Thursday, June 29, 2006

The ROTC program and national stability

Having expanded the war on the NPA insurgency, the government is looking for troops and officers to mount the offensive. The President has started by ordering the redeployment of 3,000 soldiers from Mindanao to Luzon. She has directed that all officers, enlisted men and policemen doing civilian duty be recalled to active service.

We do not know what the military’s system of recruitment is, but signing up new enlistees must pose some problem. The AFP, which has a proud tradition, is not one of the first options for young men looking for a job. Basic pay is low, housing is at a minimum and even the basic essentials of soldiering—combat boots, guns, ammo, helmets—are often a subject of complaint.

But the military needs sustained replenishment because of political instability, threats to our national territory and the scourge of terrorism. The military also needs respite because, historically, it has not enjoyed a long R&R.

World War II had hardly ended when the Hukbalahap rebellion broke out in Central Luzon. The secessionist movement (beginning with the MNLF) began in the early 1970s and the embers of that war still singe Mindanao. The AFP has battled the New People’s Army for 37 years. It confronted a new enemy—the Abu Sayyaf—in the 1990s. At one time the military was fighting on three fronts.

The Filipino soldier has fought in Korea and South Vietnam, has participated in numerous United Nations peacekeeping missions and must battle "lost command" armies from time to time. In all these engagements, the need for fresh blood or for reenlistment was necessary. What kept the military going?

For many years we had the Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program which made it compulsory for college students to go through military training for at least two years. Finishing the course was a requirement for graduation.

Many ROTC graduates were integrated into the Philippine military. During World War II, ROTC cadets and graduates fought in Bataan and Corregidor. The ROTC program helped provide the guerrillas who fought the occupation army for three bloody years.

The program, which complied with the constitutional mandate that every Filipino citizen may be conscripted into the military service, was abolished by Republic Act 9163, which made military training voluntary in 2001 and replaced it with the National Service Training Program.

Critics have called the national service program a weak substitute. It does not instill in the youth the sense of national duty and patriotism that the ROTC program fosters.

The late statesman Blas F. Ople protested the scrapping of the ROTC program. He assailed the politicians who "fell over each other to capture the sympathy of college students chafing under the ROTC course" and urged President Arroyo to save the ROTC as the very core of the country’s citizen army from untimely extinction.

Last week, Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas filed House Bill 5460 seeking to restore the ROTC, making compulsory military training a part of all baccalaureate courses and two-year technical or vocational courses as a requisite for graduation.

The Gullas bill seeks to "organize and mobilize students for national preparedness in the event of a national security emergency." Gullas cited the need for "preparing a generation of young people ready to defend the country in any eventuality."

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution directs the government to "call upon the people to defend the State and, in the fulfillment thereof, all citizens may be required, under conditions provided by law, to render personal, military or civil service." The ROTC program falls under the concept of a national service and a Philippine citizen army.

The President, as commander in chief, counts national security as a major concern and the protection of the Filipinos and the nation as a primary obligation. Looking ahead, she should look at the health of the armed forces and the system of replenishment and of training new leaders for the military. This is where the ROTC program comes in.

We urge a full debate on the Gullas bill and the wisdom of the student military training program. Let the leaders of the executive, the Congress, the military, students and the schools come together for a national discussion. President Arroyo should lead the initiative.

Originally published in
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=42418

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