A citizen army for defense
In 1941, as dark clouds appeared on the horizon indicating possible conflict with Japan, the nation proceeded to build up its military strength. Addressing ROTC graduates of the University of the Philippines in March of that year, Gen. Vicente P. Lim, the first Filipino to graduate from West Point (US Military Academy), declared: “This country has such an extensive shoreline in proportion to our revenues that we cannot sustain a standing army big enough to defend it. We must, therefore, educate every citizen to be prepared to fight at a moment’s notice. You will be the officers of this citizens’ army…”
General Lim recognized that the Philippines needed to develop a citizen army in response to the threat from the north. Today, the danger lurks just around the corner from a neighborhood bully that has put up artificial islands in the Spratlys and constructed naval and air facilities on reclaimed land within our exclusive economic zone. The bully also prevents our fishermen from engaging in livelihood activities within our own fishing grounds.
When I was in high school in the early 1950s, we were required to undergo Preparatory Military Training (PMT) prior to joining ROTC in college. It was in PMT that I had my first taste of disciplinary training. We were required to have short haircuts (white side walls) and were taught how to march or keep in step with 20 or 30 other guys. This may seem like a simple idea, uncomplicated, although some guys could never tell their right foot from their left. But there was a greater purpose in all this simplicity. Working together to maintain alignment, practicing formations under the hot sun, developing pride in our small unit, following orders for the greater good—all these contributed to building up a certain amount of discipline, a better appreciation of the need for sacrifice and unity in order to achieve common objectives and goals.
What our nation needs today — among a lot of other things — is more discipline in our society. There is too much emphasis on freedoms and rights but not enough on responsibilities and obligations. Bringing back the old mandatory ROTC program will contribute to greater discipline, provide directions for the youth and serve as an antidote to the drug problem. It will not be the panacea we all desire; it will have its own share of problems and disappointments but it will be a positive contribution in the struggle against a serious threat to the nation’s security and development.
The Philippines will never have enough resources to modernize our armed forces to a level we all desire. We also do not have the means to support a substantially larger standing army. But we can make life difficult for an enemy occupation force, whether it be American (1899-1902), Japanese (1942-1945), or possibly Chinese. Hand in hand with the acquisition of modern weapons and equipment is the need for a well-trained citizen army that shall complement the efforts of regular armed forces. An important component in the creation of this citizen army is the ROTC program that would strengthen the leadership base of the military organization. In the past, competition for the AFP leadership was mainly between two groups: products of the ROTC program, and Philippine Military Academy graduates. It was a healthy rivalry which often brought out the best in both groups. Today key leadership positions in the AFP have generally been held by PMAers. This has resulted in practically a monopoly of power by one group, oftentimes by one particular class of the academy. Monopolies whether in business or in government, do not always serve the best interests of the nation.
One of the most prominent ROTC graduates who made it to the post of AFP chief of staff was Gen. Alfredo M. Santos. His role as corps commander of the Mapua ROTC contingent led him to a military career culminating in his appointment by President Diosdado Macapagal as head of the AFP. In the United States, the current chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, is an ROTC product of Princeton University. Gen. Romeo Espino graduated from UP Los Baños and would join the military service as a third lieutenant. He would serve as AFP chief of staff from January 1972 to August 1981, a tour of duty of almost 10 years.
Early in his presidency, the Commander in Chief, President Duterte, called for the revival of mandatory military training for our young people. Somehow, the order got stalled in transit. We need to develop a citizen army. ROTC is the way to go.
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