Saturday, March 22, 2014

The case of Aldrin Cudia and government dishonesty

Reading of the case of Cadet Aldrin Cudia, I was both transfixed and bewildered by the decision of the Philippine Military Academy to dismiss him from the school and prevent him from graduating with his class at this year’s PMA commencement last  March 16.
The reason for the rather harsh punishment is that Cudia violated the cadet’s honor code by lying for being late by two minutes  in attending a class. The code says: “We do not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate others among us who do.”
The case has drawn wide public attention, as Cudia and his family went to social media to apply pressure on the authorities. Public opinion has been quite divided on the case.
Many, including President Aquino, who spoke at the commencement, are quite proud and supportive that the academy continues to enforce strictly the honor code, brooking no violations and denying all appeals for its relaxation. It is a beacon of good conduct at a time when so many things in our society are breaking down on moral and ethical questions.
Others supported Cudia and his family in their appeal for reconsideration of the harsh verdict, on the grounds that the punishment was disproportionate to the offense, and that the cadet was a high-performing student, who would have graduated as class salutatorian, had he been allowed to graduate.
The cadet and his family met with President Aquino before the commencement exercises, but the president sensibly declined to change the decision of the school authorities. The family’s appeal to the Supreme Court for a stay of the school’s decision was denied.
Thirdly, there are those (including this writer), who believe Cudia’ s case must be studied from a wider perspective that includes  a rigorous examination of honesty as a moral or ethical precept, and a consideration of the high prevalence of lying in national politics and government.
Has lying been admitted as the 11th commandment in Holy Scriptures, on a motion from Philippine authorities? When did the Christian and Jewish churches agree on this amendment, and when was it ratified by God?
Lying—not part of God’s commandments.
“Thou shalt not lie” was overlooked by God when he gave the tablets to Moses on Mount Sinai. Honesty was not one of the priority virtues he wanted to promote.
The closest commandment to lying is the 9th commandment, which says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” In truth, lying is more like bearing false witness against yourself – like hanging yourself on your own petard.
Among the virtues, honesty or truth-telling is not as highly regarded as the PMA code seems to think it is.
In his book, Integrity, Stephen Carter devotes a whole chapter to the theme, “The insufficiency of Honesty.” He contends that:
Although honesty is a virtue of importance, it is a different virtue than integrity.  One cannot have integrity without being honest, but one can be honest and yet have little integrity.
Lying and non-disclosure as the law often recognizes, are not the same thing. Sometimes it is illegal to tell what you know.
Honesty alone is not a substitute for integrity, if it is not preceded by discernment of what is right.
The expedient lie
The case for honesty is weakened particularly by the legal system and politics.
Carter says there is such a thing as an expedient lie – the lie to get us more smoothly  to where we want to go. The expedient lie is as much a part of legal traditions as claiming to value truth.
A respectable body of scholarship has proposed that the defendant  in a criminal case should have the right to lie under oath –that for the defendant to swear “I did not do it” should not be prosecutable as perjury.
Courts have carved out a doctrine known as “the exculpatory no” which allows people who are under investigation to deny their guilt. This doctrine is sometimes defended as part of the constitutional protection against self-incrimination
This is the reason why it’s been so hard in the pork barrel scam scandal to pin down any of the accused senators on anything. Their denial of guilt and their legal tactics constitute a wall, against which the justice department and the Ombudssman are apparently not clever enough to prevail.
Dishonesty in  Yolanda and DAP
The argument for honesty comes to grief especially against the prevalence of lying in government today. A whole book  has been written on the subject of how US presidents lie, and how certain administrations were destroyed because of their deception of the American public.
In our own case, the Yolanda catastrophe has quickly risen as a case where the Administration has been doing a lot of lying, and may soon be paying for it.
Administration dishonesty about the Disursement Acceleration Program (DAP) could be the Waterloo of  this presidency.
Just days before he went to Baguio before the PMA commencement, President Aquino met with high school students from Leyte who had been displaced by Yolanda and had to relocate to Manila for their studies. The meeting was notable because Aquino used the opportunity to apologize to Yolanda victims and survivors for the slow flow of government assistance and relief to stricken communities.
In apologizing, Aquino rationalized why government was slow, and in the process made a number of misleading  statements. He said, among others, that government action was slow:
1. because the typhoon was too big and devastating;
2. because the typhoon struck 41 of the country’s over 80 provinces, and over 10 million people were affected.
3. local government was non-existent because they were victims themselves.
The administration shattered its case when DSWD secretary Dinky Soliman also used the blame-the-local government strategy to explain away the distressing sight of relief goods rotting and being buried in dumpsites.
It will be a mockery of all decency in public office, if after this blatant mismanagement and dishonesty, she is allowed by president Aquino to remain in office, in charge of administering relief and assistance in East Visayas. The international community this time are also complaining and watching.
Using the supersize of Yolanda as an excuse will no longer wash.
In the light of government dishonesty and incompetence, the punishment of Cudia for lying will not instruct cadets and young people to be more honorable.
Many comments on social media point out that there are so many cases of PMA graduates getting involved in scandals. The honor code apparently did not work with them.

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