G.R. No. 211362 – 751 SCRA 469 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Academic Freedom
Remedial Law – Mandamus – Ministrant vs Discretionary Function
Aldrin Jeff Cudia was a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Siklab Diwa Class of 2014. On November 14, 2013, Cudia’s class had a lesson examination in their Operations Research (OR) subject the schedule of which was from 1:30pm to 3pm.
However, after he submitted his exam paper, Cudia made a query to their OR teacher. Said teacher, then asked Cudia to wait for her. Cudia complied and as a result, he was late for his next class (English). Later, the English teacher reported Cudia for being late.
In his explanation, Cudia averred that he was late because his OR class was dismissed a bit late. The tactical officer (TO) tasked to look upon the matter concluded that Cudia lied when he said that their OR class was dismissed late because the OR teacher said she never dismissed her class late. Thus, Cudia was meted with demerits and touring hours because of said infraction.
Cudia did not agree with the penalty hence he asked the TO about it. Not content with the explanation of the TO, Cudia said he will be appealing the penalty he incurred to the senior tactical officer (STO). The TO then asked Cudia to write his appeal.
In his appeal, Cudia stated that his being late was out of his control because his OR class was dismissed at 3pm while his English class started at 3pm also. To that the TO replied: that on record, and based on the interview with the teachers concerned, the OR teacher did not dismiss them (the class) beyond 3pm and the English class started at 3:05pm, not 3pm; that besides, under PMA rules, once a student submitted his examination paper, he is dismissed from said class and may be excused to leave the classroom, hence, Cudia was in fact dismissed well before 3pm; that it was a lie for Cudia to state that the class was dismissed late because again, on that day in the OR class, each student was dismissed as they submit their examination, and were not dismissed as a class; that if Cudia was ordered by the teacher to stay, it was not because such transaction was initiated by the teacher, rather, it was initiated by Cudia (because of his query to the teacher), although there were at least two students with Cudia at that time querying the teacher, the three of them cannot be considered a “class”; Cudia could just have stated all that instead of saying that his class was dismissed a bit late, hence he lied. The STO sustained the decision of the TO.
Later, the TO reported Cudia to the PMA’s Honor Committee (HC) for allegedly violating the Honor Code. Allegedly, Cudia lied in his written appeal when he said his class was dismissed late hence, as a result, he was late for his next class.
The Honor Code is PMA’s basis for the minimum standard of behavior required of their cadets. Any violation thereof may be a ground to separate a cadet from PMA.
Cudia submitted an explanation to the HC. Thereafter, the HC, which is composed of nine (9) cadets, conducted an investigation. After two hearings and after the parties involved were heard and with their witnesses presented, the HC reconvened and the members cast their vote. The initial vote was 8-1: 8 found Cudia guilty and 1 acquitted Cudia. Under PMA rules (Honor System), a dissenting vote means the acquittal of Cudia. However, they also have a practice of chambering where the members, particularly the dissenter, are made to explain their vote. This is to avoid the “tyranny of the minority”. After the chambering, the dissenter was convinced that his initial “not guilty vote” was improper, hence he changed the same and the final vote became 9-0. Thus, Cudia was immediately placed inside PMA’s holding center.
Cudia appealed to the HC chairman but his appeal was denied. Eventually, the Superintendent of the PMA ordered the dismissal of Cudia from the PMA.
Cudia and several members of his family then sent letters to various military officers requesting for a re-investigation. It was their claim that there were irregularities in the investigation done by the HC. As a result of such pleas, the case of Cudia was referred to the Cadet Review and Appeals Board of PMA (CRAB).
Meanwhile, Cudia’s family brought the case to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) where it was alleged that PMA’s “sham” investigation violated Cudia’s rights to due process, education, and privacy of communication.
Eventually, the CRAB ruled against Cudia. This ruling was affirmed by the AFP Chief of Staff. But on the other hand, the CHR found in favor of Cudia.
PMA averred that CHR’s findings are at best recommendatory. Cudia filed a petition for certiorari, prohibition, and mandamus before the Supreme Court. PMA opposed the said petition as it argued that the same is not proper as a matter of policy and that the court should avoid interfering with military matters.
1. Whether or not Cudia’s petitions is proper.
2. Whether or not the PMA can validly dismiss Cudia based on its findings.
Mandamus is not proper
Mandamus will not prosper in this case. Cudia’s prayer that PMA should be compelled to reinstate him as well as to give him his supposed academic awards is not proper. The Courts, even the Supreme Court, cannot compel PMA to do so because the act of restoring Cudia’s rights and entitlements as a cadet as well as his awards is a discretionary act. Mandamus cannot be availed against an official or government agency, in this case PMA, whose duty requires the exercise of discretion or judgment. Further, such act which PMA was sought by Cudia to perform is within PMA’s academic freedom as an educational institution – and such performance is beyond the jurisdiction of courts.
