Mandatory ROTC: The Art of Forced Submission

by Sean Marcus Valle-David || Photo Credit: Kyle Nase

Abraham Maslow once said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Reserve Training Corps, or what most people know as ROTC, is a part of the National Service Training Program (NSTP)—a program meant to enhance the youth’s civic consciousness and defense preparedness. Currently, it is optional for college students to participate due to the political pariah surrounding it after the 2001 exposé of Mark Chua and his subsequent death. However, there are now ever louder voices calling for the restoration of its mandatory nature, not just for college students but for senior high school students as well.

Funny enough, the most notable of these voices are Former President and self-proclaimed strongman Rodrigo Duterte, who has famously bragged about faking tuberculosis to dodge the ROTC, and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who hasn’t entered a Filipino College, let alone ever qualified to participate in the program at all. Along with them are a slew of primarily right-wing politicians like Vice President Sara Duterte and Senators Robin Padilla, Francis Tolentino, and Bato dela Rosa. These politicians cited the strengthening of public defense and the instilling of discipline, teamwork, and patriotism among the youth as reasons to make it mandatory. 

However, the severe backlash that sparked against the mandatory nature of the program after Mark Chua’s 2001 revelation of the underlying corruption in the ROTC institution must never be overwritten. It is important to remember how it unmasked the institution’s facade and uncovered its role as an authoritarian tool that ingrains messages of blind obedience among the youth. Such a system of mandatory military training only exposes the youth to harsh conditions and even harsher punishments, teaching them not discipline but rather fear of daring to step out of the line of blind submission. 

Furthermore, the amount of equipment and adjustments to the curriculum—which still requires vast academic improvement—needed to make room for the possible implementation of Mandatory ROTC for college and senior high school students is simply an additional burden to CHED and DepEd, who are both occupied with transitioning to post-pandemic learning. Moreover, with the massive budget cuts these departments received under the current administration and the larger problems that loom over the nation, there seems to be not enough reason to bring back its mandatory nature. 

“More people are needed for national defense preparedness.” Isn’t the impending economic crash a more immediate threat than any conflict with a fellow nation in the foreseeable future?

“The youth need to be taught better manners.” Won’t the liberal application of violence as a form of punishment only teach the youth that violence is the most efficient way to solve problems? 

When all you have is a hammer, won’t everything start looking like a nail? 

It is increasingly apparent that the restoration of Mandatory ROTC isn’t an earnest attempt at solving the nation’s problems but instead a blunt political tool meant to suppress the growing discontentment and calls for change emanating from the youth. Its reimposition is yet another attempt by an increasingly authoritarian regime to wrestle control of the narrative from the masses by forcing the youth—the country’s future—into another hail of indoctrination on levels unheard of since the fall of the late Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship. 

Therefore, it is the responsibility, nay, the necessity, of the youth as well as the masses to stop the powers that be from restoring a program that has such tainted history and motivations from ever going into fruition, for its success may very well be the beginning of the end of our hard-earned democracy—as flawed as it may be—that our ancestors fought, bled, and died for.

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