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Passion For Reason
Mandatory ROTC? Remember Mark Chua

By Raul Pangalangan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:07:00 08/05/2010

Filed Under: Military, Crime, Graft & Corruption

THOSE WHO want to restore a mandatory ROTC should remember why in the first place it was abolished. In 2001, our Congress passed a law saying that the Reserve Officers? Training Corps (ROTC) shall henceforth be merely optional and voluntary. It was in response to a consensus that the ROTC had long outlived its purpose and had become merely another weekend drudgery that taught not nationalism but corruption.

This was dramatized by the murder of Mark Chua, a student at the University of Sto. Tomas, in March 2001. Chua uncovered corruption in the ROTC corps and exposed it in The Varsitarian, UST?s famous student newspaper, resulting in the relief of the commandant and his staff. He soon received death threats. He was assigned to undergo security training in Fort Bonifacio. After a few days, his decomposing body, hands hogtied and face wrapped with packing tape, was found afloat in the Pasig River. The autopsy showed he was still alive when he was dumped into the river. One killer has been sentenced to death, while the other three accused have gone into hiding and remain fugitives from justice.

The advocates of a mandatory ROTC have much explaining to do. The corruption that Mark Chua stumbled upon was by no means the exception. It was the rule. Apparently in the University Belt, ROTC attendance credits were up for sale. All it took was a cooperative attendance clerk and higher-ups willing to look the other way in exchange for a share of the loot. A UST alumnus, now a rising star in the legal profession, told me how it was during his undergrad years. Toward the end of the semester, you had to check the status of your attendance record to make sure you hadn?t exceeded the allowed absences. The officers required the cadets to ?verify? their record but the students called it ?veri-pay,? because for a fee, your absences will disappear.

Worse, here we have the textbook example of what anti-corruption advocates call the ?rent-seeking? moment. First, there is a captive market of cadets?all hungry and thirsty during training, all of them required by the rules to purchase uniforms and the usual military insignia. Next, there is the supply of food, water, military boots and paraphernalia that can be accessed only with the blessings of the officers. They had the power to create a need. They had the power to control how that need was satisfied. It was a perfect formula, the ideal set-up, for anyone out to make a quick buck. The temptation to profit is programmed into the system?and in 2001 an innocent boy was dead.

The ROTC also ratified social inequalities. Cadets with cars didn?t have to march under the rain and the sun, for as long as they could drive their officers around campus during the training sessions. It was almost a preview of the dark side of the civilian-military games that grown-ups play, where the businessmen link up with generals who either protect them or give them the big procurement contracts.

For Filipinos old enough to hear about corruption but too young to have experienced it first-hand, the ROTC was usually their most typical first-time encounter with bribery or other forms of ?palakasan? in exchange for creature comforts.

Finally, the ROTC fostered the wrong values. As an anti-ROTC manifesto said, it ?instilled the sub-culture of fear, violence and hatred among the broad ranks of the students.? It provided a set-up where gay students would be exposed to ostracism. It provided a platform for ideological propaganda left behind from the Cold War and that until today is used to justify acts of terror against dissenters.

How the ROTC drifted into the doldrums actually shows how far it lost touch with its original goals of fostering discipline of mind and body, and consecrating that discipline to God and country. Perhaps half a century ago, it might have worked. For the current generation of Filipinos, it?s simply so grossly out of touch.

If the goal is to foster physical self-discipline, the athletic fields and gyms abound in genuine contests of body and soul. You don?t foster your health by marching on asphalt roads in leather boots where the real enemy is boredom. If the goal is to foster nationalism, I cannot imagine how marching in a long-sleeved shirt under the noon-day sun can foster one?s love of country. You learn merely patience and forbearance, sadly in ROTC?s case, for those who don?t deserve it. Go trekking through Banaue instead and realize the conditions under which your countrymen live. Then return to school determined to change the world so that the children will have a better world to inherit.

That is why Congress replaced the mandatory ROTC with the National Service Training Program, which provides non-military modes of citizenship training, namely, the Literacy Training Service and the Civic Welfare Training Service. These are ways by which students can help improve the lives of communities through work relating to the ?health, education, environment, entrepreneurship, safety, recreation and morals of the citizenry.?

In a word, the ROTC was created for a bygone era when we accepted and embraced fixed hierarchies, and those at the top of the pecking order could bark out orders to those below solely on the basis of rank?and be convinced all along that you were all doing it for the good of the nation. The students of the 1950s and 1960s may have swallowed that hook, line and sinker, oriented as they were to the fiction of a reified state that embodied the common good. But today?s students are far too smart to take that bull.

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