Certiorari is allowed
The petition for certiorari is allowed because the issue herein is whether or not PMA and its responsible officers acted with grave abuse of discretion when it dismissed Cudia. Under the Constitution, that is the duty of the courts to decide actual controversies and to determine whether or not a government branch or instrumentality acted with grave abuse of discretion. Thus, PMA cannot argue that judicial intervention into military affairs is not proper as a matter of policy. Suffice it to say that judicial non-interference in military affairs is not an absolute rule.
On the civil liberties of PMA cadets
One of the arguments raised by PMA is that cadets, when they enrolled in the PMA, have surrendered parts of their civil and political liberties. Hence, when they are disciplined and punished by the PMA, said cadets cannot question the same, much less, question it in the courts. in short, they cannot raise due process.
On this, the SC held that such argument is wrong. It is true that a PMA cadet, by enrolling at PMA, must be prepared to subordinate his private interests for the proper functioning of the educational institution he attends to, one that is with a greater degree than a student at a civilian public school. However, a cadet facing dismissal from PMA, whose private interests are at stake (life, liberty, property) which includes his honor, good name, and integrity, is entitled to due process. No one can be deprived of such without due process of law and the PMA, even as a military academy, is not exempt from such strictures. Thus, when Cudia questioned in court the manner upon which he was dismissed from the PMA, such controversy may be inquired upon by the courts.
(Author’s note: PMA, in essence, raised that due process, as contemplated by the Constitution, is not needed in dismissing a cadet yet, as can be seen in the below discussion, PMA presented evidence that due process was, in fact, complied with.)
II. Yes. It is within PMA’s right to academic freedom to decide whether or not a cadet is still worthy to be part of the institution. Thus, PMA did not act with grave abuse of discretion when it dismissed Cudia. In fact, Cudia was accorded due process. In this case, the investigation of Cudia’s Honor Code violation followed the prescribed procedure and existing practices in the PMA. He was notified of the Honor Report submitted by his TO. He was then given the opportunity to explain the report against him. He was informed about his options and the entire process that the case would undergo. The preliminary investigation immediately followed after he replied and submitted a written explanation. Upon its completion, the investigating team submitted a written report together with its recommendation to the HC Chairman. The HC thereafter reviewed the findings and recommendations. When the honor case was submitted for formal investigation, a new team was assigned to conduct the hearing. During the formal investigation/hearing, he was informed of the charge against him and given the right to enter his plea. He had the chance to explain his side, confront the witnesses against him, and present evidence in his behalf. After a thorough discussion of the HC voting members, he was found to have violated the Honor Code. Thereafter, the guilty verdict underwent the review process at the Academy level – from the OIC of the HC, to the SJA (Staff Judge Advocate), to the Commandant of Cadets, and to the PMA Superintendent. A separate investigation was also conducted by the HTG (Headquarters Tactics Group). Then, upon the directive of the AFP-GHQ (AFP-General Headquarters) to reinvestigate the case, a review was conducted by the CRAB. Further, a Fact-Finding Board/Investigation Body composed of the CRAB members and the PMA senior officers was constituted to conduct a deliberate investigation of the case. Finally, he had the opportunity to appeal to the President. Sadly for him, all had issued unfavorable rulings. And there is no reason for the SC to disturb the findings of facts by these bodies.
Academic freedom of the PMA
Cudia would argue that there is no law providing that a guilty finding by the HC may be used by the PMA to dismiss or recommend the dismissal of a cadet from the PMA; that Honor Code violation is not among those listed as justifications for the attrition of cadets considering that the Honor Code and the Honor System (manner which PMA conducts investigation of Honor Code violations) do not state that a guilty cadet is automatically terminated or dismissed from service.
Such argument is not valid. Even without express provision of a law, the PMA has regulatory authority to administratively dismiss erring cadets. Further, there is a law (Commonwealth Act No. 1) authorizing the President to dismiss cadets. Such power by the President may be delegated to the PMA Superintendent, who may exercise direct supervision and control over the cadets.
Further, as stated earlier, such power by the PMA is well within its academic freedom. Academic freedom or, to be precise, the institutional autonomy of universities and institutions of higher learning has been enshrined in the Constitution.
The essential freedoms of academic freedom on the part of schools are as follows;
a. the right to determine who may teach;
b. the right to determine what may be taught;
c. the right to determine how it shall be taught;
d. the right to determine who may be admitted to study.
The Honor Code is just but one way for the PMA to exercise its academic freedom. If it determines that a cadet violates it, then it has the right to dismiss said cadet. In this case, based on its findings, Cudia lied – which is a violation of the Honor Code.
But Cudia’s lie is not even that big; is dismissal from the PMA really warranted?
The PMA Honor Code does not distinguish between a big lie and a minor lie. It punishes any form of lying. It does not have a gradation of penalties. In fact, it is the discretion of the PMA as to what penalty may be imposed. When Cudia enrolled at PMA, he agreed to abide by the Honor Code and the Honor System. Thus, while the punishment may be severe, it is nevertheless reasonable and not arbitrary, and, therefore, not in violation of due process -also considering that Cudia, as a cadet, must have known all of these.