MANILA, Philippines - The National Service Training Program (NSTP) Act of 2001 was designed to enhance civic consciousness and defense preparedness in our youth. It was made up of three components: (1) the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) provides military training for tertiary level students, (2) the ?Literacy Training Service? is a program designed to train students to become teachers of literacy and numeracy skills to schoolchildren, out-of-school youth and other segments of society and (3) ?Civic Welfare Training Service? is a set of programs devoted to improving health, education, environment, safety, recreation and morals of the citizenry.
Unfortunately, the ROTC program was made optional and voluntary, and this has led to a decline in the number of young men taking up the program in preparation for a possible military career. It has resulted in the loss of potential leaders for our armed forces?young men who would be interested in a military career without necessarily having the desire to join the Philippine Military Academy.
In the past, competition for leadership of the armed forces was mainly between two groups: products of the ROTC program (basic and advance), and PMA graduates. It was a healthy rivalry which often brought out the best in both groups. Today, even though roughly 75 percent of the officer corps of the AFP are the outputs of the existing officer candidate schools of the various services, key leadership positions have been generally held by PMAers. This has resulted in practically a monopoly of power by one group, oftentimes by one particular class of the academy. Monopolies, whether in business or in government, do not always serve the best interests of society.
One of the most prominent ROTC graduates making it to the post of AFP chief of staff was Gen. Alfredo M. Santos, an engineer-turned-soldier who graduated from the Mapua Institute of Technology with a degree in civil engineering. His role as corps commander of the MIT ROTC contingent led him to a military career through the Reserve Officers Service School (ROSS) at Camp Henry T. Allen in Baguio City. Prior to his appointment by President Diosdado Macapagal as AFP chief of staff, Santos served for two years as Army commanding general. He was also the first chief of the SEATO Military Planning Office with headquarters in Bangkok.
Another engineer-turned-soldier was Gen. Rigoberto J. Atienza, a civil engineering graduate of the University of the Philippines. He was a founder of the engineering fraternity Tau Alpha and holds the distinction of being the first engineering student to become news editor of the Philippine Collegian. As with Santos, General Atienza was appointed to the highest post in the armed forces and brought to the position of chief of staff all the skills, intelligence and sensitivity that marked his wartime services. The 51st Engineering Brigade headquarters in Libis, Quezon City, is named ?Camp Gen. Rigoberto J. Atienza? in his honor.
The longest-serving AFP chief of staff was also a product of the ROTC program. Gen. Romeo C. Espino graduated from UP Los Bańos with a bachelor?s degree in agriculture. A master?s program in plant pathology gave way to military service when he was called to active duty as a probationary third lieutenant. His concern for the welfare of the common foot soldier earned for him the appellation ?The soldier?s general.? He would serve as AFP chief of staff from January 15, 1972 to Aug. 16, 1981, a tour of duty of almost 10 years, a record which may never be broken.
Because of his closeness to President Ferdinand Marcos, another ROTC graduate, Gen. Fabian C. Ver would be one of the most powerful to ever hold the post of AFP chief of staff. His sphere of influence would cover every facet of government operations because of his concurrent position as director general of the National Intelligence and Security Authority (NISA).
Perhaps the most famous ROTC graduate anywhere in the world would be Gen. Colin L. Powell. Because he was a ?Distinguished Military Graduate? of the City College of New York (CCNY) ROTC program, Powell was given a regular rather than a reserve commission. He would become the first black national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush and the first black Secretary of State under President George W. Bush?all these before anyone ever heard of Barack Obama. Without the ROTC program, the United States would probably have lost the services of one of its most distinguished soldier-statesmen.
It is time for us to review our ROTC program and to restore it to its honored place in the leadership efforts of our armed forces.
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Last week the Philippine Military Academy marked its 110th Foundation Day. Two important events took place: (1) the Lopez Hall of Leaders, a P30-million multi-purpose auditorium donated by the Lopez family, was inaugurated and turned over to PMA authorities; this represents the biggest single investment of the Lopez family in the military establishment and (2) Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. announced the elevation of the post of PMA superintendent to three stars. The best retirement present for outgoing Superintendent Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Maligalig would be a third star on his shoulder as he bows out of the service.
With Maligalig?s impending retirement this month, there has been speculation as to his replacement at the PMA. This was heightened by the Teodoro announcement of a third star for the PMA superintendent. Actually, for some time now, Commodore Victor Emmanuel Martir has held the position of assistant superintendent. This put him in line to replace Maligalig. The sudden change of plans coupled with the elevation of the post to three-star level has raised much interest in the coming appointment. Rear Adm. Leonardo Calderon Jr., current deputy chief of staff for intelligence (J-2) and a classmate of Generals Yano and Maligalig, is the latest contender. Calderon happens to be the youngest member of class 1976 and will be retiring in March 2011. If he is appointed to the PMA and gets his third star, he could be in line for even a higher position before reaching compulsory retirement.
Commodore Martir, class 1978, is moving to a reactivated J-8 position (Education and Training) at GHQ, a post which was downgraded during the incumbency of Gen. Efren Abu. In a recent meeting with the PMA Board of Visitors, Secretary Teodoro stressed that a reactivated J-8 post would focus greater attention on the basic education and training programs of the AFP, a subject which he considers of highest priority.