To implement or not to implement the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is a hotly contested issue. There are vocal supporters and passionate oppositionists. Both have valid arguments and data showing why it is beneficial — or useless — to our nation. The consensus that is forming is an ROTC program that is geared toward disaster-preparedness, equipping those who will finish the program with basic skills that will be useful during typhoons, earthquakes, or even fires.
On the surface, the mandatory ROTC has good intentions. The program, which is currently voluntary as part of the NSTP (National Service Training Program), is designed to provide basic military training to college students and in the process, instill patriotism and discipline (something which is lacking among the youth). This also aims to address, in the long run, the shortage of personnel in the military, especially during national emergencies or major disasters.
There are those who disagree and say that the mandatory ROTC’s brand of discipline and rigidity are “not necessary” and could even be “harmful” to the students. It could be recalled in past years that there were violations of students’ rights, up to the point of irreversible physical and mental damages. Another criticism is that it would add the burden of cost to the students’ family. With inflation affecting prices of even the most basic of goods, the last thing a family would want to spend on are additional ROTC requirements.
Various youth and socio-civic groups also questioned the readiness to implement the mandatory ROTC. Readiness pertains not only to the availability of personnel but also the financial aspect. They said that this could divert already limited resources from other more important educational programs.
Judging the movements in the legislative and executive branches, it seemed like it’s “all systems go” for mandatory ROTC. The Department of National Defense (DND), in a statement by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., has assured it is ready to implement the program, in coordination with partner agencies.
“We commit to take an active part in the legislative process through our full cooperation and inputs, whenever and wherever they are needed," Galvez said, noting that the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), along with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), have already proposed a concept on how the ROTC program would run.
“We can implement it using a phased approach wherein we will have pilot and simulation runs in selected universities, while preparing our personnel, logistical, and budgetary requirements for its full implementation,” he said. The projected timeline from the enactment of the law to initial implementation will be “two to three years, while full implementation can be done in five years.”
As the President himself (with echoes of support from senators and representatives) has favored the return of the mandatory ROTC, and even mentioned its institutionalization as a priority on the legislative agenda, the question now is not whether it will be implemented — but “how to implement” the program. Critics must now raise their voices to ensure that the concerns of schools, parents, students are all heard. Necessary adjustments must also be made as technology has transferred warfare on cyberspace, and digitalization has made some past ROTC modules obsolete.
It would not be preposterous to judge a program based on its past performance but as long as major tweaks will be implemented that will safeguard the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of trainees, then there is no reason why a revitalized ROTC program couldn't be supported.