By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
Instead of reviving the mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program for Senior High School (SHS) students, a youth group urged the government to consider “alternative” programs to instill in them a greater awareness on the country’s culture and history.
“If the government genuinely wants the youth to take the lead in nation building, it can opt for alternative youth programs that can extensively hone their skills and appreciation of our history and cultural heritage,” said the Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK).
Identifying itself as a youth organization aiming to “educate and mobilize the youth in widening its democratic rights and empower them to counter all forms of oppression and capitalist exploitation,” SPARK expressed strong opposition on the move to revive the ROTC among Grade 11 and 12 students.
Earlier, the “Reserve Officers Training Corps Act” (House Bill No. 8961) was passed by the Lower House on second reading.
SPARK accused the House Committee on Basic Education and Culture that it has committed a “blatant act” for allegedly railroading the bill “without even allowing student leaders to be present during the hearing so they could raise their contentions.”
Despite the “railroading of the bill,” SPARK urged the youth to “remain critical of the status quo” and to be “indignant at all forms of societal injustice in pursuit of an egalitarian society.”
Meanwhile, SPARK reminded the government and those who are pushing for the revival of the mandatory reservist training not to forgot why the ROTC was abolished in 2002.
“The ROTC was criticized to be an avenue for machismo, violence and corruption with its gruesome history of hazing and corporal punishment,” the group said, citing the case of University of Santo Tomas (UST) student Mark Chua who was killed after exposing alleged corruption in the university’s ROTC.
“Did it infuse discipline? Who are they kidding? The ROTC in itself is a hotbed for abuses,” the group said.
While attempts on reforms have been set since Chua’s death –such as the passage of a Stronger Anti-Hazing Law –SPARK lamented that the present bill “does not even take stock from the past to shut the windows of corruption and the vicious cycle of violence that plagued the program.”
“The program is furthermore a part of the tyrannical administration’s increasing militarization of school campuses, aimed to suppress the ever-growing student activism by profiling the students under surveillance amidst the notorious red-tagging,” SPARK alleged. The government must instead prioritize adding classrooms, books, computers and increasing the wages of our teachers,” it added.
Based on the HB 8961, the ROTC training is “aimed to instill patriotism, love of country, moral and spiritual virtues, and respect for human rights and adherence to the Constitution.” However, SPARK disagrees, noting that “real patriotism lies on the active participation of citizens in governance and nation building at all levels” and all about “improving the conditions of the majority of our population.”
For SPARK, patriotism “does not necessarily equate to student cadets marching under the scorching heat of the sun every Sunday, wielding a rifle, and mindlessly following shouted orders like training canines, minus the vulgar threats.” It added: “not only that the exercises are counter-productive, the amount of hours spent by the cadets conducting marching drills does nothing to develop one’s talents, skills, and character that can be deemed relevant in nation building.”
SPARK then challenged the government to focus its attention and resources to youth programs such as “participation in a variety of socio-civic activities, like alternative classes, wherein students can learn, engage and share their views on politics and economics among others to widen their horizons and assert their democratic rights” as well as on “lectures about the nation’s rich history and culture, and even, self-defense-workshops, community outreach, and the like” instead of reviving the ROTC.