THE revival of a proposal, coming no less from President Rodrigo Duterte, to make ROTC once again mandatory has triggered renewed debates as to the effectiveness of ROTC as a tool to "inspire patriotism and love of country among the youth."
During my college days, I was an officer of the Ateneo Air Force ROTC for four years. I underwent ROTC cadre training for eight weeks during the summer of my second year in college. After graduation, although not required, I even attended the Probationary Second Lieutenants Training Course at Nichols (now Villamor) Air Base. I now hold a reserve commission of Lieutenant Colonel in the Philippine Air Force.
But would I support the proposal to make ROTC mandatory?
With due respect to President Duterte, my answer is NO.
First, ROTC is simply not for everybody. True, it worked for me. But I had my reason and my own motivation which many do not necessarily share.
Second, the current school system is not prepared to handle an effective training program. Prospective school participants are still adjusting to the K-12 program and may not be geared for the job.
Third, the current training alternatives are sufficient. ROTC does not have a monopoly in instilling discipline and love of country.
To be acceptable, forced ROTC training must be relevant. The compulsory trainee must see an immediate need for it. Otherwise, the compulsory trainee will just devise ways and means to get around the system. By his own admission, President Duterte attempted to skip ROTC when he was a student.
I submit that compulsory military training is only effective where a country is always under imminent threat as in the case of Israel and Taiwan.
We cannot say the same for the Philippines. As a candidate, President Duterte reportedly justified his support for mandatory ROTC training by saying that it would augment Philippine forces to repel Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
Of course, the remark was one of those subsequently dismissed by his spokesperson as having been said in jest.
That said, let me just relate my own ROTC experience which, I reiterate, is more the exception than the rule.
In my own case, I was drilled by my father to always be prepared. "Heaven forbid that we get involved in another war, but when that happens I hope you will be prepared." With such a mindset, I went through the Boy Scouts, Preparatory Military Training (PMT) and ROTC. And I relished all those activities.
At the Ateneo, our ROTC training was relatively more enjoyable. It was not all drills under the sun. We spent some time in the shooting range, firing Springfield rifles. We had frequent competitions, including disassembly and assembly of carbines.
Towards the end of a school year, we staged a "mock battle". The ROTC cadets were divided into two groups -- the "Attack Group" and the "Defense Group". The "Defense Group" defended the Ateneo football field while the "Attack Group" came in two columns, one coming from the direction of UP, another coming from Marikina.
We were issued flare rockets which, using our Springfield rifles as launch pads, we fired above the heads of our "enemies". Before sundown, the marshals signaled a halt to the mock battle, with both sides claiming victory.
Then we pitched out tents all over the football field, where the grass was almost totally burned because of the constant flare barrage it received during the assault.
My ROTC training also produced an unanticipated happy result.
In the summer of 1962, 15 Ateneo cadets were chosen at random to attend ROTC cadre training in Nichols Air Base. The cadet trainees, aside from myself, were Toby Canto, Efren Carag, Louie de la Concepcion, Ernie del Castillo, Ed Farolan, Freddie Kanapi, Kaiku Licuanan, Hank Lopez-Dee, Romy Mosqueda, Eli Navarrete, Pouch Rous, Gene San Juan, Boy Tripon and Ding Wenceslao.
The 15 cadets joined draftees from other schools like Ateneo de Zamboanga, Zamboanga AE Colleges, Lipa City Colleges and Feati University.
It was a two-month boot camp, where training emphasis was physical conditioning, close order drill, squad tactics, team work and military discipline.
It was in Nichols where I met my future wife, Mira. Mira was the daughter of an air force officer, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Oca, who was then in charge of the Air Police.
A fellow cadre trainee Ernie del Castillo and I frequently slipped out of our barracks to go a-courting in the Officers Quarters.
I visited Mira while Ernie visited his future wife Grace Ello, daughter of another officer.
At the end of each visit, Ernie and I sneaked back, commando style, into our barracks without the Air Police patrols getting any wiser.
Our training in evasive technique was effective.
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