Opinion Opinion Feature

Stand your ground

Recently, the news of mandatory ROTC or Reserve Officers’ Training Corps made rounds on social media. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives on May 20; however, the Senate’s version of the bill is still pending. The controversial bill would make military training under ROTC mandatory for all senior high school students in Grades 11 and 12.

Those who are against mandatory ROTC cite the murder of University of Santo Tomas (UST) student Mark Welson Chua, whose body was found floating in the Pasig River on March 18, 2001 after he exposed the corruption that existed in the UST ROTC program then.  Republic Act 9163 or the National Service Training Program (NSTP) Law was passed because of the strong backlash against the murder of Chua. NSTP has three components, namely, the ROTC, the Civic Welfare Training Service (CWTS), and the Literacy Training Service (LTS); and it was created to address the alleged corruption and violence that was plaguing the ROTC program. To this day, the stigma against ROTC remains.

As a student with an ID number that begins with 115, my batch of frosh did not get the option to choose ROTC for NSTP. Our choices were limited to CWTS and LTS. However, if I were being completely honest, I would not have chosen ROTC even if the option was open to us. As someone who had to undergo Citizen Army Training (CAT) in my senior year in high school, I knew that I personally am not mentally or physically suited for the training that ROTC cadets undergo. I questioned my CAT superiors, I couldn’t wrap my head around the purpose of the entire endeavor, and I could barely complete the physical training.

In short, I was probably one of the worst cadets to have ever put on that uniform—and I freely admit to it. While CAT and ROTC aren’t quite the same thing, I know myself well enough that if I were forced to join the ROTC program that I would dread every moment of it. And it appears that even President Duterte, who is vocal with his support for the bill, was not able to complete his ROTC training either. A Rappler article published in 2017 mentions that the President claimed he skipped ROTC by submitting false medical documents that “proved” that he was physically unable to take the program.

What I find off-putting is how they are trying to make it mandatory now when not everyone is capable of adapting to the program. If consenting adults choose ROTC for their NSTP then that is their prerogative; however, if the bill were passed it would effectively take away the ability of senior high school students to consent and choose how they perform their “civic duty”. Senator Risa Hontiveros recently argued that making ROTC mandatory for these minors will violate the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a protocol which the Philippines is a party of.

I do not mean to discount the program entirely as there are those who truly enjoy and appreciate the program for what it is. There are those who flourish under the program and excel under the strict training. There are many dedicated student officers who disprove the stigma that all members of the ROTC program are corrupt. But then that does not mean that dispelling negative stereotypes is all they have to do to make the program better. They must take more active measures and precautions to ensure that corruption, power-tripping, and hazing would not endanger the safety and lives of students—especially, the safety and lives of minors.

While I was educating myself on the topic, I came across an article published online by the Philippine News Agency that argued that the other two components of NSTP failed to develop “patriotism, nationalism, [and] character-building” in the youth—attributes that mandatory ROTC seeks to instill in the Filipino youth. To that I vehemently disagree, I do not believe that mandatory ROTC is the only or best way to develop these qualities.

Moreover, isn’t it hypocritical that the government wants to encourage patriotism and nationalism in the youth, but at the same time the Supreme Court ruled that Filipino and Panitikan or Philippine Literature will no longer be mandatory or core subjects in college? If they truly wanted to develop “nationalism” or “patriotism”—both of which have different connotations but are generally understood to mean loving one’s nation or country—shouldn’t teaching the country’s national language and its literature be one of its priorities?

Even removing nationalism and patriotism from the conversation, it would be a shame if future generations of students are denied the opportunity to learn more about our languages and explore the beauty that is our literature during their college education, and instead are forced to undergo such rigorous military instillment of values.

I am uncertain about a lot of things, but I can say with no hint of doubt in me that learning more about our country’s history, culture, and literature made me love it more than forced military training ever could.

Denise Nicole Uy

By Denise Nicole Uy

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