A more enduring weapons system
Almost 80 years ago, just a few months before the outbreak of hostilities in the Pacific War, Brig. Gen. Vicente P. Lim the first Filipino to graduate from the US Military Academy at West Point, delivered the commencement address before graduates of the ROTC program of the University of the Philippines.
In his address, General Lim warned the nation of the growing threat from Japan whose policies and objectives were aimed at bringing countries in the region under her leadership and control, and establishing Japan as the dominant power in this part of the world. He reminded us of the fact that we had grown used to the idea of a strong power always being around to help us in time of need but “now we must fast develop so that we may be able to stand on our own strength to defend the integrity of the Philippines… If we desire the respect of other nations, we must show them that we are exerting all efforts to build a nation not only strong in arms but unconquerable in spirit.”
General Lim then proceeded to outline the role of the young men before him. He provided a realistic picture of our situation, saying that we did not have the resources to maintain a large standing army. “We must therefore educate every citizen to be prepared to fight at a moment’s notice. You will be the officers of this citizen army. I urge you, therefore, to enhance the military training that you have acquired… it is not only for your own benefit but for the protection of your country.” He believed that the greatest deterrent to aggression would be a strong, disciplined, and well-trained citizen army, one able to respond not just to military emergencies but also to national disasters.
As a young major at the US Army War College in 1929, his staff study that was characterized by the commandant as a “study of exceptional merit,” called for the Philippine legislature to develop the military strength of the country. “A law can be made instituting compulsory military instruction for male students from high school up and including universities—such instruction to be gradual.”
In December 1935, the National Defense Act mandated the creation of a citizen army composed of a small, regular force and a large reserve component. All able-bodied male students enrolled at Philippine colleges and universities were required to undergo two years of basic military instruction under a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. The program, later expanded, consisting of two years’ basic and two years of advanced military training. It would produce some of the most outstanding leaders of the armed forces.
The year 2001 marked a turning point in the history of the ROTC program. A new law, the National Service Training Program, was enacted replacing the old. The most significant change from the old ROTC format was to make it optional and voluntary. This ended the dream of a citizen army led by ROTC graduates hand in hand with their Philippine Military Academy colleagues.
Last July 10, the Philippine Navy held a commissioning ceremony for its first frigate christened the “BRP Jose Rizal.” It was a brand-new vessel bought by the government from South Korea, not an old World War II hand-me-down from our ally, the United States. We are spending P15.7 billion for two of these frigates with the second one to be delivered before the end of the year. The Air Force has a fleet of 12 FA-50 lead-in fighter trainers that also must have cost in the billions. Unfortunately, when the shooting starts, these weapons systems will be the first immediate targets of the enemy. In December 1941, just a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers and fighter aircraft destroyed the Far East Air Force at Clark and Iba in just an hour, leaving the Bataan defenders with no air support.
We must rethink our entire defense strategy. We cannot afford modern but expensive weapons systems that can easily be taken out at the first signs of trouble. We cannot rely on the presence of friendly visiting forces whose presence may be dependent on US visas for our senators. We must develop and strengthen the one weapons system that is dependent solely on how much we love our country. It is the responsibility of our national leaders to create and nurture an environment that will foster and encourage the growth of patriotism and sacrifice among our people. A citizen army will be our greatest defense against any enemy.
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