Friday, March 09, 2012

The ROTC Saga

SKILLS TRAINING  An ROTC cadet from Dumaguete City performs the field stripping of the M16A1 Rifle during the Regional Annual Administrative Performance Evaluation conducted by an officer from the Army Reserve Command (ARESCOM), on February 15, 2012 (Photo by ARESCOM Training Center). 

MANILA--If there is one common ground among almost everyone, it is the remembrance of their ROTC days – except of course when the alternative training programs were already introduced.

I mentioned about alternatives since I am a product of the National Service Training Program (NSTP) where one has choices other than ROTC. Being a member of a marching band, I was exempted from the High School Citizen Army Training (CAT) ergo, no one could expect me to choose ROTC in college. Not to mention the days when I saw my sisters’ CAT photos and hey, they’re literally 'toasted'! It was for me a waste of energy; running-in-tuck, gut-breaking drills, saluting to seniors and running after one’s own racing heart – just not my cup of tea.

At the time I am a freshman in UPLB, the Citizen’s Welfare Training Service (CWTS) has more appeal to me since I very much enjoy community service. Without that I would choose the other option Literacy Training Service (LTS) and ROTC was last from my list – in fact, I would not include it at all.

I used to wonder why some of my batchmates would opt to be grilled under the sun and walk around campus in tuck. I was thinking, “Hey we’re in college, tuck-ins are so out of tune.” That’s how I’ve been looking at the surface until I get to work with the Army and before my eyes eventually unfolds the profound ambit of ROTC and the reserve force in general.

Through the looking glass

History marks 1862 as the inception of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) as a college elective in the United States. At the daybreak of the World War II in 1912, ROTC found its way to the Philippines becoming a requirement to all physically fit male students. The University of the Philippines (UP) and University of Sto. Tomas (UST) were among the first academic institutions to embrace the program. People then began to sight fields lined with fine gentlemen grilled under the sun learning military tactics and discipline.

It was a move to prepare for the worst, anticipating the nightmares of the global unrest. In mind was ultimately to develop raw military force which can be tapped in worst of situations. With a national defense that is rather insufficient for the rising need of the war, ROTC trained cadets were reckoned to be the reserved hope for the country’s win. This essentially heralds the compulsory ROTC program in tertiary education.

ROTC primarily trained its cadets in the military discipline – mainly in infantry and the use of rifle. Its beginnings weren’t at all sweet; wooden guns were used for drills, insufficient facility for military trainings, and lack of definite program of instruction. There had not even a guarantee of military career for those who signed up since an organized reserve corps was inexistent. Everything was all for the love of country.

Came 70’s, heightened insurgencies befall upon the nation. UP, clamored with the nightmares of radical activism and subversion has found more significance of home defense development. General Romeo C Espino, AFP Chief of Staff detailed Lt Colonel Benjamin R Vallejo as Commandant of ROTC Cadets on March 01, 1973. The UP Board of Regents approved his appointment making him Commandant and Department Head of the Department of Military Science and Tactics, a unit which presently handles ROTC in the universities and colleges.

Bringing this relevance to the youth, the Youth Development Training and Citizen Army Training (YDT and CAT) was introduced to secondary schools in 1973. The Philippine Science High School which used to be known as the hotbed of student militants was the first to adopt the program. This effort has helped train the youth at a younger age so that they can better understand the principles of DUTY, HONOR and COUNTRY.

Even at present, most students who have undergone the CAT program would choose to take ROTC in fulfilling their college NSTP requirement. Realizing this historical significance, I felt a strike of regret that I have only watched from afar and never experience the actual chills of the whole process.

A reserve force in times of peace and war

Presently, the Philippine Army (PA) cradles the Reservist Program which basically is an advanced spectacle of ROTC. Volunteers would join the Reservist Program and undergo military training to become the country’s Reserve Force. Not that we wish for a war, but the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is mandated to have a regular force and a reserve force who are called should a war ensues.

