Warmongering and ROTC
MALACAÑANG’S MOVE to revive the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps comes at a time when the public is being bombarded by news of possible escalation of conflict in the West Philippine Sea, with many backers of the proposal saying that compulsory ROTC for college students will help the Philippines prepare for war.
In a recent early-morning talk show, I was pitted against Brig. Gen. Leoncio Cirunay Jr., chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Reserve Command, who hinged his whole pitch for the ROTC on this question: Who will be able to respond to the call of duty when war breaks out if not the reservists?
Clearly, the reinstatement of mandatory ROTC is riding a rising wave of warmongering fanned by Beijing’s stern refusal to recognize the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
The spread of this jingoistic outlook on the maritime dispute is cause for alarm, especially at a time when thoughtful diplomatic measures and international solidarity building are very much needed to bolster the Philippines’ position. Suggesting a ramped-up reserve force to prepare for imminent aggression not only betrays the AFP’s bloodlust but also sends a wrong message to the international community.
Worse, what ROTC backers do not emphasize is that pump-priming the reserve force does not magically equip the nation to counter Beijing’s military might.
Our problem of weak territorial defense does not spring from a dearth of military recruits, as made clear by the number of troops currently deployed in the hinterlands of Mindanao. It is a result of the utter failure of the AFP Modernization Program, which has eaten up a significant portion of public funds.
While about P4 in every P100 of the national budget is spent for defense annually, and taxpayers have been shouldering more than P82 billion under the AFP Modernization Program since its institution in 1995, the Philippines is still far from having a credible maritime defense system. Creaking ships from the World War II era still patrol our seas, and refurbished planes dominate our skies. Add the persistent issues of graft and corruption to the aging modernization program, and we have a clear recipe for disaster.
In a way, the proposal to revive mandatory ROTC may even be a scheme aimed at painting a picture of military preparedness despite the failure of the AFP Modernization Program. With the ROTC now in the limelight, scrutiny of our territorial defense capability is relegated to the background. Smoke and mirrors, at the expense of students already unjustly burdened by a longer basic education curriculum under the K-to-12 program.
The AFP has used the West Philippine Sea issue to squeeze billions of pesos in funding from Congress for its moribund modernization program. We must not let it use that issue again to justify the revival of a reviled reservist program.
The ROTC is only one of three options under the National Service Training Program (NSTP) instituted by Republic Act No. 9163 (2002). The NSTP lost its monopoly over service training as a result of the firestorm raised by youth and student groups following the death of Mark Welson Chua, an ROTC cadet from the University of Santo Tomas, who was killed in 2001 after alleging corruption in his school’s reservist program.
The violence, the corruption, and the controversies persist in the ROTC, despite being only optional for over a decade now. Just recently, a viral video from the University of Mindanao-Tagum campus showed cadets undergoing hazing. The likes of General Cirunay blame “lapses in administration” for the continuing violence, overlooking the fact that the ROTC systematically promotes a militarist culture that perpetuates not only corruption but also sexism and political patronage.
In his first State of the Nation Address, President Duterte said he wanted to strengthen the ROTC to “instill love of country and good citizenship” in the youth. But that vision may quickly turn into a nightmare if the AFP has its way and successfully shoves its reservist program down every student’s throat.
One good development is Mr. Duterte’s openness to a dialogue with those opposed to mandatory ROTC. Indeed, there are many issues that need discussion, ranging from violence to the program’s incompatibility with academic freedom and provisions of the International Humanitarian Law that restrict the use of schools for military purposes. The government should be reminded that civilian educational institutions should not be made to shoulder compulsory military training.
These issues must be properly addressed for the President to correctly assess the viability of his plan.
After all, we cannot simply accept the revival of a violent, corruption-ridden program that rides on a wave of pseudopatriotic sentiments.
Marjohara Tucay is the national president of Kabataan Partylist.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.