By Dr. Jun Ynares, M.D.
“So, would you favor the revival of mandatory ROTC?”
This was the question asked me by a fellow local government official recently. He attended the closing ceremonies of the 2017 Palarong Pambansa held in San Jose, Antique, and had listened to the speech which President Duterte delivered on that occasion.
My fellow local government official’s attention was caught by the President’s mention of his intention to have the mandatory Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program revived. He said he noticed that there was no adverse reaction from the crowd composed mostly of young students. He wondered if that was an indication that our countrymen are now more open, more receptive to the idea of a return of this controversial training program.
My answer was, “It is okay, provided it would not be more of the same.”
“What do you mean?” my friend asked to be clarified.
I explained: “It should be relevant to our current needs; it should not be susceptible to the abuses of the past; it should be less of a military training and more of a preparation for good citizenship.”
The view is that the return of mandatory ROTC under the current administration is inevitable. It appears the President is determined and has the kind of political will which this initiative requires. It is now just a question of “when.” The view is it would more of sooner than later.
If this is the case, what the public can do would be to help the President select which version of an ROTC revival would suit current needs and be relevant to the times.
My colleagues in the local government sector have recognized this possibility for some time now. We have been informed that there are now a number of bills pending in Congress which aim to guide the return of a mandatory military training program.
Among them, one version appears to stand out – the bill sponsored by Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
We were somewhat surprised that Senator Koko should have his own version and would actually stand on the floor of the Senate to deliver a sponsorship speech for such a program. He and his father, former Senator Nene Pimentel, have been known to be staunch nemeses of militarization. The youth sector has also been his national bailiwick, and this is the sector that would be directly affected by the revival of the program.
It looks like Senator Koko is putting a lot of his political goodwill on the line in this issue. Therefore, there must be something good in his version of an ROTC revival which is worth taking the political risk for.
Senator Koko’s version is contained in Senate Bill 1322.
The Pimentel version calls for more than just an ROTC revival. He calls it “The Citizen Service Act” and appears to provide a more cohesive and comprehensive framework for getting our young people involved in the life of the country.
The old ROTC was designed to train and mobilize reservists in the event of a military aggression by an external enemy or internal subversion. The Pimentel version goes beyond mere mobilization for military duties. It provides for the training and participation of our young people in disaster risk reduction and management.
From the viewpoint of local governments, this is one of the two most outstanding features of the Pimentel version. After all, the possibility that a disaster would strike our provinces, cities, and towns is much greater than that of an invasion of our shores.
Senator Koko’s version prepares our young people for the task and organizes them for quick mobilization in such times of emergencies. Our communities will benefit a lot from this.
The other outstanding feature of the Pimentel bill is that the program will not be under the exclusive supervision of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In Senate Bill 1322, he proposes the creation of a “Citizen Service Mobilization Commission” which will oversee both the training and the mobilization aspects of the program. The commission includes four major government line agencies: the Departments of Interior and Local Government, and of National Defense; the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
The composition of the commission is a good indication that what the Pimentel version wants to revive is more than just compulsory military training – it is a comprehensive citizenship training.
The product is more than just a citizen-soldier. It would be a citizen-servant.
It would train our youth to become more than just bearers of arms, ready for military conflict. It would train them to help rebuild lives that have been damaged by natural calamities.
It would get them to march not just to the beat and cadence of martial music. It would help them march to the beat of the times.
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