Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Honor Code of the Philippine Military Academy: An Outsider's Perspective

I've never been to PMA. But I'm told, and so are you, that they have an Honor Code that says: "We the cadets do not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate among us those who do."

PMA Cadets stand at attention during Saturday Inspection.
Image by Angel Ramos

That sounds like something taken straight from a Student's Handbook that gathers dust somewhere around the house or dormitory, right? That's because most of us have never been to this institution. It's why we look at the "Honor Code" from the space of our own experience.

You see, when we go to college or university, we go home, we hang out, eat meals and do almost everything with no one to tell us when to start or stop (except perhaps your parents), much less salute and stand straight when somebody passes by. It's why the "Honor Code" is something that, perhaps, only fraternities and sororities talk about during initiations or ... when someone has violated it and has to be expelled.

That at least is my experience. Have you got yours?

A glimpse of carefree life at the University of the Philippines Los Banos
Image by Oliver Mejia 

To continue, most of us did not live in an environment where the rules, regulations and traditions of the institution dictates what time you'd wake and what time you'd sleep, when you'd exercise and when you'd eat, when to go to class and when to do your homework, what to wear and what to do. To top all of that, most of us did not live in an environment wherein everything, including every shoe, moves in Swiss-time precision. Any deviation to the norm entitles you to penalties (through the merit and demerit system).

That is why most of us do not know the context of the "Honor Code", much less understand how someone no less than the Class #2 has to get out for violating it. Note that in this most recent case, the cadet was recommended for dismissal not for being late, which by itself is already a major thing in that institution, but by lying about why he came in late.

Now, why is the "Honor Code" so important? I wish I can tell you an explanation that would sound like you're listening to Plato or Socrates. But the "Honor Code" system already says it all:

"We the cadets do not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate among us those who do."

Their motto is "Courage, Integrity, Loyalty". Apparently, they take this motto very seriously; and Integrity comes before Loyalty. That scares away what kind of people?
Image by Wikipedia

Is there anything about that code that requires explanation? Granted, is there anyone who finds that code objectionable? Hardly, right? In fact, the simplicity and clarity of that code is what makes that code what it is: a code that is clear, ideal and therefore, read very carefully, demands absolute compliance with.

Get it?

No, I don't think most of us get it. If you're the exception, then that's awesome! May your tribe increase.

Remember the context. This is the Philippine Military Academy where everything moves in precision and where everyone is expected to have the brains (PMA has the same standard as U.P.) to understand ... and follow ... every rule expected from an officer and a gentleman or lady (yes there are cadettes there too, for far longer than Gabriela would want you to believe).

After all, this is the training ground for future generals! Get that?

The contemplative life in the Catholic Seminary
Image by Jojo Pensica

Most of us expect such rules to be compassionate. By saying compassionate, we actually mean tolerant. Not the PMA, sorry, especially when it comes to the Honor Code. If you find that statement cold blooded, then just accept the fact that this is the PMA and most of us have never been to this institution, nor in any institution that even remotely resembles it.

You'd laugh at me for saying this. But the only institution that I can say that may somehow resemble how life is in PMA is the Catholic Seminary. In the seminary, everything works in Swiss-time precision too .... from the time you wake up to the time you sleep.

You can argue that the similarities end there. You may be right. That only emphasizes the fact that PMA is PMA and there are things there that are simply different from what we, civilians, know to be the norm.

But what makes PMA different, as far as the Honor Code is concerned, is *not* beyond comprehension. This is an institution that trains leaders with character. Look at these cadets from the perspective of the entire military establishment.

What sort of officers would you want to be in command over men with long rifles, heavy artillery, battle ships and war planes? Would you want a tolerant institution to train these officers?
Image from Modernize the Philippine Navy FB Page

To these future officers will fall the responsibility over high caliber guns and ammunitions, artillery, battle ships and fighter planes. You'd want people who hold these things in their hands not just love for country, but also discipline and character.

It's why the least you'd want in PMA is a tolerant institution. What you'd want are cadets who follow rules. What you'd want are cadets who do not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate others who do.

Of course, what we all want, once these cadets graduate and transition into regular officers of the armed forces, are gentlemen and ladies who do not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate others who do.

How they embrace the Honor Code after graduation, I must however admit, is another story altogether. But as Mr. Kesuke Miyagi (Karate Kid) says, if the roots are strong, the bonsai will live.


  1. For a person who has not been in the academy you clearly and perfectly understand what our Honor Code stands for.

  2. A debt of gratitude is in order for posting this information. I simply need to tell you that I simply look at your site and I discover it exceptionally fascinating and educational. I can hardly wait to peruse bunches of your posts. check military time


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