Glad to hear that they’re bringing ROTC training back – ROTC being the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

When I was in college, it wasn’t called ROTC, but Citizen’s Military Training, or CMT. I was a Technical Sergeant in the UST Golden Corps; more specifically, the Special Forces. Yeah, I get a laugh out of remembering that too. Anyway, I wasn’t much of an NCO, actually getting busted down to Corporal for – of all things – not logging into the CMT Office regularly.

Nevertheless, I worked hard on my CMT, preferring it to Phys Ed. And considering that I was in BSPT at that time, finishing CMT all the way up to MS24 – without any of that payola nonsense – was an accomplishment I was proud of.

So, yes. I am totally on-board with arguments against ROTC (except that bit about a “militarist culture,” but more on that later) that go like:

  • ROTC fosters a militarist culture detrimental to the development of the youth. It perpetrates corruption and political patronage, sexism and machismo, the culture of violence and human rights violation, and ideological bigotry
  • Students experience their first exposure to corrupt practices under the ROTC where physical comforts and passing grades are given in exchange for cash and other favors (i.e. bottles of alcohol, reams of cigarettes, car rides etc.)

However, I would pursue these arguments to a different conclusion. Rather than pretend it isn’t a viable option, reinstate the ROTC, but reform the system of checks and balances that goes along with it. Make sure that the corruption which devalued it in the past no longer has space to thrive in this new incarnation. Thus far, all we’ve really done is thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

The same goes for the kind of ultra-violent hazing bullshit that eventually tipped the balance against the continuation of the already unpopular ROTC. Don’t ever forget Mark Welson Chua, folks.

On the other hand, I don’t buy many of the arguments against the reinstatement of ROTC either. Some are just non-starters. Like saying that

“the military culture propagated by the ROTC is inconsistent with academic freedom. Schools are places for opening minds to new ideas, critical and independent thinking. The school is a venue for interaction among people of different background, status, beliefs, and the exchange of ideas. Allowing military training within the campus imposes the military worldview in institutions where students are required to be intellectually engaged and politically diverse.”

Instilling martial discipline is not anathema to “new ideas,” or “critical, independent thinking.” Nor will a program that runs for only two semesters (at least for students not opting to go into officer school or to become NCOs) “impose a military worldview” on a school, much less contribute to some intellectual disengagement or political monomania.

In any case, those outcomes are completely possible now, even without ROTC, and if we’re being frank about it, that’s exactly what some groups are pushing now, just as they were pushing for it back when ROTC was still a thing. If anything, therefore, ROTC will simply provide a counter-balance against the unfettered sway currently held by those now lording it over the students’ minds.

As for imposing a “militarist culture,” you don’t really need the ROTC for that, and not having the ROTC is no inoculation against the emergence of thugs. The only difference is in the colors they wear.

Violence has always been the recourse of the unimaginative and the intellectually bankrupt. Martial discipline, on the other hand, when it is administered properly and with the appropriate checks and balances, operates to tamp down the more brutal tendencies of men and women. Of course, this is not to say that outliers exist. There will be forever be some nutcase who will take things too far. But again, this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to the ROTC.

Neither is this sort of argument meaningful:

“What we need is a better path for the socio-civic involvement of the youth, a path that is congruent to the challenges of the changing times.

That path simply does not lead to ROTC. For how can a program that the AFP once used to install “student intelligence networks” meant to infiltrate and spy on student organizations and advocacy groups lead to active socio-civic engagement of the youth? How can a program that still cannot rid itself of its violent past post as a solution to apathy?”

First off, this fellow must not know of (what we, in the UST Golden Corps used to call) Damayan Units. These are units designed and trained precisely for socio-civic engagement in communities around the campus and elsewhere. Damayan Units are also deployed for rescue-assistance and humanitarian missions in times of calamity. Under the right kind of leadership and with proper training, these Units can be inspiring examples of martial discipline placed squarely in the service of the broader public.

