POSTSCRIPT / August 27 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

Share This

Bring back ROTC, but reform it first

WITH the region bristling with flash points that could trigger hostilities anytime, we should resolve quickly the debate over a proposal to make Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) mandatory for grade 11 and 12 students.

Will we be still locked in public hearings by the time missiles are already flying and foreign workers here reappear in militia garb toting guns? Let us not delay training a citizens’ army as demanded by the delicate situation — and as mandated by the Constitution.

Those who had gone through ROTC but failed to learn its valuable lessons can help reform the system and improve its field training by making suggestions based on their sad experience.

Around four million students can take ROTC at any one time. If we are able to mold even just one model citizen-soldier out of every four trainees, that is good enough for a start. On a parallel line, another program for out-of-school youth could complement ROTC.

(But let us guard against the training possibly being hijacked. Watch out for any recruitment of the more vulnerable youngsters for a kind of auxiliary corps similar to Hitler’s or somebody’s youth camp followers.)

The estimated cost in one school year of ROTC for four million students is P16 billion at P4,000 each. This burden should not be passed on to the students or their parents, who are already saddled with dizzying expenses.

In the higher grades and in college, the greater pressure on many students is not academics but economics. Some of them go to school on an empty stomach, and a mind bedeviled by anxiety over the bill for board and lodging, books and related materials.

To reiterate some of my thoughts on the value of ROTC, let me cull from my Postscript of May 14, 2017, on the subject:

God forbid, but if war breaks out, how will our under-equipped 310,000+ soldiers and policemen, reinforced by our token air force and navy, defend the country against invaders?

A force-multiplier would be a citizens’ army or a reservist system envisioned in Article II, Section 4, which says: “The Government may call upon the people to defend the State and… all citizens may be required, under conditions provided by law, to render personal, military or civil service.”

In a sudden national mobilization, do we simply gather all able-bodied men and hand them rifles and bullets (assuming we have enough to pass around) and attach them to regular military units after a hurried pep talk?

Sorry for that rather crude characterization of a hypothetical emergency, but what else are we prepared to do quickly – considering that the enemy is already within the walls aided by traitors?

• What ROTC has taught me

NO longer mandatory, ROTC is now one of three options under the National Service Training Program. The other options are civic welfare training service and literacy training service.

President Duterte said the scrapping of ROTC because of cases of fatal hazing and some anomalies was “very shortsighted.” Students should go back to ROTC, he added, and at least learn how to handle weapons in the defense of the country.

Before we find ourselves embroiled in a shooting war, we should restore quickly the mandatory military training of qualified youths and the conscription of physically fit out-of-school citizens.

After the basic ROTC in grade 11-12, those who want to pursue a commission in the armed forces can stay for another two years of advance training or apply later for lateral entry as a qualified professional.

This reminds us to ask what ever happened to the Army Reserve Command whose mission is to “maintain, administer, develop, train, and organize reservist units to help enhance national security and development”?

For the skeptics, let us recall that after the Philippines fell to Japanese invaders in May 1942, guerrilla bands sprang up all over the islands to continue the resistance. Among them were surviving Filipino-American units, local armed groups, and the “Hunters ROTC” consisting of undergraduate cadets.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, seeing how the guerrillas fought Japanese occupation forces until he returned in October 1944 to liberate the islands, was so impressed by their grit and gallantry that he declared: “Give me ten thousand Filipinos and I shall conquer the world!”

In advocating the return of mandatory ROTC training for qualified youths, I speak from personal experience. I know how it helps mold one’s body, mind and character.

My being an ROTC cadet officer was one of the two major extracurricular influences in my life on the Diliman campus, the other one being the enriching of my faith as member of UPSCA (UP Student Catholic Action).

Some of the qualities that ROTC cultivates among serious trainees are Discipline and Loyalty, which can refine a person’s character and define his role as a member of a team, as a citizen of this nation.

Day in and day out, Elbert Hubbard’s “Loyalty” (“If you work for a man, in heaven’s name work for him.…”) greeted us at the entrance of the DMST building (where we also had our quarters) in front of which we fell into formation early mornings, except on weekends, for inspection and exercise.

Such tedious drills as snappily obeying commands to “march” or “halt” prepared one for life-and-death tests. Imagine what would happen if a soldier in a combat situation has to debate first with himself whether or not to obey an order of his squad leader!

One of the important things that ROTC taught me is the handling of firearms, particularly on gun safety and marksmanship. Thanks to that training, as reporter of the pre-martial rule Manila Times I won some medals for precision shooting in inter-media competitions.

Does ROTC teach love of country? Not pedagogically. Patriotism is imbibed. It is absorbed as naturally as the heat of the sun at drill time, as forcefully as the reek of gunpowder at the firing range, as imperiously as the reveille bugle call at daybreak.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 27, 2019)

Share your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published.