In 2001, Mark Chua, a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadet at the University of Santo Tomas was murdered and found in the Pasig River for severe hazing. This was after Chua’s expose in the UST’s school organ about the poor handling of the ROTC’s curriculum, abuses, financial extortion, and turning a blind eye to extreme violence.

This event captured a nationwide indignation. In 2002, under RA 9163, the National Service Training Program (NSTP) Act, the ROTC became voluntary instead of mandatory. Since then, the ROTC is not anymore a prerequisite to graduate in universities, colleges, and some vocational schools.

The parents and students welcomed the ROTC’s turning up voluntary. For the students, the Saturdays devoted to ROTC’s training had opened up for some other activities. For parents, they are relieved of the extra cost associated with transport, buying equipment, and uniform.

The ROTC is a civic education program. Once one has become a reserve officer, while on civilian pursuit, they can be called to support the regular military to assist in humanitarian or disaster relief operations. And, in the case of, say, invasion, they can also be pulled into active duty at the regular force.

On April 23, 2015, Rodrigo Duterte, unsure then whether he will run for president or not, proposed to revive the mandatory ROTC that was once a part of the college curriculum. This is in light with the growing tension with the Chinese displaying aggression on claiming the West Philippine Sea.

To quote Duterte, he said the following: “The ROTC can help build up a credible self-defense force because the Philippines cannot rely solely on the United States on the strength of our mutual defense treaty. Our young men are too occupied with Facebook, and other social media, they don’t even know how to handle a rifle like we used to during our time. ROTC, if properly implemented, can instill the values of discipline, nationalism and patriotic duty to our young men”.

I took my ROTC in two schools; Bulacan Community College and Gregorio Araneta University Foundation. These schools had had a passable ROTC program. The school’s ROTC not only presented a challenge for me but also gave adventure.

I was reluctant and disinterested taking up ROTC then. During those days, long hair was in vogue and to sport a military hair cut was dumb. But then, ROTC was a requirement to graduate, so one has to abide. Today’s youth would have no problem in this respect, because these days, a short, clear sidewall haircut is hip.

Four things stood out when I did my ROTC in both schools. The subject matter taught were interesting and exciting. The skills were hands on, and it developed and improved my perspective and personality.

My baptism of fire with the military leadership was when I got myself enrolled in the course the first time. A procedure on how to enroll was posted on the door of what I thought was a military barracks. It was a detailed procedure, and asked you to memorize it by heart. Do exactly as it said: Knock on the door three times. Wait for the knock to get acknowledged. Stand at attention. Salute, etc.

Proper salute by itself was described in minutest detail – the correct position of your hand above your eyelids with the exact amount of distance, all that stuff. It took me the whole afternoon repeating the whole process starting from knocking at the door. I got listed; only because they saw me crying already. What did I learn from this exercise? Discipline. Follow order. And make the order right.

Saturdays, since then, the ROTC became interesting. I learned about Infantry Weapons, Disaster Response, First aid, Self-Defense, Field Artillery Training, etc.

The ROTC became exciting to me, too. I learned to march and drill with the Springfield rifle on my shoulder. An obsolete rifle, but a real gun, nevertheless. I disassembled, cleaned, assembled and fired the M1 Garand rifle with live bullets.

I did “Bivouac” at Camp Bonifacio for two days and two nights. The hands-on training made it real for me what I learned in the lecture. We, the boys, simulated mock combat scenarios using non-lethal weapons, such as Airsoft guns in applying the concept of small unit’s tactic. I and the boys did also the obstacle course, rappelling, and basic lifesaving maneuver.

My life in the temporary encampment in Fort Bonifacio imbued in me a camaraderie attitude, I developed life skills which I have been using now in my civilian life. Public service, love of country and nationalism became an integral part of my personality.

All of these, the ROTC brought them to me.

[Submitted by: Mr. Jess Fernando]

Images by Jess Fernando

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