Mandatory ROTC? Think hard first
The House of Representatives is poised to pass a bill reviving the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) after the May elections. The Senate is still deliberating on its version of the measure at committee level.
This bill could give new meaning to the May 2019 elections for the youth. It is a bill that directly impinges on the interest of the youth, especially those aged 16 and 17 who have yet to take Grades 11 and 12.
If the Duterte-endorsed senatorial candidates win in the elections, this bill will certainly pass. If the opposition senatorial candidates win, the proposed revival of ROTC will fail. The reason is simple — it is Mr. Duterte who has urged Congress to pass the measure, threatening to issue an executive order to the same effect if they fail to do so.
If the bill passes this year, and it takes another year to formulate the new ROTC Program of Instruction and set up the training system (facilities, instructors, resource materials), the first batch of Grade 11 students who will take the course will be those in September 2020 or September 2022.
How can the proposed mandatory ROTC be hardwired to deliver on its purpose to “instill patriotism, love of country, moral and spiritual values, and respect for human rights and adherence to the Constitution,” and avoid past evils, such as corruption and murder (Cadet Officer Mark Chua case, 2001)? Passing another law is not enough. Learning from the lessons from ROTC and similar civic training and development programs is the best way. Consider these lessons:
Lesson 1. Generate acceptance, ownership and support by key stakeholders.
In a democracy, it makes sense to consult the people who will be most directly and heavily affected by a new proposal. Hold consultations with the youth, the military and the civic orientation and engagement institutions. Consult the relevant literature, experience of other countries and experts.
Lesson 2. Resuscitate corroded civic institutions and strengthen recently created ones.
People have forgotten about these powerful civic orientation and engagement institutions that have been hijacked, neglected and weaponized for private purposes, among them the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, the Sangguniang Kabataan, the Red Cross. We must strengthen and nurture these institutions that provide the resources, opportunities and capabilities for the youth to engage in community problem-solving, not only family or personal
Review the performance of similar institutions that have yet to mature in the performance of their functions due to lack of support for institutional development — the National Service Training Program, the National Service Reserve Corps, the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency. Review these institutions together as a system. If necessary, scrap and build structures, but do not layer redundant systems one on top of the other.
Lesson 3. Look forward, not just back. Conjure the envisioned outcome and impact of the proposed ROTC law, 10 years or 20 years down the road. What is the best scenario? What is the worst scenario? What is the preferred scenario? How do these compare with a “do nothing” (no mandatory ROTC) scenario?
Let us have more informed discussion and debates about the kind of citizen civic-military orientation and engagement the country requires. To insist on imposing half-baked mandatory ROTC proposals is to play god with the time, energy, trust, resources and lives of our youth, with no cogent arguments to convince them of the wisdom of our decisions. Contrary to the intention of the proposed law, poorly designed mandatory ROTC will tend to turn the youth against the government, and kill in them whatever urge for selfless service to community and country they may be capable of.
It is a pity that the youth affected by the mandatory ROTC are too young to vote on the issue in the May 2019 elections.
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