ROTC’s return

There seems to be a groundswell for the reintroduction of ROTC in colleges and universities. ROTC stands for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, a program that teaches basic military science and discipline to college and university students. Its graduates oftentimes join the police and the military and are preferred by maritime industry employers.

ROTC is no longer mandatory, but there was a time when it was, and no questions were asked. Perhaps because it served the times. But in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the world was at war, and anticipating that perilous period, General Douglas McArthur prepared a defense plan for our then Commonwealth country to implement the National Defense Act of 1935, which called for, among others, the training of college students to constitute either a reserve military force, or for commissioning in the officer corps of the Philippine Army.

The war that ensued validated the perception that the militaristic and disciplinarian teachings of the ROTC program were helpful. Many people from the different ROTC units of different schools joined the fighting units of the Philippine Army, as well as the US Army Forces in the Far East, and joined battles with them.

In all, these early ROTC trained men gave impressive evidence of the kind of persons they were, as some of them entered public service and succeeded, while some became respected heads of businesses, more so the ROTC program was thought to have been instrumental in molding boys into mature and intelligent men.

The ROTC program also held prestige and respectability. Until today, I hear from the elderly men about the heady attraction of marching and bearing the accoutrements of a cadet uniform and gear. From the women, I heard stories about them swooning when chosen as ladies of honor to escort cadets.

After the Second World War, the ROTC program fast became institutionalized as part of the school curriculum. Some schools which adapted the ROTC program, which by this time was also seen as leading to character building, were the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, Liceo de Manila and Colegio de San Juan de Letran, all of which had put up their own ROTC units.

Legislation after the National Defense Act of 1935 (otherwise known as Commonwealth Act 1), which further institutionalized the ROTC program included PD 1706, which president Ferdinand E. Marcos issued in 1980, RA 7077, which president Corazon C. Aquino signed into law in 1991, and RA 9163, which became effective under president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

However, due perhaps to the thinking that the imminent war was over, the ROTC program gradually sank into a mere option in the curriculum at colleges and universities. In 2001, this development was brought to a head when the infamous case of Mark Welson Chua happened.

Mark was then a student of UST whom the court had found to have been killed by his fellow ROTC officers after he exposed certain corruption and anomalies in the school’s ROTC unit. Immediately questions of how relevant ROTC was to the acquisition of a college education flew, and there were no satisfactory answers.

In January 2002, RA 9163 came out to address the clamor for change in the ROTC program. Known as the National Service Training Program Act, it made it obligatory for all male and female college students to undergo said program, one of whose components was ROTC training. But ROTC, as prerequisite to graduation, was scrapped.

Today, the clamor for change seems to be gelling toward the return of the ROTC program. The same sentiments behind the call for the return of Good Manners and Right Conduct subjects at school seem to be driving the call for the return of ROTC. If so, this is good development; it focuses on more discipline and value formation to mark the education of our citizens.

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