Honor among cadets

This is my column today, March 18, 2014.

At the onset I must stress that I do find it admirable that cadets at the Philippine Military Academy are standing firm on a matter of honor. It is heartening to note that idealism continues to exist among our youth, particularly among those who are being trained to be­come leaders of the military ser­vice. Yes, our military people must adhere to a higher code of honor  and those who are still in the PMA must exemplify higher adherence to the same since they are supposed to represent the new breed of offi­cers who will champion the neces­sary and much-desired changes in the military establishment. One, of course, wishes that they stood up with the same strength of con­viction on a number of occasions on the past when graver matters of honor were at stake.
Having said that, I must also stress that I find it frustrating that the same cadets have easily suc­cumbed to a classic case of group­think and have since then unable to consider seemingly divergent points of views even when these have grave repercussions to one of their very own. I get it: Cheating and dishonesty cannot be tolerated among the ranks of military cadets. But surely, we can all get a little sense of perspective on the grav­ity of the punishment that should be meted out particularly when the administrative process has been found to be riddled with so much subjectivity and anomaly. Those who wish to prescribe standards of honor on others should first make sure that they do so using honorable ways. Put another way, those who wish to talk about honor should first try to be what they pre­tend to be.
But sadly, it has been very clear that the PMA hierarchy already fell victim to groupthink on the case of cadet first class Jeff Aldrin Cudia very early on. In fact, I am afraid that the phenomenon has extended to the whole Armed Forces of the Philippines bureaucracy. Everyone has already closed ranks on the idea that what is at stake on the matter is the honor and integrity of the PMA as an institution and by extension, the essence of what makes up the core of the officer ranks of the AFP. The message behind the pronouncements of the administrators of the PMA and a number of its alumni and echoed by the members of the graduating class is unmistakable: We will de­fend our hallowed traditions and anyone who disagrees with us is clearly ignorant, misguided, or just plain wrong.
Thus, I did not expect the President to have allowed Cudia to march at the PMA graduation last Sunday despite the recommendations of the Commission on Human Rights. To have done so would have earned the ire of the military establishment. It would have been akin to bringing along a persona non-grata to an exclusive party, or if one wants to be more graphic, bringing a helpless puppy to a den of angry mongrels.
One can almost see and hear over the din of the current debate Jack Nicholson’s famous Colonel Nathan Jessup in a A Few Good Men pompously thumbing his nose down on civilians who pry on the ways of the military, pretend to know better, and demand ac­countability: “We use words like “honor”, “code”, “loyalty”. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you”, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!”
It is unfortunate that the PMA hierarchy and everyone else in the AFP have responded to the Cudia issue with a dismissive attitude bordering on effrontery, as if or­dinary citizens have no business meddling in the affairs of the PMA or the military establishment. Ex­cuse me, generals and colonels, but last I looked the government and the military remained accountable to the citizenry of the Republic. If I am not mistaken, the money that is used to keep the PMA operational also comes from the tax­es that citizens pay including the salaries and perks of military of­ficials. Furthermore, the issue at hand happens to strike at the core of the nation’s well-being given how military generals do tend to end up holding cabinet positions or seeking elective positions. And then there’s the matter of military involvement in a number of scan­dals.
But over and above everything else is the matter of what really com­prises honor. We all like to make dramatic speeches and gestures that supposedly stress the importance of imposing codes of honor and about adhering to a clear sense of what is right or wrong but often sacrifice fairness and our sense of humanity in the process. The cadets at the PMA are correct in disciplining Cu­dia for having supposedly breached their code of honor. But then again, where’s the honor in enforcing the whole might of an institutional bu­reaucracy in order to bludgeon to a whimpering pulp an individual whose faults—seeming careless­ness and lack of judiciousness – are not exactly beyond redemption? Where’s the honor in abandoning one’s very own at a time when he needed compassion, understand­ing, and yes, justice? Are the PMA cadets trained to think like robots who cannot distinguish the various shades that characterize intent? If PMA cadets cannot fight for one of their own, how can we expect them to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves?


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