Conduct unbecoming a military academy

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Monday, March 31, 2014

LET us not stop talking about Cadet Jeff Cudia, not just yet. If we leave him alone now he will most likely lose his case at the Supreme Court, and he will disappear into a life of wasted potential, instead of the brilliant military career that is his dream and his destiny.

This brave Kapampangan captured the imagination of an entire nation when he challenged the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and its vaunted honor code, and for that alone I think he deserves our support.

It is not the first time that a Kapampangan shook up the venerable military academy and forced it to reform itself.


In 1967, Maj. Dante Simbulan, the much-admired head of the PMA’s Social Science faculty and a Kapampangan from San Simon, introduced the entire graduating class to radical ideas when he invited his friend Jose Ma. Sison, the founder himself of the Communist Party of the Philippines, as guest speaker.

It was a life-changing event for the graduating cadets. Victor Corpus became one idealistic officer who refused his superiors’ order to assassinate a mayor; instead, he told the mayor about the plot.

He was recalled to PMA where he became a faculty member. By then he had come in contact with Bernabe Buscayno, founder of the New People’s Army (NPA) and a Kapampangan, as well as Joma Sison, also a Kapampangan (his mother was from Mexico town).

Unknown to PMA authorities, several cadets had also become members of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), the radical student movement founded by another Kapampangan, Nilo Tayag. When they insisted on attending a KM rally in Manila, the PMA Superintendent, General Ugarte, called an open forum with Philippine Constabulary head General Fidel V. Ramos in attendance. In the confrontation, the cadets exposed the corruption going on inside the PMA.

On December 29, 1970, General Ugarte and the rest of the academy's administrators went out to welcome President Marcos who was scheduled that day to visit Baguio City. An NPA squad led by a Kapampangan, Juanito ‘Ka Juaning’ Rivera, swooped down on the military academy and raided its armory, carting off with rocket launchers, bazookas, machineguns, rifles, carbines, and tons of bullets, plus two defectors, Lieutenant Corpus and Lieutenant Crispin Tagamolila.

They were the first military officers to defect to the New People's Army—a stunning victory for the Communists and a major embarrassment for the military establishment. It was quite ironic that the weapons that the one-year-old New People’s Army would use to expand its operations were provided by the Philippine Military Academy.

The following year the NPA became more daring when it sent three sea expeditions to fetch weapons and ammunition donated by Communist China then headed by Mao Tse-Tung. (The first one ended disastrously when the ship sank on its return voyage while the other two remained stranded in China.)

Four years after President Marcos declared martial law, Corpus and Buscayno were arrested, and together with Sen. Ninoy Aquino, sentenced to die by firing squad in 1977 (it was never carried out). Corpus’ fellow defector from PMA, Lt. Tagamolila, was killed in a military ambush.

When Ninoy’s widow Cory Aquino rose to power in 1986, she released Corpus and Buscayno. The former tried but failed to join national politics, while the latter was reintegrated in the military and rose to the rank of brigadier general, becoming the Chief of Intelligence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Maj. Simbulan was arrested in 1972 and detained for more than two years without charges. He was adopted by the Amnesty International and other human rights groups as “a prisoner of conscience.” He went on to write the groundbreaking book The Modern Principalia: The Historical Evolution of the Philippine Ruling Oligarchy. (His equally famous son, Prof. Roland Simbulan, is the author of The Bases of Our Insecurity: A Study of the US Military Bases in the Philippines).

Meanwhile, the head of the NPA raiding team, Juanito ‘Ka Juaning’ Rivera, was arrested in 1987 and released in 1991.

Cadet Jeff Cudia, a native of Arayat, Pampanga, should be proud of what he has done. He is just following the trail of radical reform that many brave Kapampangans have blazed before him, and have paid a huge price for it.

Cudia had been consistently cited for excellent conduct by getting the following grades: 97 for Conduct I, 97 for Conduct II, 100 for Conduct III, 100 for Conduct IV, 100 for Conduct V, 100 for Conduct VI, 100 for Conduct VII, 99 for Conduct VIII, 100 for Conduct IX, 99 for Conduct X and 96 for Conduct XI?

Why the academy would suddenly call him a liar on the eve of his graduation—all because he had said “Our class was dismissed a bit late” instead of “My instructor asked me to wait”—reveals the military academy’s distorted concept of honor and its obsession with it. One small misstep and he is denied his academic honors (class salutatorian), prevented from joining his own graduation, threatened him with reimbursement of tuition for his entire stay at PMA, and stopped from becoming a commissioned officer in the Navy? It’s even worse than giving someone the death penalty for stealing an apple.

Dozens, maybe hundreds of cadets have been suspended, dismissed or forced to resign, but they all suffered in silence or left quietly.

Cudia, true to his Kapampangan nature, fought back. “This is unheard of!” General Panfilo Lacson said in his speech before the PMA graduating class recently.

Cudia's action must have sent shock waves across a military academy that's not used to seeing cadets fight back or even answer back. You can tell they’re in panic because they released a photo showing smiling cadets and PMA administrators together—as if to tell the public that they have joined ranks against Cudia.

Now there are allegations that academy officials have also pressured a voting member in the honor committee, Cadet Dalton Lagura, to change his vote from not guilty to guilty so that the decision would be unanimous (a prerequisite for the guilty verdict).

If true, then the academy has acted with more dishonor than its own cadets. Its swift and ruthless punishment of one graduating cadet—while its alumni generals remain unpunished for plunder and other high crimes—also reveals the academy’s hypocrisy and arrogance, and its total lack of charity for its cadets, whom it can drop like a hot potato to preserve an abstraction called honor.

And it won’t even offer an explanation to the public that pays taxes to sustain its operations. Does the military academy think it has a higher sense of honor than the rest of us civilians?

Let’s hope Jeff Cudia’s rebellion will lead to reform. The number of corrupt alumni generals proves the honor code has failed. The military academy should start teaching its cadets to be honorable and not just to look honorable, so that when they’re out in the real world and their military superiors aren’t looking, they will stay honorable.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on April 01, 2014.


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