Military training among students has never been the key to instilling excellence and nationalism. Even the highly-regarded national hero Jose Rizal, who was known for his courage and commitment to the country, did not undergo military service. The heart of a patriot intrinsically goes for the masses as they become exposed to society. It cannot be induced through enforcement to point rifles at people.
Yet, the current Marcos-Duterte administration pushes for the restoration of the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) with the projected full implementation in the next five years. It seeks to promote patriotism and leadership among youth while producing military reservists for the country; however, history has already proven the ugly truth behind the program.
The ROTC in the country was first formed to defend sovereignty during the onslaught of colonization. It was later adopted by various universities and organizations until abolished after the death of Mark Welson Chua in 2001. Chua was a University of Santo Tomas student cadet killed for his exposé on corruption and irregularities in the military training program.
Years of resistance
Violence and corruption have decayed the core of ROTC. The politically-motivated killing of Chua did not end there, as students experienced continuous harassment from campus militarization. Progressive groups and youth have long fought and condemned the weaponization of ROTC among students.
Kirchoff Angala, President of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Sentral na Konseho ng Mag-aaral, averred that government agencies are the perpetrators to be helld accountable over impunity and violence in ROTC.
“Historically speaking, matagal na nating tinututulan ‘yung mandatory ROTC and mandatory military training per se sa loob ng mga paaralan, given its long history of impunity and violence, ini-inculcate ng mga nagpapalakad dito, which is institutions like AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police),” Angala said.
Despite the students’ consistent demand to stop the revival of mandatory ROTC, University of the Philippines Diliman Student Council Councilor Neo Aison said that the government snubbed their calls and hastened the undertaking process of campus militarization.
“Ngayon d’on natin nakikita na hayok na hayok yung estado natin na i-militarisa ang ating mga campus. Campus Militarization kung tawagin. Kaya kahit dalawang taon na namin pinapanawagan, hindi talaga pinapakinggan ng Senado ito dahil nasa interes nila na hindi pakinggan ang aming panawagan,” Aison remarked.
NCSTP vs. MROTC
Last December 2022, the House of Representatives approved House Bill No. 6687, or the National Citizens Service Training Program (NCSTP), on its third and final reading. The said bill mandates tertiary education students to undergo a two-year comprehensive military training, leaving ROTC as an option.
Critics recognized the bill as ‘ROTC in disguise’ since it follows the same design as mandatory ROTC and imposes the same consequences on students. Angala stated that the NCSTP bill is just a facade that allows the state forces to penetrate the campus grounds.
“Binabanggit nila na comprehensive daw siya na program kumpara sa NSTP (National Service Training Program) dahil sasailalim tayo sa program ng LTS (Literary Training Service), sa program ng CWTS (Civic Welfare Training Service), program ng ROTC—ng military training; pero sa aktwal, pinapadulas lamang ng estado yung pagkakaroon ng sapilitan na military training sa hanay ng mga kabataan sa itsura ng NCSTP bill,” Angala said.
Aison also reiterated that students do not need military training service to achieve the supposed goals of the bill. He further stressed that the bill overlooks the grounds for abolition that the mandatory ROTC had before.
“Ngayong nandito na siya sa Senado, lantaran na. Sinasabi ni [Sen.] Bato na mandatory ROTC ito. Na kailangan dumaan sa military service training lahat ng mga estudyante dahil ito raw ang magpupunla sa atin ng nationalism, ng service orientedness; na hindi naman natin kailangan. Alam nating nagagawa na ng mga kabataang estudyante ang paglilingkod kahit walang NCSTP bill. Kahit walang Mandatory ROTC,” Aison claimed.
“At hindi nito kinikilala kung bakit ba tinanggal ang Mandatory ROTC in the first place—ng kaso ni Mark Welson Chua. So doon pa lamang, nakikita natin, ang NCSTP at Mandatory ROTC iisa lang ‘yan na pinapasa nila sa Senado at pinasa na nila doon sa House of Representatives noon pa,” he added.
What’s enforced versus the true need
The bill is merely a facade of disastrous implications to Filipino students, and Filpinos at large. As mandatory ROTC hides under the blankets of NCSTP, it offers more negatives than benefits—unlike what the government tries to convince the country with.
“Diinan natin yung unti-unti na pagkamatay ng kalayaang pang-akademiko ng kabataan … na yung mga supposedly na paaralan na zones of peace, sanktwaryo ng malayaang kaisipan, malayang pamamahayag at kritikal na pag-iisip ng kabataan ay icocorrupt … at susupilin ng mga militar at kapulisan,” Angala said.
He also added that the NCSTP bill will just subject the students to the culture of blind obedience to institutions like PNP and AFP where corruption and impunity is prevalent.
To further add, Aison emphasized how this bill can lead into three implications.
“Pinakauna at litaw sa lahat ay ang pagpapahirap d’on sa estudyante. Dagdag na dalawang semestre ang NCSTP. Pinapalitan nito ang kasalukuyang NSTP na program natin… Bukod [pa] sa pag aaralan [ito sa] yung academics na nila. ‘Di lang sa mga estudyante kundi sa mga kaguruan din. Sino ang magtuturo ng mga NCSTP courses na pinu-push nila,” Aison said.
Aison also told Manila Today that MROTC (1) imposes economic burden on families, given that ROTC uniforms are not cheap, thus adding a heavier financial load to ordinary Filipino families; and (2) MROTC would just allow the police force inside universities.
“Pangatlo, mabibigyan ng paraan ang mga militar at pulis na pumasok sa ating mga pamantasan at gamitin ang mga estudyante laban sa mga kapwa nitong estudyante. Tiktikan, manmanan, ang mga ginagawa ng mga kabataang estudyante sa loob ng paaralan na wala namang ibang ginagawa kundi pag-aralan ang lipunan natin”, Aison claimed.
Furthermore, MROTC offers an excuse for lawmakers to not address what the Filipino students truly need.
“Sa amin sa UP ang kailangan namin ay UP DND Accord. Sa [atin], sa hanay ng kabataan ang kailangan natin ay ligtas na balik eskwela. Basic student services. Ito yung kailangan mailaan satin ng ating gobyerno. Hindi ang Mandatory ROTC,” Aison emphasized.
More than being able to fight using guns and violence, students are in need of improved security and freedom inside their campuses—freedom to gather, to speak, express themselves, and to criticize the wrongdoings of the government.
Nonetheless, students also deserve to have a safe return to classes. Now is not the time to experiment on them and their classes. The students and the country’s citizens per se deserve a better system, curriculum, and effective strategies which the government should start doing.
What we can do
Active participation does a lot compared to one can imagine. For the people’s grievances, active participation through activism is a good way of expressing and emphasizing their needs and criticism of the government.
“Paano pagkakatiwalaan ang mandatory ROTC kung ang mga pasimuno nito ay sya ring utak sa pagpaslang sa marami nating kababayan?” said Kyle Lura, spokesperson for Lumansag.
Lumansag is an alliance network of various students, rights groups and defenders that call to abolish MROTC.
According to Lura, the youth does not seek militarization but rather call for democratic rights. He added that if the government’s purpose is truly for our benefit, it must meet their need for free education, academic freedom, alongside freedom of organization.
“Ang tunay na makabayan ay lumalaban para sa demokratikong interes ng sambayanan!” said Lura.
Things will only start to happen when we start to act. Through these efforts, we are one step closer to having our grievances heard, seen, and considered by those in power.