Secondly, the shameful past of any organization does not invalidate it’s capacity to do better in the future. If it were otherwise, if the history of an organization or movement can be used as a valid argument for its stamping out, then what do we do with organisations and movements that sanctioned assassinations of ordinary people?

And third, I understand “changing times” is code-speak for the predominance of western-style liberalism. I get it. I’m a fan of western liberalism. But because nothing is ever without a downside, I am also wary of corrosive influence of western liberalism’s hedonistic overtones on the youth.

As an aside, I am an advocate of volunteerism as well, but I am not blind to its limitations. Nor do I ignore the reality that encouraging volunteerism in a people steeped in individualism and the kind of “entitlement-from-the-state” mindset promoted by some quarters, is a Sisyphean task at best.

Arguments for

To be frank, I think the argument that we need the ROTC to prepare for some sort of showdown as a result of the troubles in the West Philippine Sea is utter nonsense. All this talk of a shooting war erupting and engulfing two nations is just a juvenile, fevered day dream that totally ignores the reality of modern-day international relations.

We are not Israel, a nation besieged on all sides by hostile neighbours; or one of the countries within the range of a rogue nation’s ability to project military power. So can we just please erase this ridiculous fake justification?

There are plenty of reasons why a return of the ROTC is a good thing:

  1. The formal fundamentals of ROTC – drills, martial discipline, an emphasis on precision – provide a formal structure that can help channel the energies of the youth. Giving one day a week to some higher purpose is not alien to us, nor will it be harmful to the youth to be deprived of a half-day’s worth of free time. Needless to say, some aspects of home life will be affected. Family-time for instance, and time spent playing DOTA. But viewed from the perspective of the development of the youth, this is not an overly onerous burden either.
  2. Properly taught, the principles of martial discipline find application in all fields of human endeavour. The prioritisation of group goals and needs, for example, is a virtue most often sacrificed in the name of rampant individualism. This de-emphasis on group goals is, arguably, also one of the leading causes in the decline of volunteerism among the youth.
  3. The same can be said of the emphasis on precision. Repetitive drills weren’t invented to bedevil the youth. They are meant to underscore both the practical importance and the innate beauty of coordinated movement. It is important to note that none of this is meant to detract a whit from the appreciation of more free-flowing forms of creativity, but to in fact add to that appreciation by the introduction of a complementary opposite.
  4. The substantive aspects of ROTC – lectures on patriotism and nationalism, for example – provide an opportunity for civic and voter education that has been all but expunged from curricula increasingly focused on maths and sciences. A recent survey showed that youth worldwide are increasingly becoming tolerant of authoritarianism – a trend attributable to a diminishing appreciation for the democratic way of life. One of the causes for this decrease is the palpable absence of civic and voter education that exposes the youth to the idea that democracy isn’t a spectator sport; that it requires commitment and effort from them, even as they enjoy its benefits.
  5. ROTC can also be used to teach a dilute species of military theory. Not the blood-and-guts type, but of a kind that teaches the importance of logistics and strategy. Nor will ROTC be unique in doing so; Sun-Tzu’s the Art of War is an essentially military document that finds widespread use among businessmen, isn’t it? But you don’t see businessmen running around with katanas and lopping people’s heads off on the floor of the stock exchange.

Opposition to the ROTC, I believe, comes from a good place. A desire to prevent the ills of an overly-militarised society; a desire to protect the youth from the depredations of tin-pot tyrants empowered by military culture; and over-archingly, a desire to prevent the rise of conditions congenial to authoritarianism. I respect that immensely.

The abuses of the old ROTC should never be forgotten, yes, and it will take dedication to make sure they are not repeated. I do not believe that the reinstatement of the ROTC will necessarily give rise to all those evils; certainly not if the program is properly rolled out and implemented under the most rigorous regulation. We’ve been without ROTC for quite some time now; as a society, we are freer now and know better the warning signs that will tip us off if the ROTC program is going astray. The time is right to give this good idea another go.






Leave a Reply