The Association of General and Flag Officers Inc. (AGFO), an organization of active and retired generals and flag officers, seeks to bring back the mandatory military training or the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) Program to all colleges and universities in the country.
ROTC is good for our country for it provides students service-orientation and furthermore, inculcate a sense patriotism for our country, and service as well,” says Retired Gen. Carlos Holganza, former major general of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and a member of AGFO. “Martial atmosphere will give more discipline,” he adds.
The ROTC of the Philippines is a program intended for college students, to prepare them for national defense, and to train them with leadership skills, and the basics of military services in order to produce capable Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reservists.
History of ROTC
The concept of the program originated from the United States of America in 1862 where it first established ROTC as an elective for college students. Some years after, several allies of the USA, including the Philippines, adopted and implemented the same exact program to their respective countries.
The first ROTC unit in the Philippines was established in the year 1922 at the University of the Philippines. Subsequently, the National University, Ateneo de Manila, Liceo de Manila, and Colegio de San Juan de Letran formed their respective ROTC units.
To provide legal basis for the conduct of ROTC instruction, the Commonwealth Act No. 1 or commonly known as the National Defense Act was formulated and issued as an executive order (EO). The EO states that “at such colleges and universities as the President may designate, there shall be established and maintained Reserve Officers Training Corps units of such arm and service as he shall specify, where every physically fit student shall be required to pursue a course of military instruction . . .”
Due to the aforementioned EO, the ROTC program was made mandatory to all universities and colleges, wherein the estimated 100 students were to fill the insufficient required number of reserved officers in the Philippine Army.
Meanwhile, in accordance to the EO, De La Salle University-Manila ROTC Unit was also established in 1936, but it was formally organized and re-designated only in 1952.
DLSU’s ROTC in World War II
The ROTC cadets from the 33 colleges and universities who have active units took part and were first seen in action during the Second World War. Cadets from different Metro Manila units took part in the defense of Bataan, while in the Visayas, 45 percent of the 75th Infantry Regiment of the US Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) were ROTC cadets of Silliman University.
In DLSU, the first graduates of the ROTC program formed a part of the reservist forces too and during the Japanese invasion, many were massacred, including civilian families and 16 Christian Brothers in 1945.
After the war, several other EO’s by the succeeding presidents were implemented to strengthen the said program.
Abolition of mandatory ROTC
Several years after, several students, teachers and politicians questioned the significance of having a mandatory ROTC program, even the issue on competence of its training staff and the corruption that often plagued the units also aroused. Bills, resolutions and press statements expressing the intention of the lawmakers and people to abolish the mandatory program started to stimulate in the country.
Not long after, the death of a member of the ROTC unit’s intelligence monitoring team of the University of Santo Tomas in 2001 triggered the proposal to abolish the program. His death is widely believed to be linked to the exposé of alleged corruption and irregularities in the ROTC unit of the UST.
The congress responded immediately after the incident, and in 2002, Republic Act 9163, or the National Service Training Program (NSTP), was signed as an answer to the clamor for changes in the program. It removed the program as a compulsory prerequisite for graduation for all male college students, and substituted it with NSTP. Furthermore, females were no longer exempted from national service; accomplishment of the NSTP was now mandatory for both genders.
In NSTP, college students are required to choose and complete at least one of its three components in order to graduate. Three options were given: the ROTC program, which provides military training; Literacy Training Service, which provides training on teaching basic reading and math; and Civic Welfare Training Service (CWTS), which involves students in activities contributing to community welfare, such as caring for the environment, public safety, health, sports, and entrepreneurship.
The implementation of the program started last 2002 and is still being followed today. But in several universities like DLSU, there are only two options given, the ROTC program and CWTS, which are taken for two terms.
Sufficiency of duration
The ROTC program of DLSU as it is today lasts from the 2nd term to the 3rd term every academic year, spanning roughly six months– a period shorter compared to other universities such as the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of Santo Tomas who conduct theirs for the entirety of an academic year. This is in accordance to Section 5 of Republic Act 9163 which stipulates that any NSTP program to be taken would be only for the duration of two semesters.
