Did Secretary Agra cheat in an exam?
Guess who’s telling the truth!

Note from the PCIJ: What follows is the full text of the statement sent to the PCIJ on April 29, 2010 by Atty. Avelino Sebastian Jr., Wills and Succession class professor of Alberto C. Agra, a third-year law student at the Ateneo de Manila University School of Law in 1988.

WHEN  I was asked by PCIJ to comment on the allegation that Secretary Agra cheated in an exam that I gave in Law School, I declined the request for a number of reasons: (i) I thought that Secretary Agra and I had settled this issue back in 1993 when we talked about it; (ii) I thought that this regrettable episode has no bearing on the controversy that he now faces; (iii) I do not wish to be dragged into an unpleasant and adversarial discussion; and (iv) I thought it would be unfair to drag other people into this mess since they are not involved in the reputational disgrace which Secretary Agra recklessly inflicted upon himself. However, since he fired the opening salvo by stating that I “maliciously” charged him with cheating, I am constrained to respond to his accusation.

The Facts:

This unfortunate incident occurred in the final examinations in Wills and Succession which I gave sometime in the last quarter of 1988.  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”. To be precise: (i) Each of them enumerated the heirs in the same sequence. (ii) 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.

Contrary to the allegation of Secretary Agra, I did not accuse any of them of cheating. I, however, verbally reported the matter to Dean Eduardo de los Angeles who promptly organized a Committee to investigate the same. The Dean’s action clearly indicated that there was a reason to look into the matter otherwise he would have simply ignored my report.  The Committee asked me a single question: if the grades of these students were to be calculated based on my records, would anyone pass the course?  My answer was all (including Secretary Agra) would pass except one. Indeed, I submitted to the Committee the grades which I would have given these students, were it not for this bizarre event. The proceedings at the Committee level dragged on way past the deadline for the submission of grades.  Thus, I turned in my grading sheet and gave each of these students a failing grade based on existing rules. When the investigation was completed in the following semester, I was dismayed that despite the lame excuse proffered by the students, the Committee exonerated all except Secretary Agra. With the exception of the failing grade of Secretary Agra, the Committee reversed and unilaterally changed the failing grades that I gave to the other students. I understand that revised grades were those which I would have given were it not for the inexplicably uniform wrong answers to the final exam questions. I must stress that I was neither consulted on the matter of changing the grades, nor was I asked to sign the alterations in the grading sheet.  I can only assume that the Committee took it upon itself to change the grades that I had given. 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 were it not for what I considered to be a breach of exam regulations. I therefore cannot understand Secretary Agra’s contention that the Committee “exonerated (him) together with (his) other classmates.” I assume that it is for this reason that he claimed I maliciously accused him of cheating.  I can readily understand that the Committee exonerated his classmates because the Committee unilaterally reversed the failing grades that I gave these students.  But the fact is that the Committee affirmed the failing grade which I gave Secretary Agra.  Based on the foregoing, it is clear to me that: (i) the Committee did not exonerate Secretary Agra; and (ii) he flunked the course because of cheating and not because of deficient academic performance.  I therefore did not maliciously accuse him of cheating. Permit me to state that the Committee did not extend the courtesy of giving me a copy of its decision.  Consequently I cannot comment on the same. Nonetheless, it 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?

Concluding Statement:

For 22 years I kept quiet about this unpleasant episode. 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. No one can accuse me of receiving money to falsely charge anyone of dishonesty, Secretary Agra included. That Secretary Agra has been a professor/lecturer at the Ateneo Law School since 1993 is of no concern to me. I respect Ateneo’s prerogative to choose the teachers that would educate and mold the character of its students.  Besides, I have permanently relinquished my teaching position at the Ateneo in 1997.  Be that as it may, I am convinced that in the light of Secretary Agra’s denial that he cheated in the exam, 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. This is the only way for us all to understand why Secretary Agra failed the course in Wills and Succession.