“There are better solutions for greater youth involvement in nation-building, ones which do not subscribe to the militarist approach of the ROTC.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — “ROTC is not the way to go.”
This is what Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said in reaction to President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to revive the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program for all college students next school year.
On Aug. 3, Elago filed House Bill 2399 or the “ROTC Abolition Act of 2016,” as a counter-measure to Malacañang’s plan, and instead proposes an expanded community service program for students.
In a CNN report, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the President “personally backed the revival of the ROTC program.” He said the ROTC will be “able to help build a sense of patriotism” and “build discipline and values” among the youth.
“We do not subscribe to the notion that ROTC could instill discipline and love of country, given its violent and mired history,” Elago said in a news conference on Aug. 3. She said the program should actually be abolished.
Why ROTC should be abolished
In its explanatory note, Elago listed reasons why ROTC should be abolished:
• Although the people are duty-bound to defend the state in accordance with the Constitution, providing military training is not the responsibility of civilian schools;
• Using campuses for military training and barracks is inconsistent with International Humanitarian Law and other treaties that restrict the use of schools for military purposes; It is also goes against Republic Act 7610, or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, which states that schools, hospitals, and rural health units shall not be used for military purposes;
• ROTC fosters a “militarist culture,” the culture of violence and human rights violation,” which goes against academic freedom.
• ROTC engendered corrupt practices, in which cadets give officers cash and other favors, in exchange for getting passing grades or being spared from tortuous physical activities.
• The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reportedly uses the ROTC program as part of its counter-insurgency campaign, even established the Student Intelligence Network (SIN) to monitor organizations, fraternities, student councils and school publications critical of government policies.
“In many ROTC lectures, soldier-instructors tagged student activist groups as affiliated with the New People’s Army, thereby justifying state-sanctioned acts of terror against dissenters,” she said.
Remember Mark Chua
Anakbayan chairperson Vencer Crisostomo also criticized ROTC, saying it “never instilled nationalism, social responsibility, or discipline. It is a training ground for fascist repression and corruption.”
Crisostomo cited the case of the University of Santo Tomas student, Mark Chua who was brutally murdered in 2001.
A Bulatlat report said Chua, together with Romulo Yumul, also a UST student, filed a complaint against the UST Department of Military Science and Tactics and the Department of National Defense (DND) for bribery and extortion. After four months, Chua was found dead, his body was 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 report read.
“Let us not forget the memory of UST student Mark Wilson Chua who was brutally murdered because of his brave exposition of corruption in the UST Corps. His death became the spark that led to massive street protests for the stopping of mandatory ROTC,” said Crisostomo.
As a result, Congress enacted Republic Act 9163 on Jan. 23, 2002, that made ROTC optional and institutionalized the National Service Training Program (NSTP).
Still, rampant violence and abuse of students continue under ROTC, Crisostomo said.
Crisostomo cited a viral video in July which showed ROTC cadets from the University of Mindanao-Tagum who were repeatedly hit on their chest and stomach by ROTC officials. A similar case happened at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in January 2014, when two female cadets complained that they were hit by ROTC officials with half-inch wooden sticks and wooden rifles, which caused severe bruises on their palms and thighs.
He said the program is also used by active duty officers to order cadets to conduct military surveillance on activists in various schools, adding that this will get worse if ROTC is made mandatory.
“President Duterte, you claim to be a socialist. But ROTC is outrightly fascist, and just adds another layer of oppression on the youth and people. If you are truly for the oppressed, we challenge you to stop listening to the generals and rightwing nuts in your midst,” Crisostomo said.
Upgrade National Service Training Program
The HB 2399 proposed to include new programs under the NSTP, such as comprehensive community service, community-based health and nutrition program, community immersion, disaster preparedness, ecological services, and human rights education.
These programs, said Elago would “raise the students’ socio-political consciousness, and enable them to actively participate in the urgent task of understanding and addressing the basic ills of society.”
National Union of Students of the Philippines spokesperson Kevin Castro said the proposed expansion of NSTP is a better way to instill nationalism.
“It is also a way of producing purposeful and instrumentally-motivated citizens which could break barriers of social apathy and inequality, leading the youth to be an effective part of national development,” Castro added.
While Elago agrees that that there is a need to instill nationalism to the youth, however, she said, “imposing compulsory ROTC is not the way to go.”