Why we need to revive ROTC

Two decades since the Reserved Officers Training Corps, or more popularly known as ROTC, was made optional, Filipinos are still divided on its return, more so, finding a middle ground that would satisfy a polarized nation.

While the government has seriously and consistently pushed for its revival and the military supports the move, some parents and even college students do not seem to agree. They keep asking why we have to make military service training mandatory again.

A reading of the pros and cons of the issue would show that those against its revival do not understand why it needs a comeback.

Anywhere in the world, people look up to military culture for discipline and responsibility. The more progressive and developed nations like the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom have been very aggressive in harnessing citizen assets, particularly young people, for military training.

ROTC in the Philippines began in 1912 when the Philippine Constabulary commenced with military instruction at the University of the Philippines. When President Manuel L. Quezon issued Executive Order (EO) 207 in 1939, it made ROTC obligatory at all colleges and universities

On 8 February 1967, President Ferdinand Marcos rescinded the 1939 EO, promulgating EO 59 in its place. This EO made ROTC mandatory at all colleges, universities, and other institutions with an enrollment of 250 male students and greater. He also issued Presidential Decree 1706, otherwise known as the National Service Law, making national service obligatory for all Filipino citizens, and specified three categories of national service: Civic welfare service, law enforcement service and military service.

We were among those who experienced what it is like to be under military service training. Despite the rigors of the program, we found ourselves looking forward to Saturdays when we join the drills, parade, formations and manual of arms during the once-a-week training. We were excited, too, about dismantling firearms, like the M1 more commonly known as the Garand. Of course, there were also activities like cutting grass and community service.

When Mark Welson Chua, a student of the University of Santo Tomas, was found dead floating in the Pasig River in 2001 after exposing corruption in his school’s ROTC unit, the incident triggered an explosion of anti-ROTC sentiment that paved the way for the passage of Republic Act 9163, otherwise known as the National Service Training Program (NSTP) the following year.

The program allowed college students to choose between ROTC, Literacy Training Service and Civil Welfare Training Service as part of their required NSTP. In short, ROTC had become optional.

In 2019, however, President Duterte certified the urgency of Senate Bill 2232, which mandated basic ROTC for Grade 11 and 12 students. He said that it would invigorate a “sense of nationalism and patriotism” back into the curriculum.

In his recent State of the Nation Address, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. urged Congress to prioritize passing legislation making ROTC mandatory for senior high school students in public and private tertiary schools. He said it is meant to set good and clear objectives, which are to motivate, train, organize and mobilize students for national defense preparedness, including disaster preparedness and capacity building for risk-related situations.

Critics argue that we do not need mandatory ROTC because we are not currently facing an external threat to national defense and security. Let us bear in mind, however, that its objective is preparedness. We must remember that our country is among the top most vulnerable countries in the world to natural disasters and climate impacts, and it is always best to be prepared.

Those in favor of reverting back to mandatory service argue that it is more than just military training. It also provides benefits that go far beyond the required activities. Participants are given an opportunity to give back to the community through clean-up drives, tree planting activities, bloodletting operations, and other similar activities. In short, they are given a chance to demonstrate their desire to make a positive and proactive change in the community.

We do not need a war to see the importance of this mandatory service. What naysayers have seen was the abuse. They forgot that there are still far more valuable components of the program — patriotism, nationalism and character building.

e-mail: mannyangeles27@gmail.com

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