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ROTC: Devil in the details

President Duterte’s call for mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) for male students in Grades 11 and 12 of senior high school (SHS) received applause at his 2019 State of the Nation Address. Since we had implemented mandatory ROTC for male students in the 16-17 age group before, this should not be as complex or controversial a project as federalism. But it nonetheless requires scrupulous attention to details, where devilish problems hide. An Army officer researching the issue raised questions that Congress must address.

In 2001, the government replaced the mandatory ROTC with the National Service Training Program (NSTP), a one-year course that all college students had to pass. They had to complete training for Literacy or Civic Welfare services, or for ROTC, to graduate. The officer wanted to know: why the colleges and universities hosting the ROTC came to oppose it; why Congress passed the NSTP law; and why the average annual enrollment in Literacy and Civic Welfare Training was running almost four times higher than for ROTC.

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Numbers impact effectiveness. Did the lower enrollment for ROTC mean it was perceived as less relevant or less effective than the other program tracks? Did the other tracks properly prepare students to render national service after graduation? The officer noted the need to evaluate all three tracks and to measure how well each one achieved its respective objectives. But, correctly more concerned about designing a better ROTC program, he offered options for military service pursued in other countries, asking what components a new ROTC should include to make it a meaningful, quality program that students would appreciate.

He also recognized a critical problem. Mandatory ROTC would call for the deployment of more Armed Forces of the Philippines officers to manage the program. A two-year program would expand the number of cadets placed under AFP responsibility each year from roughly 45,000 college students to perhaps over 1 million SHS cadets. At a time of multiple security challenges, how many officers can the AFP divert from field assignments to serve as ROTC commandants? Without the commitment of competent and dedicated officers, the new ROTC would risk repeating the problems that led to the termination of the old.

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The questions posed by the Army officer are substantive and fair. But to expect educational institutions to provide the answers places the wagon before the horse. Where is the burning demand for mandatory ROTC among the public and the mass of students who will be subject to it? This is the President’s and the AFP’s agenda, which they have to justify. They have the burden of explaining why this law is necessary, how its objectives will be realized, and the resources they would commit to ensure its success. Congress should also deal with these questions. Indeed, legislators should be able to answer them before passing the law.

Unfortunately, Congress has thus far distinguished itself mainly by its eagerness to give the President what he wants. While Mr. Duterte talked about promoting civic responsibility and patriotism through the ROTC—wonderful and wonderfully fuzzy objectives—he seemed more concerned that the youth learn two things he admired about the military: their ability to handle guns, and what he assumed as their unquestioning disposition to believe that all orders from superiors are legitimate. This combination appears potentially dangerous: Against whom will the guns be pointed, and at whose orders?

Congress tends to measure its performance by the number of bills enacted into law. It leaves to the executive branch the problem of implementation and enforcement. Rarely does it provide the public with an independent accounting of the costs incurred and the benefits realized because of the laws they passed. But Congress cannot abdicate its duty to hold the executive agencies to account for their performance.

The new ROTC will be the AFP’s responsibility. That people in the military are posing the crucial questions is a hopeful sign that opens the door for dialogue with academic institutions concerned about the issue. The institution most damaged by the corruption and criminality that corroded the ROTC in the past was the AFP itself. The institution and the country cannot afford a repeat of that sorry history.

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

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

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TAGS: congress, education, ROTC, State of the Nation Address
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