Unlike the Regular Force, the reservists would take extra effort of spending their own money and time to do their tasks. Their reasons: spirit of nationalism and mere interest in the military duty, some also look at it as a challenge.

When not called for combat, reservists can serve as intelligence arms of the Army. They are also present in Civil-Military Operations (CMO) and environment protection activities like greening projects, solid waste management and alike. The reservists, since they are locals at a certain community, bridges officers from the regular force to the community they are assigned in.

The reservists are also military force providers enabling extra support for the AFP Internal Security Operation (ISO). I get to speak with Col. Quirino S. Calonzo, Assistant Chief of Staff for Reservist and Retirees Affairs or G9 of PA – the Army staff office which also handles the ROTC. He fondly shared stories of the reserve officers and how G9 toils to foster appreciative atmosphere between the regular and reserve force – that they regard the existence and importance of each other.

Much for the need of the public to deeply understand the importance of the reserve force, the Army also makes effort for the tight fellowship between the regular force and the reserve force since they will be fighting side-by-side when situation calls. Col. Calonzo also mentioned that there are good plans for the reserve force and it is just a matter of implementing it. Generating funds to support the reservist training and equipage is the primordial concern. “It is the desire of the leadership to have a reserve force that can really perform its tasks when called for. A ready reserve that is ready in the real sense,”Col. Calonzo said.

Catalyst toward noble duty

Being a CAT and ROTC product himself, Col. Calonzo said that the training he acquired molded him quite well making him the fine soldier he is now. Admittedly he said, “Completing the basic and advanced ROTC, including the RSCT and Class 1 MS 43 introduced me to the military life which I enjoyed very much.” He is only one of the many ROTC graduates who were convinced to pursue a military career. In fact more than 60% of the AFP officer corp are ROTC graduates. Also, everyone who serves in the government and are graduates before 2001 have actually undergone ROTC. Former PA Commanding General Delfin N. Bangit also came from the reservist line.

Few of the prominent names from among UP ROTC graduates are Ambassador Nicanor T. Jimenez who commanded the famous 14th Brigade Combat Team of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea; Brigadier General Emmanuel S. Cayton who became the 12th Commander of the Army Reserve Command; Colonel Antonio R. Buenaventura who was conferred the title National Artist by in music by the Cultural Center of the Philippines; former President Ferdinand E. Marcos whom we needless to say more, and General Carlos P. Romulo who was known to serve in the Pacific War as Major.

Some ROTC graduates on the other hand have become top officials of AFP. There exist Brigadier Generals Danilo Fabian, Joel Ibañez, Marlou Salazar and Lito Tabangcura to name a few. They are living testimonies of the human discipline ROTC training can instill to a fledgling leader. Yes, we are all leaders. All we need is some ground to realize our potentials as individuals. One potent avenue is when your strength is tested – ROTC does that in many ways.

ROTC in the face of struggles

One of the reasons of my reservation to join ROTC was the many hullabaloos storming it. ROTC has however withstood many controversies and attempts to abolish. One of the most scorching issue was brought about by the unfortunate death of Mark Welson Chua in 2001, a then UST-ROTC cadet. This thorny issue  fueled the calls to abolish the program.

As a response, the congress has enacted the RA 9163 otherwise known as the NSTP Law. This made ROTC optional in tertiary education along with two other programs under NSTP – the Literacy Training Service (LTS) and the Citizen’s Welfare Training Service (CWTS). This practically hailed hoorays from those who are just like me regarding ROTC only at the surface.

However, in an interview published by The Varsitarian, UST’s official student publication, Mark’s father Welson Chua said that had Mark lived, he would not have wanted this result. He was quoted, “Mark did not want to abolish the ROTC. It’s not the institution, it’s the way it’s being run,” Welson added. Welson Chua died of heart attack in February 2006.

Amid  the controversies, ROTC continued to be a training ground for youths and remains to serve its purpose and relevance to the country.

