IT began with a special report published in The Varsitarian, the student publication of the University of Sto. Tomas (UST), on the alleged widespread corruption in the school’s Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. Two students, one of them Mark Welson Chua, later followed this up with a complaint before the Department of National Defense.
In March 2001, Chua was abducted and beaten inside the UST’s Department of Military Science and Tactics office.
His body was found three days later floating in the Pasig River. His hands and feet were tied and a duct tape was wrapped around his head. The body was rolled in a carpet. During the autopsy, sludge was found in his lungs which meant that he was still alive when thrown into the river.
But even before the Mark Welson Chua case, questions on the conduct of the ROTC training and complaints of corruption and abuses, including the practice of hazing, had been raised throughout the years everywhere in the country. What the members of the training staff of the ROTC unit in UST who were later convicted for the killing did was pour gasoline into the widespread resentment.
Calls for the abolition of the ROTC made not only by students but also by school administrators acquired an urgent ring so that in 2002, then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law Republic Act 9163 or the National Service Training Program (NSTP). It stopped short of abolishing ROTC but instead made enrollment in it voluntary. It is no longer a requirement for graduation.
I was reminded of this chunk of history when I read the report that President Rodrigo Duterte has certified as urgent the bill that would make the ROTC mandatory again, this time in senior high school (Grades 11 and 12).
Considering history, my immediate worry was for my sons, who may undergo ROTC training if the bill becomes a law. That worry is borne out of fear of the abuses they might suffer.
To be fair, there is some truth to the claim of the proponents of the measure that it could “instill the ideals of patriotism and public service in the youth.” After all, programs, no matter how bad, always have positive sides to them. But the positives may not outweigh the negatives in the implementation of the program, considering our experience.
For example, even if the ROTC is no longer mandatory, abuses were still reported in the implementation of the program in some schools.
Last year, Gabriela Youth, according to bulatlat.com, exposed a case in Benguet State University where some cadets were physically abused and “were forced to masturbate in front of their ROTC officers.” Female cadets were also reportedly forced to sl;eep in the male officers’ office.
Meanwhile, an article posted in the The Jungle Post blog (thejunglepost.com) recalled ROTC hazing cases, like the one in a video that has gone viral last wherein ROTC cadets in the University of Mindanao-Tagum College were seen to have been hit repeatedly in their stomachs and chests.
George Santayana said this: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”