Wednesday, June 28, 2006

In Defense of Our Homeland: A Glimpse at Military Education and ROTC in History

By Jerome A. Ong

Military education and training in schools have gone a long way in Philippine history. Although we might have all known by now that Commonwealth Act No. (the National Defense Act) provided the legal foundation for the conduct of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) instruction, the need for a citizen reserve force had been realized as early as before the American occupation of the Philippines. In fact, it was utilized even during the long and arduous Spanish colonial rule in the archipelago. That time, a training course became inevitable in light of the constant marauding by both local and foreign forces severely opposing and constantly resisting Spanish control of the colony.

As a result of the so-called Seven-Year War in Europe between France and Great Britain, a British flotilla of thirteen ships, headed by Admiral Samuel Cornish and General WIlliam Draper, arrived in the colony on September 22, 1762. The Philippines got entangled in this European power struggle because the monarchs of Spain and France both belonged to the Bourbon dynasty. On the one side were the combined French and Spanish forces, together with their colonies; on the other, the rising tide of British colonialism in Asia. In retaliation for this entanglement, a military expedition was sent ot the Philipines from Madras in India, then a British colony.

Spanish authorities in the colony were ill-prepared for such kind of international assault. During this tumultuous period, the Philippines was headed by Archbishop Manuel Rojo, a situation clearly indicative of the unstable political situation in the archipelago. Late as it might seem, Father Domingo Collantes, OP, Rector and Chancellor of the University of Santo Tomas, organized a group of around two hundred students (composed of boys aged 20 to 22) from UST and Colegio de San Juan de Letran who underwent military training at Santo Tomas Plaza in Intramuros, Manila. Father Collantes was assisted by a sergeant of the Royal Spanish Army in setting up a battalion of young students for military instruction.

These students were immediately sent to action, together with around 500 Hispano-Filipino regulars (in the king's regiment) and 80 Filipinos, to counter the 7000-strong British regiment. Though obviously mismatched against the British force, the ragtag force assembled by the Spanish authorities was able to somehow temporarily ward off the advancing enemies. Their This skirmish lasted five days, and the defenders suffered much in terms of the numbers of casualties and injuries. Realizing the futility of continued fighting, Governor-Archbishop Rojo surrendered Manila and Cavite to Lieutenant General Dawsonne Drake on October 6, 1762. Though not so well-known in Philippine history, our country did become a British colony for a while, until June 1764. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763, the Seven Years' War ended, and the British consequently left the archipelago for good.

Despite this debacle, the Spanish king duly recognized the courage and bravery these students exhibited in the battlefield. Henceforth, he granted the prestigious titles 'muy leal' (very loyal) to these defenders, and 'regalia' (royal) to the institution to which most of them belonged. Up until this day, the 'muy leal' emblem remains part of the UST ROTC seal, a testament to the unwavering valor and the commendable spirit once shown in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity.

Exactly 150 years after that momentous even in 1762, various colleges and universities in the Philippines would offer military training for their students. According to Brigadier General Jose Syjuco, author of Military Education in the Philippines, most military historians mark the year 1912 as the beginning of genuine ROTC instruction in the country. In that year, the Philippine Constabulary (PC) started conducting military instructions at the University of the Philippines on the old Padre Faura Campus. All able-bodied male students in colleges, institutes and schools of the university were required to undergo military training that focused initially on infantry and the use of rifles. Appointed as the first military instructor was Captain Silvino Gallardo, who assumed office in the first semester of 1912. The need for a reserve force was further realized with the advent of the First World War in Europe, even though the Philippines had no direct military participation in that international squabble.

In 1912, during the American regime, UP and Ateneo de Manila started to offer military training. But their graduates could not find a career in the military unless they joined the PC or the Philippine Scouts (PS). Governor General Leonard Wood encouraged the development of ROTC units, which were quite similar to those he had organized in the United States, in the Philippines. With representation from the UP Board of Regents to the US War Department, the services of an American Army officer was obtained. This officer was later appointed professor of Military Science.

On March 17, 1922, the Department of Military Science and Tactics (DMST) was formally organized in UP. Among the department's objectives were to: (1) develop patriotic, physically sound, upright and disciplined citizens; (2) create a corps of trained officers for the reserve force; and (3) take the lead in fostering the university spirit. On July 3, 1922, with the first ROTC unit in the country having been organized, formal military instruction began in UP. Since then, basic course in infantry became compulsory and prerequisite for graduation from the University. On October 26, 1929, the field artillery unit of UP was organized with the issuance of 75-mm field guns. In 1935, a mounted battery unit, equipped with 2.95-inch guns, was also put in place.

As a result of these encouraging events, other colleges and universities in Manila followed suit. Ateneo de Manila, National University, Liceo de Manila, and San Juan de Letran later formed their ROTC units. These units remained independent from one another until 1936, when the office of the Superintendent (of ROTC units) of the Philippine Army was activated to supervise all ROTC units in the country.

