The proposal to mandate Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) gained further traction, with the Commission on Higher Education backing to make it mandatory for senior high school. I actually took ROTC back in college, as well as Citizenship Advancement Training (CAT) back in high school. Do I regret the experience? No. If I had the chance to choose again, would I do it? Also no.
I was part of the first coed batch of college students who were required to choose either ROTC or the National Service Training Program (NSTP). I still remember, as a freshman, waking up at 3 a.m. in order to enlist in one of only three NSTP classes for the entire batch of 3,000 students. Back in CAT, I would faint multiple times from standing in the heat for hours on end, which led to my transfer to the medic unit. No way did I want a repeat experience in college. I remember getting a phone call from a schoolmate as I was getting ready to go, and she told me I might as well go back to sleep—most of our male classmates had already gotten the NSTP slots. The desire to escape arduous physical training knows no gender. As I didn’t want to risk not getting NSTP again in the second year, and honestly just wanting to get it over with, I opted to embrace my fate and signed up for Field Artillery.
ROTC was six hours every Sunday for a year. Handkerchiefs need to be starched, notepads need to be covered neatly in plastic, and women had to put their hair inside hairnets. Uniform inspection was probably the most stressful—boots had to be polished, pant legs fake-tucked using rubber bands, and shirts had to be tucked in a specific crease. Since it was the first year that they had female cadets, it was apparent that they didn’t quite know what to do with us. Some treated us extra gently and the others were somewhat too excited to have us there. For the most part, student officers were professional and nice, especially in our battalion. It helped that there were already female officers, those who actually wanted to study military science. I stuck close to them whenever I had the chance, out of safety. They made the boys do push-ups as punishments; they didn’t require the same for the girls—but I do remember some of my fellow female cadets had to dance “spaghetti pababa” in front of everyone. I would’ve preferred the push-ups. I couldn’t escape the marching or the dreaded long hours of standing in the sun—especially when dignitaries were visiting. I much preferred when they were teaching us skills, such as first aid and M4 rifle assembly.
I was headed out for my ROTC exam on the morning that the Magdalo group staged what is now known as the Oakwood mutiny, forcibly occupying the Oakwood Premier in Glorietta. I remember news videos of tanks rolling in to Ayala with suspected explosive devices being set up on the streets. At the time it was happening, nobody was sure if the day would turn violent. After all, tanks don’t exactly symbolize peace. It was my final exam in ROTC. Not showing up would carry tremendous consequences. I remember my dad insisting that I stay home, especially since I would be wearing army fatigues out in public. He—who was an ROTC officer himself back in the day—said surely my officers would understand the situation. Did they? As expected, they insisted that exams continue but that we can go home as soon as we turned it in. Despite finishing my ROTC, I was in no way prepared for having to commute while a military mutiny was going on. I was just a college freshman who learned to tolerate standing in the heat and marching in sync. I felt more exposed and vulnerable in my army fatigues than if I had been simply a civilian.
My personal experience gave me a glimpse of what our senior high students may have to deal with if the government pushes through with mandatory ROTC. They will have the trappings of being militarily prepared without actually being so—this is way more dangerous and risks the safety of our youth. Those who volunteered to train—instead of those who were forced—are much more likely to be prepared for actual military service when the need arises. I also learned more about disaster operations by volunteering in relief efforts, as well as getting professionally involved with disaster response teams as a psychologist. You don’t need ROTC for that. Currently, UP Diliman already offers a general education course on disaster risk reduction and management. Civics, political science, and history classes also equip us much better toward patriotism. Patriotism is found in active citizenship, not just in military exercises. Discipline is also best learned through example. If our leaders and public servants commit to self-discipline and don’t exempt themselves from our laws, their citizens will follow. Leave ROTC to those who actually want to learn it.
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