Student leaders condemn looming mandatory ROTC revival
◢ Jose Martin V. Singh
Student leaders denounce the possible reimplementation of the mandatory Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program as presupposed by a Senate bill signed early this year.
Requiring ROTC to tertiary students will only increase harassment cases and military infiltration in UP campuses, said Romen Samuel Wabina, chairperson of KASAMA sa UP, an alliance of majority of student councils in the UP system.
More so, UP should uphold its tradition of being at the forefront of fighting against intense militarization of communities, said Student Regent Shari Oliquino, the sole representative of the student body to the UP Board of Regents (BOR), the highest policy-making body in the whole UP system.
“Hindi binabago ng [isang panukalang] batas ang main orientation ng pagkakaroon ng ROTC [program],” Oliquino said, citing Senate Bill 1322 or the Citizen Service Act (CSA) signed by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel in February 2017. The bill seeks to mobilize the youth for national defense and disaster risk reduction.
If passed, UP will become the Curriculum and Development Center for the ROTC program. There will be an autonomous unit under the Office of the UP President that will focus on citizen service training, according to the bill’s provisions.
The reinstatement of mandatory ROTC would entail greater need for resources, staff, clerical support and training grounds but UP has always managed to comply with it, said Frederick Farolan, member of the BOR and UP Vanguard, Inc.
“[Mandatory ROTC reinstatement] is the best way to strengthen the program. But, we would like to see reforms in the program as well. Hindi naman perfect yung program and UP has always proven itself to be a base for reforms of the ROTC program which eventually gets adopted by the entire ROTC structure [and] the entire defense structure,” he said.
ROTC was made optional through the National Service Training Program (NSTP) Act in 2003, two years after University of Santo Tomas student Mark Welson Chua was killed for exposing anomalies in the program. Chua’s death sparked outrage among groups and prompted the abolition of mandatory ROTC.
“[Chua’s death] confirmed what many had known all along: that the ROTC was corrupt and fascist,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), one of the groups that push for the abolition of mandatory ROTC.
Likewise, Oliquino resounds the calls against reinstating mandatory ROTC.
“Instead of gearing our youth to serve the masses while upholding their genuine interests, the ROTC program instills a militaristic mindset … Hindi natin tinutukoy yung mga tao na nasa loob ng programa ngunit yung ROTC as an institution [na] tagapamandila ng pseudo-nationalism,” said Oliquino.
Meanwhile, Farolan emphasized that other NSTP programs have good trainings but are lacking in the mobilization aspect, in which the ROTC is ahead and more developed. ROTC consists of Military Training Service (MTS), Law Enforcement Service (LES) and Community Welfare Service (CWS).
The UP Vanguard, Inc., an association of UP ROTC alumni, formed “Oplan Restore,” a private effort that calls for the strengthening of the ROTC program. One way they deem sufficient for strengthening the ROTC is the passage of the CSA.
“[Oplan Restore] is restoring a citizen service program that would give life to the provision of the Constitution which requires all citizens to be ready to provide personal service, whether it be military or civil service, to the state when the need arises,” said Farolan.
Meanwhile, Representative Sarah Jane Elago of youth group Kabataan Partylist filed the ROTC Abolition Act last year. The bill seeks to expand the scope of the NSTP and permanently abolish the ROTC program to address the prevalent abuse and corruption cases.
“Harassment cases continue to increase vehemently in various campuses of UP with the involvement of military elements and students’ intelligence networks … State fascism and campus militarization continue as the existence of military elements still gain entry to campuses despite the existence of the laws that prohibit [their] intervention in schools,” said Wabina. ◢
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