A senator says patriotism is dying in the country because of the decline in the number of ROTC reservists. He and a House member have filed bills reviving ROTC as mandatory to college students. Student groups are once again in uproar saying that all that ROTC does is to produce “blind followers” and campus spies.
BY ZOFIA LEAL
Acting on student protests, Congress enacted four years ago a law that made the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) optional to college students and introduced the National Service Training Program (NSTP) under which students can either choose literacy training, civic welfare or ROTC. The non-military NSTP programs which also paved the way for teaching core values formation and dispensed with the military drills required under ROTC has since attracted more enrollees. Now it looks like the fight is not over and bills have been filed in Congress making ROTC once again as a required course.
It all began in 2001. That year, the campaign to abolish the ROTC gained momentum after two University of Santo Tomas (UST) students, Mark Welson Chua and Romulo Yumul, filed a complaint against the UST Department of Military Science and Tactics and the Department of National Defense (DND) for bribery and extortion.
Four months following the complaint, Chua’s body was found wrapped in a carpet floating in the Pasig River, Manila. His hands and feet were tied and his head was wrapped with cloth and duct tape. Based on the autopsy, he died of suffocation.
The suspects for his gruesome murder were four UST ROTC cadet officers: Michael Reinard Manangbao, Paul Joseph Tan, Arnulfo Aparri, Jr. and Eduardo Tabrilla. Tabrilla and Aparri are now in jail awaiting a death sentence; the other two are still at large.
Chua’s death triggered a public outrage prodding lawmakers to investigate the ROTC program and to push for its abolition. In its place, Republic Act 9163 or the NSTP Act was passed. Under the new law, students are given a choice between undergoing the ROTC, the Literacy Training Service (LTS), or the Civic Welfare Training Service (CWTS). LTS is a functional literacy program for out-of-school youth and adults. CWTS is a community service program which includes teaching core values, building houses for the poor and conducting medical missions.
This year bills are pending in the Senate and the House of Representatives that seek to make the ROTC mandatory again. These are Senate Bill 2224 sponsored by Sen. Alfredo Lim, a former police chief and Manila mayor, and House Bill 5460 sponsored by Rep. Eduardo Gullas. SB 2224 seeks to make the ROTC mandatory for both male and female students while HB 5460 seeks to make the ROTC compulsory for male students only.
Lim says that the introduction of CWTS and LTS programs led to a drastic decrease in the number of ROTC enrollees. When ROTC was still mandatory, there were 260,000 enrollees nationwide compared to the 80,000 when it became optional.
At the UST campus in Manila, the number of ROTC enrollees declined from 4,000 in 2002 to only 800-1,000 students in 2005.
The decrease in the number of ROTC reservists who, under the law, are deployable as junior officers in times of war, is affecting the country’s national security, proponents of the new bills say. In fact, Lim also added, patriotism is dying in the country.
Gullas, on the other hand, believes ROTC is the “most effective tool to develop the ethics of service, discipline and patriotism among the youth.”
Speaking for those who oppose the revival of the mandatory ROTC, the UST whistleblower, Yumul, said the proposal would reverse the gains of students in their fight against mandatory military training. The sacrifices of students who were victims of harassments and extortion, and those killed because of the program would be forgotten, he told Bulatlat.
Based on the nation’s history, Yumul says, national security cannot be ensured by mandatory military training alone. He said that during the Second World War, peasants who had no prior military training comprised the Hukbong Mapagpalaya Laban sa Hapon (HukBaLaHap or People’s Liberation Army against Japanese Occupation) and did most of the fighting against the Japanese imperial army. On the other hand, the Philippine Constabulary (PC), the precursor of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was instrumental in suppressing patriotic movements ever since the American occupation, Yumul added.
Suppressing patriotism and freedom
“The ROTC program is not really teaching the students to be patriotic but teaching them to be blind followers and passive servants,” Yumul explans. The AFP has no right to continue the ROTC program given the spate of political killings today. The No. 1 human rights violator should not be allowed to infiltrate schools and teach students. Even the international community condemns the human rights violations committed by the AFP. If there is one thing that needs to be done, that is to fully abolish the ROTC because it interferes with academic freedom. The ROTC is being used to harass progressive groups that are critical of Arroyo’s regime.”
In UST, a student, who asked not to be named, said that he was harassed and questioned by his fellow ROTC cadets about his membership with Anakbayan (Sons and Daughters of the People), a progressive youth group. While they were on military drills, he said, several officers separated him from the group and grilled him about his involvement with Anakbayan. They then ordered him to buy water for them. When he returned the officers asked if he put poison into the water.
Yumul said the ROTC is also a base for recruiting members of the Student Intelligence Network (SIN) that monitors progressive organizations inside schools. He added that during orientations of the ROTC program, legal and democratic organizations are being tagged as terrorist groups.
Students against the bills seeking to make ROTC compulsory fear that once enacted, it will not be long before another student will have to risk his or her life to expose the ills of an AFP-ran ROTC program. (Bulatlat.com)