Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Cadet Jeff Cudia. File Photo.
MANILA – The family of dismissed Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Cadet First Class Aldrin Jeff Cudia on Wednesday made a public appeal to President Benigno Aquino III to let the cadet graduate from the country's premier military academy.
Avee Cudia, the embattled cadet's sister, said the dismissal of his brother from the academy runs counter to the president's "Daang Matuwid" principle, as pieces of evidence showed that politics within the academy had come into play.
"Mr. President, paano kung ang tuwid na daan niyo ay may pader na nakaharang? Hanggang doon lang po ba tayo? Sabi kasi nila kapag binangga ang Honor Code, kami ang magigiba. Hanggang doon lang po ba?" Cudia said in an interview with ABS-CBNnews.com.
"Kung ito ang tinatawag na justice, hindi ko na alam kung saan kami makakakuha ng hustisya. Siguro sa Panginoon na lang, kung kapag end of the world na, kapag imi-meet nila ang panginoon, tatanungin sila kung ano ang ginawa nila sa amin. Hindi ko alam kung may masasagot sila na tama."
Cadet Cudia will not be joining the graduation rites after the PMA superintendent and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) found no irregularity in his dismissal.
President Aquino is expected to attend the rites on March 16, Sunday.
PMA superintendent Maj. Gen. Oscar Lopez on Tuesday said he has reaffirmed the recommendation of the former PMA superintendent, retired Vice Adm. Edgar Abogado, that Cudia be separated from military service for violating the Honor Code.
AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan also confirmed that the review board tasked to reinvestigate the case of Cudia has found no irregularity in the process dismissing the cadet from the academy.
Tutaan said the decision has been submitted to the office of AFP Chief of Staff, General Emmanuel Bautista, who in turn endorsed the same recommendation to the Office of the President through the Department of National Defense (DND).
President Aquino, being the AFP's commander-in-chief, will have the final decision regarding Cudia's case.
Cudia was recommended for dismissal from the country's premier military academy for allegedly violating the Honor Code which states: "We, the cadets, do not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate among us those who do so."
The Honor Committee said Cudia lied about why he came in two minutes late for a class in November last year.
When he came in late to the class, Cudia was ordered to file a delinquency report. In his written explanation, Cudia said that the professor in his previous class dismissed them late.
However, upon Cudia's tactical officer's investigation, it was found out that the cadet's previous class was dismissed on time and that he just stayed behind to receive some papers.
This was cited as a ground to charge Cudia with violating the code.
Cudia, for his part, explained he did not intend to deceive anyone with his explanation. He also believes he did not violate the code.
Witness says he was pressured to convict Cudia
The Cudia family, however, insists that it has evidence to show that the cadet did not lie and was also not given due process. They said the witness' testimony shows that the voting that resulted in Cudia's dismissal was rigged.
They presented an affidavit executed on March 6 by the Philippine Navy's Commander Junjie Tabuanda before the Commission on Human Rights.
The affidavit detailed Tabuanda's supposed conversation "sometime in the morning of 23rd or 24th of January" with a certain Cadet First Class Lagura, a member of the Honor Committee who admitted to voting "not guilty" for Cudia.
In the affidavit, Tabuanda said Lagura told him that he indeed voted to acquit Cudia but was pressured by the other members of the committee to change his vote.
"Talagang not guilty ang vote ko sa kanya, sir… Chinamber ako sir, bale pinapa-justify kung bakit not guilty ang vote ko, at na-pressure ako kaya din ako sir kaya binago ko," Tabuanda quoted Lagura as saying.
"Sayang siya, matalino at mabati pa naman," Tabuanda said in reply to Lagura.
Cudia was found guilty of violating the Honor Code and then dismissed from the academy via a 9-0 "guilty" vote by the Honor Committee. It only takes one "not guilty" vote, however, to acquit a cadet.
This happened despite a testimony from Cudia's professor, Maria Monica C. Costales, supposedly attesting to Cudia's claim.
PAO comes to the rescue
The Cudia family asked for an extension beyond the March 4 deadline to the PMA to submit additional pieces of evidence for its appeal. This was denied by the PMA.
Annie Cudia, the cadet's cousin, attributed the delay in the filing of appeal to a gag order in the PMA and the academy's alleged refusal to provide reports and documents pertinent to the cadet's case.