Jaimie Lou Sarmiento (V, AB-ISJ), former Corps Commander of the 247th DLSU ROTC Unit, says that the shorter training scheme is initially attractive to students, but adds that they would prefer to have it longer when nearing the end. She admits that there are cons to the insufficient time, especially since it could be enjoyed and appreciated further.
She sees this arrangement as an advantage, on the other hand, since it makes students learn to appreciate the “military training” in a shorter amount of time. Due to this, students would opt to become a cadet officer in order to lengthen their ROTC experience. “Should they feel that the experience is still inadequate, they could join the unit as “cadet officers” which makes the cadet officership training more attractive to students who want to experience more and stay longer as part of the ROTC unit,” she elaborates.
Jemela Joyce Solon (V, BSBA-EM), former cadet officer in the ROTC, believes that two terms is sufficient, and sees it as an advantage since it makes the students and facilitators feel pressed for time when discussing, giving them a greater sense of urgency to prioritize lectures. She does, however, acknowledge the drawbacks such as missing certain topics to focus on more important ones.
Alexander Mikhail Pama (V, PSM-MMG), another former cadet officer, acknowledges that having only two terms of ROTC is a disadvantage for DLSU students since other universities and colleges have a whole school year to prepare for the competition held March every year, but stresses that it is not a major problem. He also recalls how back in his freshman year, their ROTC lasted for the whole year. “Upon enrolling for school on our first year, we are already given the choice to join ROTC or CWTS. Now there is a lecture that first year [students] must take before choosing an NSTP… such [a] lecture is non-existent in other schools,” he says.
On possible conscription
Sarmiento agrees on having mandatory ROTC in schools again, but adds that the government should first look into the curriculum to be used. “Just like our ROTC curriculum, other ROTC units should implement changes that will make the students’ training holistic, values-oriented and appropriate for social awareness and character growth especially that of the youth,” she explains.
Solon also believes that a well thought of curriculum should be made before conscription is made. Since mandatory ROTC before was replaced by the NSTP Law, she elucidates that it may indicate that there are flaws in the previous system, stressing that further changes be first made.
Pama, meanwhile, welcomes the idea that of having mandatory ROTC. He recounts his experiences as a cadet, initially considering ROTC as nothing more than a graduation requirement, but eventually realizing its importance. “During my years as a cadet and the succeeding 3 years as an officer, I have been taught numerous and valuable skills that can help survive in the outside world. Among them is discipline… I [had] also learned something that is very valuable for a Filipino – Nationalism,” he shares. He stresses that having these core values is important nowadays, especially with the nation’s tensions with China.
Clearing things out
Philippine Star reported that the proposal came upon after the recent developments showing AFP has limited capability to protect the Philippines’ sovereignty. Ret. Gen. Holganza believes this to be a mistake and exaggeration.
“AFP should not be taken into that context, the proposal is about what it can do to students, inculcating pride, patriotism and others,” he explains. “It’s not about what AFP can get out of the students,” he adds.
He also mentions that the mandatory ROTC is trying to say that the AFP could have help from reservists who can provide a lot of assistance like humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, he discussed that the oppositionists of the proposal should not focus on the traditional enemies, but more on the future enemies like the effects of global warming.
Meanwhile, Ret. Gen. Holganza emphasized that for mandatory ROTC be able to function well, the AFP must be able to provide a professional standard in carrying out the program in order to eliminate incidents of corruption.
“If puro ungas at bobong AFP ang hahawak sa ROTC like before, there would be no good products, for no one will learn from bad experiences,” [If incompetent AFP officers will handle ROTC, which actually happened before, there would be no good products for no one will learn from bad experiences.] says Ret. Gen. Holganza. “The program is good and beneficial, but still we need good men. For it wouldn’t be that good without good people manning it,” he ends.