Under the American tutelage, Commonwealth Act No. 1 provided the legal basis for a mandatory citizen military training in the Philippines. The country's national defense plan was put into motion by the combined efforts of General Douglas MacArthur and Manuel Quezon. The defense plan envisioned an organization of citizen army consisting of two major components: (1) a regular force of about 10,000 men (including the PC), and (2) a reserve force to number 400,000 by the end of a 10-year period. The second component was to be accomplished by way of a continuing program to train 21-year old able-bodied men for a period of more than five months. Quezon personally handpicked General MacArthur to become the military adviser of the Commonwealth, with the responsibility of formulating the Philippine defense system. (Quezon later conferred the status of "Field Marshal," the highest military rank known in international usage, on MacArthur.) At the opening session of the National Assembly on November 26, 1935, Quezon reiterated the need for a defense plan. According to him, "Self-defense is the supreme right of mankind no more sacred to the individual than to the nation, the interests of which are immeasurably of greater significance and extent… In my opinion, theplan reflects the lessons of history, the conclusion of acknowledged masters of warfare and of statesmanship, and the sentiments and aspirations of the Filipino people. It is founded upon enduring principles that are fundamental to any plan applicable to our needs."

On December 21, 1935, the National Assembly approved the plan amid criticisms it received and the strict opposition mounted by several lawmakers, namely Juan Sumulong and Camilo Osias, and former President Emilio Aguinaldo. One important provision of the plan stated that, "at such colleges and universities as the President may designate, there shall be established and maintained ROTC units of such arm and service as he shall specify, where every physically fit student shall be required to pursue a course of military instruction…." ROTC units in various colleges and universities, therefore, became source of reserve officers. However, a major concern was that these units had yet to be standardized (even as most were yet to be formally recognized). UP ROTC was the first to be officially recognized. The ROTC units of Letran, UST, De la Salle, Adamson, the Philippine Normal School, the Philippine School of Arts and Trade, San Beda and Siliman were likewise given recognition. By 1937, the Philippine government had established and recognized 17 ROTC, most of them infantry, units. UP had a field artillery unit aside from the infantry unit; Adamson and the Quisumbing schools had chemical warfare units. Furthermore, UP also served as the training ground for ROTC instructors and a source of basic ROTC training policies.

Under the system, male students had to take a basic two-year course and attend training on weekends. Those students desiring reserve officer commission could attend two more years of advanced weekend training. Completion of the advanced course made one eligible for a reserve officer commission. However, mandatory training was not instituted in all colleges. As a result, students who did not want to undergo military training simply opted to transfer schools that did not have ROTC units. To resolve the issue, President Quezon issued Executive Order No. 207. by virtue of this directive, ROTC became compulsory in all colleges and universities with enrollment of a hundred students or more. This action taken by Quezon was partly in response to the protest launched by some schools that their enrollment had dropped due to the institution of ROTC units. By 1941, there were around 33 colleges and universities throughout the country that maintained ROTC units. However, all of these closed down during the Japanese incursion in the Philippines.

A glance at our history can attest to the fact that UP produced promising ROTC graduates who excelled in their fields and became source of pride for their alma mater. When the Second World War spilled over to the Pacific, which eventually resulted in the subjugation of the Filipino people n the hands of Japanese forces, the university had honed great military leaders and tacticians who relentlessly opposed this new kind of aggression. The courage and bravery of Filipino officers defending country and freedom, like those of Major Alfredo Santos, Major Macario Peralta, Jr., and Lieutenant Colonel Salipada Pendatun, reverberated. During those perilous times, guerilla warfare had become synonymous to Filipino resistance. Once again, the Filipino people strove hard to endure another grim period in history.

Japan’s misadventure in the Philippines had ended, but the service rendered by the heroic men of ROTC has turned into a life-long commitment. Even during the post-war era, UP ROTC graduates exhibited here and abroad meritorious deeds in the service of the Filipino people. On the one hand, they became part of the government’s effort to solve the problem of insurgency in the country; on the other, they manned the contingency forces that were sent at the height of the Korean (1950) and Vietnam (1964) wars.

Less than 70 years have passes the inception of student military training in various colleges and universities throughout the country. Times have changed, and the ROTC program has been ed in constant scrutiny, especially in terms of its significance to and importance in today’s reality. Our generation has co long way since that time the UST students were utilized to preserve Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines. Our nation may have survived the tragedies of war by sheer luck and high spirits. And right now, we probably may have seen the better days of ROTC in our own university. Nevertheless, one valuable reminder for all of us citizens this gallant nation is this: Let us not forget those individuals who shaped our history and willingly sacrificed their lives in defense of our homeland.

Agoncillo, Teodoro A. Ang Pilipinas at ang mga Pilipino Noon at Ngayon (Ikalawang Edisyon). Quezon City: Garotech Publishing, 1980.
__________. History of the Filipino People (Eighth Edition). Quezon City: Garotech Publishing, 1990.
Bundoc, Anna Leah J. and Rose A. Jabeguero. "Pagsaludo sa Kasaysayan ng Hukbo," The Varsitarian (ROTC Extra). December 6, 2001.
Cosico, Robert John. History of the UP Vanguard.
Gopinath, Aruna. Manuel L. Quezon: The Tutelary Democrat. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1987.
Jose, Ricardo Trota. The Philippine Army 1935-1942. Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1992.
Syjuco, Jose G. Military Education in the Philippines. 2001.

This article was originally posted in Faura, Number 2.


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