ROTC focuses on military training
Photo courtesy of Abante Online
The Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) is one of the three program components of the National Service Training Program (NSTP) which focuses on military training and preparedness for national defense. The program in particular is directed to prepare the youth (which by contemporary definitions, are aged 15-24).

Military training for the youth rooted from the Spanish period, when the colonial government drafted a native contingent to reinforce the armed forces. One significant draft was during the British invasion of Manila in 1762. Some 200 students of the University of Santo Tomas were organized by the Rector, Fr. Domingo Collantes, to aid in the defense of the city. Later on, the native contingent of the colonial armed forces was professionalized, and the youth having access to military training as cadets. One significant example would be Andres Novales, who was a cadet at age nine (9). However, the program as we know it today goes back to 1912, when the Philippine Constabulary (PC) first organized military training in the University of the Philippines (UP). Captain Silvino Gallardo was the first Commandant of Cadets. Later, with the First World War looming in Europe, the federalized Philippine National Guard (PNG) took over the program, with Captain Juan Villasanta as the Commandant of Cadets. However, the 25,000-strong PNG would never see action in the front lines, and was dissolved after the war. Meanwhile, the first ROTC unit and the Department of Military Science and Tactics (DMST) in UP was organized in 1922, with a US Army officer serving as professor of Military Science and Tactics. Soon, other universities and colleges in the Philippines followed the UP example. However, ROTC would only become a mandatory program by 1935, with President Manuel Quezon signing Commonwealth Act No. 1, also known as the National Defense Act of 1935. It is mandated in Article VI Section 34 of the National Defense Act that:
Any person who shall have completed his trainee instruction and who is selected for training as a commissioned officer shall pursue a theoretical course of training of not less than six months to be prescribed by the Chief of Staff, upon completion of which he shall be assigned to duty with a Regular unit as prohibitionary third lieutenant for another period of six months. At the end of this service those who have displayed qualities of leadership and who have demonstrated their fitness to command may be appointed and commissioned third lieutenants of the Reserve Force and assigned to an organization thereof. Those who fail to complete the course of training shall be transferred to the Reserve Force as enlisted men and shall be assigned to an organization thereof.
At the time, the regular armed forces were small, numbering around 30,000 by 1941. With Quezon wary of an imminent war, which would turn out to be the Second World War, and neutrality a near impossibility, he looked towards bolstering the nation's defenses. To compensate for the "outnumbered" regular force, the ROTC was made mandatory to form a larger reserve force. It was projected to produce 400,000 personnel by ten years (1946). However, war erupted in Asia and the Pacific in 1941. By this time, there were only around 100,000 to bolster the regular force. During the war, ROTC units would prove worthy particularly during the guerrilla phase. Among the more prominent would be the Hunters ROTC. After the war, the pre-war ROTC units were disbanded. The number of mobilized troops dwindled from one million to around 50,000. Of course, this demobilization is not without reason. With the war over and the resistance movement contained (later suppressed completely during the 1950s), keeping a large military force would drain the nation's resources.

Ferdinand Marcos as a soldier during the war
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
The ROTC would not be restored as a mandatory program until President Ferdinand Marcos signed Executive Order No. 59 s. 1967. Amendments were implemented when he signed Presidential Decree No. 1706 s. 1980, also known as the National Service Law. This formed the three components of national service: military (as exhibited by ROTC), law enforcement, and civic welfare. Marcos was a product of the ROTC program (Class of 1937) when it was instituted by the National Defense Act. Apparently, this is where he derived the idea of restoring it as a mandatory program. At any rate, this is coinciding with his agenda of strengthening the military. Starting from around 60,000 troops, the regular armed forces grew to some 270,000 personnel, which was more than triple since he began his presidency. In addition to this relatively large regular force is a reserve force of almost the same size. To defend the rationale of this military buildup, Marcos would shift the role of the armed forces from "internal security" (which was meant to complement with American military presence in the Philippines) to "external defense." Indeed, it was during the 1970s when the Chinese began surveying what is now the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), and this was accompanied by the growing size of rebel elements such as the New People's Army (NPA) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

ROTC would become an optional program in 2001 with the National Service Training Program Act (Republic Act 9163). This was after a "crisis" caused by the death of a UST ROTC member, Mark Chua, in the same year. As with the pattern once employed by Marcos, NSTP divides national service into three components: civic welfare (CWTS), literacy training (LTS), and military training (ROTC). With this move, ROTC students were greatly reduced from 800,000 in 2000 to 150,000 in 2012. Most students prefer to take CWTS or LTS as national service programs. Fifteen years later, with the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, ROTC is making a comeback with advocates wanting it to be restored as a mandatory program. Duterte takes a step further with pushing for ROTC in senior high school (that is, Grades 11 and 12). Of course, there are a number of benefits with the program's restoration. The objectives being forwarded by ROTC are the following:

  • Prepare the college students for possible service in the defense establishment in the event of emergency.
  • Train and develop the ROTC cadets as future enlisted reservist for the Reserve Component of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
  • Inculcate in the youth the spirit of patriotism and nationalism.
  • Develop and promote the physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual and social well-being of the youth.
  • Train and develop the youth as potential community leaders.
  • Develop civic consciousness and good citizenship among the youth.

However, there are also points being raised by those opposed to the restoration:

  • Military service is not the only way of serving the nation. In addition, the Philippines has more frequent problems than military, such as disasters (natural or man-made).
  • A large reserve force would prove difficult to maintain. In addition, it would require greater resources to mobilize and arm the reservists. The experience with the Second World War proved that a large reserve force would prove ineffective without modernization.
  • To reform the ROTC, it would require reforming the Armed Forces of the Philippines in general. The professional force, who would be training our cadets, needs to be cleansed if the reserve force is expected to be rid of abuse and corruption.
  • ROTC training may prove inadequate, if not antiquated, with the advent of electronic warfare. Given that the reservists be provided enough guns and ammunition, but cyber attacks can paralyze communications and operations within seconds. The new cadets would need to be trained with the latest equipment and the latest methods of warfare to become efficient.
  • The Philippines being an archipelago, improving naval and air assets (ships, missile systems, etc.) would prove more helpful than training foot soldiers who can only fight on the ground.

Whether or not ROTC would become a mandatory program in the near future, the ultimate reason behind the debate is the concern for national defense. What is being done to ensure that the Philippines can be defended? This was being asked by Quezon in 1935. Marcos tried to employ the rhetoric of "external defense." Decades later, is the issue still plaguing our nation?