Flexible concept of due process

U.S. courts have uniformly viewed that “due process” is a flexible concept, requiring consideration in each case of a variety of circumstances and calling for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands (Wimmer v. Lehman, 705 F.2d 1402, 1983). Hagopian v. Knowlton (470 F.2d 201, 1972) gave the following opinion:
In approaching the question of what process is due before governmental action adversely affecting private interests may properly be taken, it must be recognized that due process is not a rigid formula or simple rule of thumb to be applied undeviatingly to any given set of facts. On the contrary, it is a flexible concept which depends upon the balancing of various factors, including the nature of the private right or interest that is threatened, the extent to which the proceeding is adversarial in character, the severity and consequences of any action that might be taken, the burden that would be imposed by requiring use of all or part of the full panoply of trial-type procedures, and the existence of other overriding interests, such as the necessity for prompt action in the conduct of crucial military operations. The full context must therefore be considered in each case.
Wasson v. Trowbridge, 382 F.2d 807, which was cited by Hagopian, broadly outlined the minimum standards of due process required in the dismissal of a cadet. Thus:
[W]hen the government affects the private interests of individuals, it may not proceed arbitrarily but must observe due process of law. x x x Nevertheless, the flexibility which is inherent in the concept of due process of law precludes the dogmatic application of specific rules developed in one context to entirely distinct forms of government action. "For, though 'due process of law' generally implies and includes actor, reus, judex, regular allegations, opportunity to answer, and a trial according to some settled course of judicial proceedings, * * * yet, this is not universally true." x x x Thus, to determine in any given case what procedures due process requires, the court must carefully determine and balance the nature of the private interest affected and of the government interest involved, taking account of history and the precise circumstances surrounding the case at hand.

While the government must always have a legitimate concern with the subject matter before it may validly affect private interests, in particularly vital and sensitive areas of government concern such as national security and military affairs, the private interest must yield to a greater degree to the governmental. x x x Few decisions properly rest so exclusively within the discretion of the appropriate government officials than the selection, training, discipline and dismissal of the future officers of the military and Merchant Marine. Instilling and maintaining discipline and morale in these young men who will be required to bear weighty responsibility in the face of adversity -- at times extreme -- is a matter of substantial national importance scarcely within the competence of the judiciary. And it cannot be doubted that because of these factors historically the military has been permitted greater freedom to fashion its disciplinary procedures than the civilian authorities.

We conclude, therefore, that due process only requires for the dismissal of a Cadet from the Merchant Marine Academy that he be given a fair hearing at which he is apprised of the charges against him and permitted a defense. x x x For the guidance of the parties x x x the rudiments of a fair hearing in broad outline are plain. The Cadet must be apprised of the specific charges against him. He must be given an adequate opportunity to present his defense both from the point of view of time and the use of witnesses and other evidence. We do not suggest, however, that the Cadet must be given this opportunity both when demerits are awarded and when dismissal is considered. The hearing may be procedurally informal and need not be adversarial.
In Andrews v. Knowlton, 509 F.2d 898 (1975), the U.S. Court of Appeals held that Wasson and Hagopian are equally controlling in cases where cadets were separated from the military academy for violation of the Honor Code. Following the two previous cases, it was ruled that in order to be proper and immune from constitutional infirmity, a cadet who is sought to be dismissed or separated from the academy must be afforded a hearing, be apprised of the specific charges against him, and be given an adequate opportunity to present his or her defense both from the point of view of time and the use of witnesses and other evidence. (Andrews v. Knowlton) Conspicuously, these vital conditions are not too far from what has already been set in Guzman v. National University (226 Phil. 596, 603-604) and the subsequent rulings in Alcuaz v. Philippine School of Business Administration (244 Phil. 8) and De La Salle University, Inc. v. Court of Appeals (565 Phil. 330, 361).

In the case of Cudia v. PMA Superintendent (G.R. No. 211362, February 24, 2015), the investigation of Cadet 1CL Cudia’s Honor Code violation followed the prescribed procedure and existing practices in the PMA. He was notified of the Honor Report from Maj. Hindang. 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 Honor Committee (HC) Chairman.

Thereafter, the HC 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 Staff Judge Advocate (SJA), to the Commandant of Cadets, and to the PMA Superintendent. A separate investigation was also conducted by the HTG. Then, upon the directive of the AFP-GHQ to reinvestigate the case, a review was conducted by the Cadet Review and Appeals Board (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.

It is well settled that by reason of their special knowledge and expertise gained from the handling of specific matters falling under their respective jurisdictions, the factual findings of administrative tribunals are ordinarily accorded respect if not finality by the courts, unless such findings are not supported by evidence or vitiated by fraud, imposition or collusion; where the procedure which led to the findings is irregular; when palpable errors are committed; or when a grave abuse of discretion, arbitrariness, or capriciousness is manifest. (Alcuaz v. Philippine School of Business Administration, supra)

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