ROTC and PMA for national security
President Duterte has called for the revival of mandatory military training for college students. The old ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program was made optional in 2002 with the passage of Republic Act No. 9163, known as the National Service Training Program.
I fully support the President’s position. Mandatory ROTC would be an important component in the war against drugs.
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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 obligations different from what I had known. For one thing, we were required to have short haircuts. We were taught how to march or keep in step with 20 or 30 other guys.
That 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 the development of a certain amount of discipline and a better appreciation of the need for sacrifice and unity in order to achieve common objectives and goals.
What our nation needs—among a lot of other things—is more discipline among our people. There’s too much emphasis on freedoms and rights but not enough on responsibilities and obligations. Bringing back the old mandatory ROTC program will provide discipline and directions for the youth, and would serve as an antidote to the growing drug problem in the country. 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 fight against one of the most serious threats to the nation’s security and development.
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In his memoirs “From Third World to First—The Singapore Story: 1965-2000,” Lee Kuan Yew recounts that when the island state was forced out of the Federation of Malaya, his first concern was to build an Armed Forces from scratch.
“We had to reorientate people’s minds to accept the need for a people’s army and overcome their traditional dislike for soldiering… . We set up a National Cadet Corps and a National Police Cadet Corps in all secondary schools so that parents would identify the army and police with their sons and daughters. Only if we changed people’s thinking and attitudes could we raise a large citizen army like Switzerland or Israel.”
He went on to say that “the best deterrent to any Malaysian plan to regain control over Singapore was their knowledge that even if they could subdue our Armed Forces, they would have to keep down a whole people well-trained in the use of arms and explosives.”
The Philippines will never have enough resources to modernize our Armed Forces, or to support a substantially larger standing army. But we can make life difficult for an enemy occupation force, whether it be American (1899), Japanese (1942), or possibly Chinese. Hand in hand with acquisition of modern weapons and equipment is the need for a well-trained citizen army that shall support the efforts of our Armed Forces.
An important component in the creation of this citizen army is the revival of the ROTC program of the past, in order to strengthen the leadership base of the military organization.
In the past, competition for leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines was mainly between two groups: the 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 interest 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 which culminated in his appointment by President Diosdado Macapagal as head of the AFP.
Another civilian-turned-soldier was Gen. Rigoberto J. Atienza, a graduate of the University of the Philippines. The 51st Engineering Brigade headquarters in Libis, Quezon City, is named “Camp General Rigoberto Atienza” in his honor.
The longest-serving AFP chief of staff was also a product of the ROTC program. Gen. Romeo Espino graduated from UP Los Baños with a degree in agriculture. He would join the military service as a probationary third lieutenant and would serve as AFP chief of staff from January 1972 to August 1981, a tour of duty of almost 10 years. It is possible this record may never be broken.
Because of his closeness to President Ferdinand Marcos, Gen. Fabian Ver, another ROTC graduate, would be one of the most powerful to ever hold the post of AFP chief of staff. Because of his concurrent position as director general of the National Intelligence and Security Authority, his sphere of influence would cover every facet of government operations.
Among the living ROTC greats is Maj. Gen. Jose Magno. During his time, the UP ROTC was one of the best in the country with its silent drill teams winning many of the competitions in Metro Manila. His distinguished military career came to a close as chief of Southcom in Mindanao, but he continued to serve in government as GSIS chair during the Ramos administration.
Perhaps the most famous ROTC graduate anywhere in the world would be Gen. Colin L. Powell. Because he was a “Distinguished Military Graduate” of the City College of New York ROTC program, Powell was given a regular rather than a reserve commission. He would become the first black national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, the first black chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush, and the first black secretary of state under President George W. Bush—all this before anyone had ever heard of Barack Obama. Without the ROTC program, the United States would probably have lost the services of one of its most distinguished soldier-statesmen.
It is time to restore the ROTC program (mandatory) to its honored place in the leadership efforts of our Armed Forces.
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