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A Matter of Honor

A top cadet charged and allegedly found guilty by a committee of peers of violating the Cadet Honor Code. The Code professes that ‘a cadet does not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.’ It is a simple code overseeing cadet behavior with a black and white view of what is right and wrong. The Cudia case is supposed to be just another open and shut case among many the tradition has had to deal with over the years. Except that there is just one problem. The implementing rules and regulations of the Code mandate that only unanimity in deciding the guilt or innocence of an accused can convict him. Even just one ‘not guilty’ vote would not convict a cadet as it would have introduced uncertainty and doubt or unestablished clear evidence that would adversely impact a cadet’s otherwise honorable standing among supposedly honorable peers. The academy claims it is so with Cudia – that honor was observed. However, it now appears that revelations by certain individuals with direct involvement in the case point to a version starkly in contrast with that publicly shared by the academy. This academy claims that a 9-0 guilty vote had convicted Cudia. The insider revelations claim this to be incorrect and to borrow a Code principle, plainly a ‘lie’ itself – the same violation of which the convicted is accused. This divergent claim says that not a 9-0 but rather an 8-1 verdict had been the real and original result of the secret balloting among the members of the Honor Committee. It further claims that the lone dissenter from the guilty vote was actually coerced into changing his original ‘not guilty’ vote to a ‘guilty’ one. And so here lies a serious problem and a great sin if confirmed. Naturally, Cudia and his family had aired an appeal to both the PMA and the hierarchy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines so that Cudia can at least graduate along with his class this March. Their appeals lay unheeded. As a result, the Commission on Human Rights has now gotten into the picture. It is investigating the case and will publicly reveal its findings.

This honor case involving Cadet Cudia is yet another reality that gravely challenges not only a revered institution that is the Philippine Military Academy but the military and police officer corps led by PMA graduates, and probably the entire Filipino society. It has brought to the fore some very basic values and practices ranging from the seemingly insignificant to the most critical operating within the heart and soul of these institutions. The reactions I have heard vary between the two extremes of guilty and not guilty, and all those in between. The bases for the varied reactions may be classified as either those arising from a predominantly idealistic perspective of the entire proceedings or those emanating from a more pragmatic view of the matter. The former argues the idealistic nature of cadet life and the impact this experience has on the future lives and performance of duty of officer graduates. The latter tends to treat cadet life as distinct from life as an officer claiming that student life is so unlike existence in the field and that therefore, the cadet honor code has little impact on life lived in the ‘real’ world.

No matter that I or others like me be called old-fashioned and out of touch with reality or whatever, but accepting the latter position of disavowing the connection between the idealistic source and the eventual product is perhaps among the sorriest excuses I have ever heard as a human being and a former officer. It is tantamount to accepting that the mediocrity and oftentimes downright wrongness which exist in our midst as a fighting force and a society today are just alright! Anyone who does not see the connection is not only grossly misinformed but either blind or indifferent! Although the cadet honor code is certainly not the only mooring that provides cadets their moral bearings, it is an indispensable mandate by which cadets can effectively carry on with their regimented lives in the academy without chaos and anarchy. But more importantly, the training and indoctrination of the habits of not lying, cheating, stealing, or tolerating those who do are also meant to favorably influence the capacity of these future officers to effectively exercise the command leadership that will determine mission accomplishment or failure, or whether men live or die.

The validity of the honor code as best practice cannot be disputed, historically, traditionally, and universally. It is a by-product of the proud history of chivalry in the profession of arms. It has sustained armies in the battlefield as well as states in the community of nations. Despite the practice of cunning that marks the unconventionality of warfare or diplomacy in today’s world, there is no barometer by which the binding nature of men’s agreements can be forged and enforced other than honor. If the army of today is as weak as it is. If today’s politicians are as corrupt as they come. If the bureaucracy is therefore as inefficient and ineffective these days from the cultures of mediocrity, corruption, dualism, patronage, and ambiguity that characterize it. If the citizenry has become quite indifferent and apathetic! At the root of all these dysfunctions lie moral values that are bankrupt. The values that are the foundations for a just and humane society have been laid waste. These values are not far or different from those found in the Decalogue or the nation’s statutes. In fact, they are generally the same. How can we as a nation progress in the real sense of the word if we do not see anything wrong with lying, cheating, stealing, or tolerating those among us who do?

These are the real implications of the Cudia honor case for us Filipino soldiers and people. A cadet honor committee is not itself honorable. How can it dispense justice when it of itself does not observe it? Is it not hypocritical, counter-productive, and ultimately ineffective? How can the academy claim to protect itself as an institution when it cannot even protect one of its very own? Does pretending to be what it is not ultimately pay dividends for even a revered institution as the PMA, a clone of West Point? Is the entire defense establishment served well by covering up one wrong after another? Even by what it considers to be marginal issues? Is a nation as a whole served well by hypocrisy? We now live in a changed world where one bit of news however seemingly trivial becomes not trivial at all. The Cudia case is only one example. The entire world is watching. Let us do right by all the rightness that rightness can bring. Because in the end, there will be enough who will know the rightness in even the wrongness that abuse of power can bring. And we all will not be served by it.