"The burden of proof that he is guilty is on the honor committee, so why is there need to provide proof that he is innocent?" Annie asked in a statement.
"PMA has asked Aldrin to provide proof of his innocence while PMA itself has not given any tangible proof that he is guilty (recordings and the minutes)," she added.
Public Attorney's Office chief Persida Acosta believes that Cudia was not given due process with the denial of the cadet's appeal for extension.
"With due respect sa kanila (PMA), parang walang due process dahil humihingi ng extension para makapag appeal at may pahayag na mayroon pang panahon para mag-file ng appeal. Dapat may time pa, kasi humingi pa ng 15 days ang PAO. Pero kahapon, may pinadala si Major General Oscar Lopez na lahat ng extension eh denied by the board. Walang reason. Eh walang lawyer ang bata eh. Lahat ng tao ke sundalo, magsasaka, entitled sa counsel yan," Acosta told ANC.
"With due respect to them, ang ating Hukbong Sandatahan, sila ang magtatanggol ng ating kasarinlan, magpapairal ng katarungan, kaya doon pa lang sa stage na hinuhubog iyang mga batang iyan, maipakita sana na ang mga namumuno ay may katarungan para sa kanila."
Acosta said she will still file the appeal before AFP chief Bautista.
She said if the AFP does not heed the family's call, she will seek an audience with the President, who now has the last say on the controversial case. Her last resort would be to bring the matter to the courts because she believes that Cudia's constitutional rights were violated.
"This is a bad precedent para sa mga estudyante. Sa amin sa PAO, masakit na ang kasama sa pamahalaan eh sasaktan namin. Kung maaayos ito ng maayos, para masaya ang graduation sa linggo, pa-graduatin na nila si Cudia. Ang record ng bata ang ganda, na-late lang ng two minutes lumaki na ang issue," she told ABS-CBNnews.com
Academic rivalry led to Cudia's dismissal?
In the ANC interview, Avee also revealed that two members of the Honor Committee who voted to convict the cadet were also running for honors.
"Ang nangyari, ang gumawa ng preliminary investigation is the number 2 ng Navy plus another running for honors. That is a conflict of interest. But then, hinayaan lang ng kapatid ko kasi ang thinking niya, 'Okay lang iyan, baka professional naman iyan,'" Avee said.
"These two persons were there to vote, ang sabi ng kapatid ko sa akin, 'Ate ang bata-bata ko pa lang pero naranasan ko na ang masakit na katotohanan. Akala ko professional sila.'"
Cudia was supposed to graduate salutatorian in the Siklab Diwa Class of 2014, and was at the top of the Navy graduating class. He was supposed to receive the Navy saber and be entitled to foreign schooling.
Avee believes that some people with personal motives cost his brother's future.
"Hindi ko po alam kung kadete, pero pakiramdam ko po personal. Hindi ako magsasabi kung kadete siya o ano," she told ABS-CBNnews.com.
Cudia not welcomed in the military anymore
Avee said even if her brother eventually manages to graduate from the PMA, she would rather that he stay in the private sector.
This, after she learned that there had been orders to ostracize Cudia and make his life in the military hard.
"Hindi po sa nilalahat ko silang lahat, pero nagsabi na kasi sila na ilan sa kanila na 'humanda siya pag na-kumisyon siya, pagpapasahan namin' siya.' May ostracism iyan pagdating sa labas. Kahit maabswelto siya, mao-ostracize siya sa labas," she said.
Nonetheless, Avee said the decision to pursue military service is still with his brother. She said her brother can also pursue a career in the private sector as a member of the maritime industry.
"Kung gusto niya mag-maritime sige. At the end of the day, ate niya ako. Kung ano ang gusto niyang gawin sa life niya susuportahan ko sya. I'll be there to catch him," she said.
Renato Cudia, the cadet's father, also told ANC that the PMA should at least let his son graduate, even if his fate in the military is no longer guaranteed.
"Ayaw ko na rin po (na pumasok siya sa military). Ngayon, ang gusto lang namin, sana doon sa apat na taon, eh bigyan naman siya ng pagkakataon at matanggap ang bunga ng kanyang paghihirap at yung bungay ng pagbabyad ng mga tao ng tax. Hindi naman ganoon na kinuha sa amin ang anak naming ng na buong-buo noon, ibabalik nila ngayon na basag," Renato said.