WHO IS lying and who is telling the truth?
The former professor of acting Justice Secretary Alberto C. Agra has finally spoken to refute his student’s claim that he was exonerated of cheating in a law subject exam, which he took 22 years ago at the Ateneo de Manila University Law School.
Atty. Avelino Sebastian Jr. said that if Agra was indeed exonerated by the school’s investigating committee that inquired into the reported cheating, how then could the acting justice secretary explain why was Agra the only one who flunked the Wills and Succession subject in 1988, out of seven students who reportedly cheated?
Last week, in his reply to the queries of the Philippine Center Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) about his alleged cheating, Agra had admitted that he flunked the subject taught by Sebastian, thus barring him from graduating on time.
But Agra said he and his classmates were cleared of cheating by the committee. While Agra admitted that he was “charged of cheating,” he said the accusation was “maliciously” made by Sebastian.
When first queried by PCIJ, Sebastian had neither confirmed nor denied if he indeed found out that Agra and his classmates cheated in his subject.
But now Sebastian has countered his student’s claim, saying that the panel did not change the failing grade he gave to Agra.
Failing grade stuck
As Sebastian tells it, this was despite his telling the committee at the time that Agra would have still passed the Wills and Succession subject even if he had failed the final exam.
“The Committee declined to reverse the failing grade of Secretary Agra despite my earlier statement to the Committee that Secretary Agra would have passed the course…” said Sebastian in a letter he emailed to the PCIJ last Thursday.
“I therefore cannot understand Secretary Agra’s contention that the Committee “exonerated (him) together with (his) other classmates,” added Sebastian, a practicing lawyer who had retired from teaching at the Ateneo in 1997.
The professor said he gave failing marks to Agra and his classmates after he found out that they wrote “exactly” the same wrong answers on their exam sheets.
While the committee “unilaterally reversed” the failing grades that Sebastian gave to Agra’s classmates, the professor said the panel “affirmed the failing grade which I gave Secretary Agra.”
“Based on the foregoing, it is clear to me that the Committee did not exonerate Secretary Agra and he flunked the course because of cheating and not because of deficient academic performance,” said Sebastian.
The cheating story
Here’s how the cheating incident happened during the third quarter of 1988 when Agra was on his third year in law school, according to Sebastian:
“While I permitted the examinees to choose their seats (although the Ateneo then had a prescribed seat plan for each exam), unknown to them was that I took note of the actual seating arrangement.”
“Secretary Agra and his friends were seated side by side in a single row. Before correcting the answer sheets, I arranged them in accordance with the seat plan that I had taken. The exam was fairly short.”
“I required the students to liquidate two estates by identifying the heirs by name together with the amount which each of the heirs was entitled to receive. Since the answers involve simple arithmetic calculations, I did not require the students to explain their answers. The correct answers would demonstrate in no uncertain terms the examinee’s understanding of the subject matter.”
“As I corrected the answer sheets of Secretary Agra and his friends, I realized that they all gave identically wrong answers. The dictionary defines the word ‘identical’ to mean ‘exactly the same’… Each of them enumerated the heirs in the same sequence… Each of them allotted exactly the same wrong amounts to the heirs. By the phrase ‘exactly the same wrong amounts,’ I mean exactly the same wrong figures, down to the second decimal place.”
“While I am not a qualified statistician, common sense dictates the statistical improbability of this bizarre event. Had their answers been correct, I would have had no basis to suspect that they had cheated.”
“In the interest of fairness, I called Secretary Agra and his friends to explain to me this bizarre event. Their uniform explanation was that they reviewed for the examination together. The implication was that they collectively misunderstood or mis-appreciated the pertinent rules.”
“As I was not persuaded by the excuse, I asked them to submit to me their respective computation sheets so that I could understand how they each arrived at exactly the same wrong answers. Each of them uniformly claimed that they had disposed their computation sheets.”
“I then challenged each of them to answer the same exam questions again to determine whether or not in this second instance, they will each arrive at the same answers, whether right or wrong. They each declined the challenge.”
Reported to the dean
Convinced that cheating indeed took place, Sebastian said he “verbally” reported what had happened to then Ateneo Law School Dean Eduardo de los Angeles who “promptly” organized the committee to look into the incident.
“The Dean’s action clearly indicated that there was a reason to look into the matter otherwise he would have simply ignored my report,” said Sebastian.
But after the investigation was completed the following semester, Sebastian was “dismayed” because “despite the lame excuse proffered by the students, the committee exonerated all except Agra.”
In a phone interview with the PCIJ last Friday, De los Angeles said that he could no longer remember what had happened.
De los Angeles said he had asked the Ateneo to release the report made by the committee.
Had to defend self
The foregoing facts, according to Sebastian, prove that he “did not maliciously accuse (Agra) of cheating.”
“(I)t bothers me that Secretary Agra did not dispute the ruling of the Committee, given that all the other students involved in this controversy were exonerated. Was he the proverbial and willing sacrificial lamb?” said Sebastian.
Sebastian said that at first, he chose to keep quiet about the issue, but was compelled to tell the whole story after Agra, in response to PCIJ’s queries, said that the episode was the result of Sebastian’s “malicious” charge.
“For 22 years I kept quiet about this unpleasant episode,” wrote Sebastian to PCIJ. “I had initially declined to comment on this issue. But Secretary Agra’s unfounded charge that I maliciously accused him of cheating leaves me with no alternative but to defend myself.”
“I will not invoke my father’s honor to defend myself,” he said. “No one can accuse me of receiving money to falsely charge anyone of dishonesty, Secretary Agra included.”
That Agra has been working as a professor/lecturer at the Ateneo Law School since 1993 is not his concern, Sebastian said. “I respect Ateneo’s prerogative to choose the teachers that would educate and mold the character of its students.”
“Besides,” he added, “I have permanently relinquished my teaching position at the Ateneo in 1997.”
However, in light of Agra’s denial that he cheated in the exam, Sebastian challenged the Ateneo to opt for sunshine. “The best way to ascertain the truth is for the Ateneo Law School to release the Committee Report which had been kept secret for 22 years,” he said.
“This is the only way,” Sebastian added, “for us all to understand why Secretary Agra failed the course in Wills and Succession.”— PCIJ, May 2010