"Ensure the integrity of course commandants, the relevance of the subjects to be taught, and the quality of teaching."
President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest bright idea is the revival of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), a military training program for civilians that has been implemented on and off through the years.
The ROTC was once mandatory for male students in college; none of them would be allowed to graduate without having completed the course. In 2002, Republic Act No. 9163 or the compulsory National Service Training Program (NSTP) Act allowed college students, both men and women, to choose among ROTC, Literacy Training Service, and Civil Welfare Training Service.
In order, he says, to “instill patriotism, love of country among our youth,” the President supports the passage of a law that would make ROTC mandatory for Grade 11 and 12 students (senior high school).
There are two such bills pending in Congress: Senate Bill No. 189 filed in 2016 by Senator Manny Pacquiao, and House Bill No. 5113 authored by House Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu.
Duterte’s appeal to resurrect mandatory ROTC falls flat, however, the face of his own declaration that he got out of ROTC back in his day by faking illness. He bribed a tuberculosis patient to sell him his X-rays and showed those to school personnel at the Lyceum of the Philippines, where he was an undergraduate taking political science.
If he tried out to get out of ROTC because he did not want to be yelled at (“Ayaw ko talaga magmilitar, ayaw ko nga ‘yan sigaw-sigawan ako,
” he told diplomats in July 2017), he does not have the moral high ground to compel others to take it.
But let’s set that aside and look at the pros and cons. What is being discussed here is military training for civilians. There are 28 countries that require not just training but actual military service for a certain period of time, among them Israel, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and Thailand. Other countries allow voluntary service, selective conscription and so on.
In this light, training doesn’t seem so bad. A couple of decades ago there was, in addition to ROTC, Citizens Army Training in high school, which has since been discontinued. There are also the Boy and Girl Scouts in elementary. Some who went through those say they learned important skills; others say they were just baked in the sun and it was all a waste of time.
The training, if done properly and well, could be valuable and helpful. My eldest daughter chose ROTC for her NSTP and learned navigation, map reading, weapons handling, and first aid, skills she did not know before and likely would not have learned if not for her ROTC stint. She learned discipline, from waking up early to obeying commands of superior officers without question. Overall, she says she benefited from the program as run by the university she attended.
In contrast, ROTC back in the day was marred by corruption. Students could pay off their commandants to pass the course and skip all the marching in hot uniforms. Nothing much was taught either other than field-stripping antique Garands and Springfields and drilling. If the Armed Forces of the Philippines back then needed people to do fancy marching, they had those in the thousands. Actual trained combatants, not much.
If mandatory ROTC is revived, ensure the integrity of course commandants, the relevance of the subjects to be taught, and the quality of teaching. Otherwise it will be a waste of time and resources and students will once again come up with ingenious ways of getting out of it, as Duterte did.
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