence that should bind members of the military?
There is no such code written anywhere, Z says. The truth is always for the benefit of all.
adellechua@gmail.com

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