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Rizal never attended ROTC

Last month’s Rizal Day celebration predictably prompted efforts to connect the revival of mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) to the promotion of the patriotism that Rizal exemplified. But Rizal and many national heroes extolled for their commitment to the country never attended ROTC. Which is not to say that ROTC cannot or has not inspired heroism.

ROTC cadets fought in World War II. Far Eastern University (FEU) contributed the biggest contingent of cadets and, with regret, had to discontinue the ROTC course in 2002, because students chose the other components of the National Service Training Program (NSTP), Civic Welfare and Literacy Training. But I assured the Armed Forces of the Philippines that FEU would restore the ROTC program in a heartbeat, if it could produce a quality program credible to the students.

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The murder by AFP personnel of Mark Welson Chua, the student ROTC commandant in the University of Santo Tomas, to stop his revelations of corruption in the program, finally moved Congress to pass the NSTP bill in 2001. But the 10 schools in the University Belt Consortium, supported by other schools beyond the National Capital Region, had been campaigning for ROTC reform since 1995. As students in the ’60s and ’70s, many school officials had experienced the mind-numbing waste of time and energy spent on ROTC. Over the years, the program had become, in far too many instances, more useless, as well as more corrupt and corrupting.

My own awakening to the problem came when a student complained about failing the ROTC course—after he had already paid for a passing grade. It was sad and alarming that the first contact of our youth with the military should be in the context of corruption.  But the students saw little benefit in the program, realized that those with money or political connections could escape its futility, and calculated that a bribe to buy exemption from the course was a good bargain.

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Our advocacy for radical ROTC reform was not a leftist or pacifist knee-jerk reaction. It had the quiet support of top AFP officials, who realized that the AFP, facing insurgency threats, did not have enough trained and motivated personnel to supervise ROTC effectively on the scale the Constitution required. As FEU president, I had to go through an almost semestral ritual of bidding “goodbye and hello” to a parade of AFP ROTC commandants going through a revolving door, which made it difficult to conduct a coherent program and to hold anyone accountable for results.

Neither rhetorical appeals to patriotism nor legislative compulsion will achieve the government’s ROTC objectives. If it is serious about ROTC reform, it must let the public know: (1) the substance of the program and how the training process leads to the knowledge, skills and values that cadets are expected to develop; (2) the resources in manpower and money committed for its sustainable support; (3) the institutional safeguards to prevent the abuses that ROTC suffered in the past. We need an evidence-based map of the path from lofty goals to measurable outcomes.

Congress can study how other countries have developed effective national military service programs. But it should begin by commissioning an assessment of the NSTP. Before K-to-12, NSTP annual graduation rates had been running at roughly 43,500 for ROTC, 54,000 for Literacy Training, and 1.1 million for Civic Welfare Training. What have graduates learned about “the ethics of service and patriotism”? Which component has been the most effective in “enhancing civic consciousness and defense preparedness”?

With fewer students freely choosing ROTC to train under the NSTP, the AFP would presumably have done better in achieving mission goals than in the past, when ROTC was mandatory. What has the ROTC component achieved in the last decade and a half? Did its graduates become more ethical and patriotic than those produced by the other components? Evidence to support this outcome would help reassure the public.

And if the administration wants public support, it should look for a more credible poster boy than Ronald Cardema, who is projecting himself as the foremost advocate of mandatory ROTC. The controversies he has triggered, including that of his contested claim to a party list congressional seat, only taints the advocacy and raises fears about his possible influence over  cadets compelled to take ROTC.

Edilberto C. de Jesus is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

Business Matters is a project of Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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TAGS: Jose Rizal, Rizal Day, ROTC
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