According to Col. Quirino Calonzo, the Army's Assistant Chief of Staff for Reservist Affairs, G9, the enactment of NSTP has a very drastic effect on the ROTC program which resulted to a serious downtrend on enrolment and graduates.

“Malpractices are being corrected with appropriate training for ROTC training staff. The revision of the Program of Instruction and approaches however arrested the downtrend and is now inching for increase in enrollment,” Calonzo shared.

He also advocates the continued assessment of the ROTC program with the all out support from the Department of National Defense and the AFP. They even reach out to high school students to provide the young an informed choice. 

He stressed that it is fair enough to educate the youth about ROTC so that they can fully understand their choices comes college. 

He stated further that just being there in the parade ground marching under the heat of the sun, one achieves the basics of soldiery including fellowship, teamwork, and leadership. 

“By joining the ROTC program, you will be gaining many things. Aside from the relevant soldiery skills you  also gain one of the most basic vitamins needed by the body  for free---Vitamin D.”  Calonzo jokingly but seriously added.

UST and UP are among the universities which still actively engage with ROTC activities. Career for ROTC cadets has also becomes clearer as more opportunities were opened. Priority is given to aspiring soldiers who have completed the ROTC program.

Presently, the ROTC does not require uniforms anymore so as to cut the cost for cadets, it all now depends on the schools.

Hail to its centennial

The AFP underscores the great contributions of ROTC in nation building, and as it celebrates its centennial year, the military wishes to further stress its roles and relevance in the future. Today, the AFP and all its branches are busy preparing for the commemoration of ROTC’s centennial with the theme ROTC Centennial, 100 years of Molding Leaders from among our Youth in Nation-Building and in the Defense of the Motherland”.

First on its line is the AFP ROTC Centennial Challenge on March 04 at the General Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo. The event gathers all male and female cadets from schools, colleges and universities in the National Capital Region to showcase their competencies in friendly military stakes competition and fun games. 

The military stakes include Company Drill, Small Unit Tactics, and disassembly/assembly of Caliber 45 Pistol and M16 Armalite Rifle. To break the chills, fun games like tug-of-war, truck push, donut relay, obstacle course and centipede race will savor the rest of the day.

For years, ROTC has produced graduates who eventually became peacekeepers, volunteers and protectors of the country’s democracy. To pay homage to its alumni with distinctive contribution in nation-building as well as in advancing and protecting the national interest, 100 ROTC Outstanding Alumni will be awarded during the “Gabi ng Parangal” on March 11. 

The awards just not end there, to highlight the night, Binibining Laang-Kawal or Miss ROTC Centennial of the Major Service Reserve Commands shall also be recognized.

As those were the centennial highlights, the celebration runs for a year where various CMOs like blood-letting, tree planting, environmental clean-up drive, medical and dental civic action programs and alike shall ensue. These provide good avenues to foster camaraderie and community service among the military, ROTC cadets and its alumni, civilians and the community.

Onwards ROTC!

For 100 years of facing many battles, the ROTC remained standing and shall always be. Its contribution to the country as well as the service of its cadets is undeniably remarkable. ROTC, though perhaps disliked by some, has played a major role in our history, and is still playing its part in molding the youth and instilling a different kind of discipline towards becoming dignified citizens.

Certainly, those fatigue uniforms are still tucked somewhere under your beds in the attic or in your old closets. Some might not want to look back at them; some might have been secretly visiting it like going back to those good old memories; some might even took the risk of actually joining the service. Who knows? Well, one thing is definite, we should not forget our reserve force’s contributions and sacrifices for the defense of our land and protection of democracy.

Everything atop might have brought one back down to memory lane but it is now more than ever that I realized the substance of knowing how it all started, and most specially, why.

ASPIRING ARMOR officers ride the battle tank during their orientation training held at the headquarters of the 9th Infantry Division in Camp Elias Angeles, Pili, Cam Sur. (Photo by Cpl Marco Balinia)

About the author:

Mae M Catibog, 25, finished her BS Development Communication from University of the Philippine-Los Banos in 2007.

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