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Reviving the ROTC for emergency training

In 2001, in the pervading mood of national resentment following complaints against certain units of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) in Philippine universities, highlighted by the death of a cadet whose body was found floating in the Pasig River in 2001, Congress enacted RA 9163 , the National Service Training Program Act, that effectively stopped the ROTC program which had long been required for all college students in the country.

Under RA 9163, all college students were required to choose one of three programs, namely, a “Literacy Training Service” — for teaching school and out-of-school children; a “Civic Welfare Training Service” – for activities to improve health, education, etc., in communities; and ROTC – training for national defense preparedness. ROTC ceased to be a prerequisite for graduation and with three choices, most students opted for community work.

Today, there is a growing move to revive the ROTC program in the nation’s schools, led by President Duterte himself, who first spoke out on this in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2016. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III has now filed a bill to revive the ROTC program, but with a .different emphasis and a different name.

His bill calls for a Citizen Service Training Course (CSTC) to train youths to be part of a Citizen Service Corps to help the government in case of emergencies.

While the basic component of CSTC is training for external and territorial defense – which is the old ROTC – it will be expanded to include law and order, and disaster risk reduction and management. A Citizen Service Mobilization Commission (CSMC) will be created to provide safeguards against possible abuses such as those which plagued the ROTC in 2001.

Except for the negative stories that cropped up in those years, the ROTC had a great reputation as a training program for youth in the country. The Philippine Constabulary began military instruction at the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1912 and the first official ROTC unit was set up at UP in 1922, followed by units at National University, Ateneo de Manila, Liceo de Manila, and Colegio de San Juan de Letran.

When World War II broke out in 1941, ROTC cadets and officers from 33 colleges and universities all over the country fought in the Battle of Bataan and joined the US Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) and various guerrilla groups, among them the famous Hunters ROTC during the Japanese occupation. Several generations of Filipino students underwent ROTC training in all the following years, until the program ceased to be a college requirement in 2001.

It may be time to revive it. All throughout its history, it has done well in providing training similar to those given to civilians in Switzerland, Canada, the US, and – closer to home – Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and China. Such training would be helpful in case of an emergency, not just a military one but also in a disaster such as an earthquake, flood, or typhoon.