The 20th death anniversary of Thomasian Mark Welson Chua passed by quietly last March, and understandably so, as the country continues to battle against a worldwide pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives locally. With Covid-19 cases in the first few months of 2021 topping last year’s numbers, there’s just too much soreness and apprehension to deal with.

But two decades after Chua’s horrific death in the hands of fellow Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) cadets, calls to revive the mandatory military course for senior high school (and college) students are in the air once again, thanks to President Duterte, whose proclivity toward—and dependency on—the military and police, is very evident, so that he seems to coddle them and even encourage them to abuse civilians and undermine our democracy. And because Philippine democracy is a sham, the legislative has been very obliging toward his anti-democratic tendencies, so that his wish to have compulsory ROTC restored has been adopted by House Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco, a Thomasian regrettably, as one of his “priority bills.”

Good Lord! Velasco must have either entirely missed the Chua incident while studying law in UST, or his mind is simply too glutted with shallow and self-serving politics, that he could not even bother to remember. Either way, he is essentially digging up a failed and putrefied program that is compulsory ROTC, while dumping all the dirt on Chua’s grave. For Velasco, whose sycophancy of Duterte allowed him to secure the House speakership in the first place, artificial resuscitation of what’s left down in the muck can’t be too bizarre and mortifying.

Reviving compulsory ROTC is like spitting at the grave of Mark Chua. Chua was killed by his fellow cadet officers who were all scions of police and military officers, and who followed their elders and superiors in making ROTC abusive. The reason it was abusive was exactly its compulsory nature: since every male was made to take it up and pay tuition to the ROTC under the Department of National Defense, there was no compulsion for it and the DND to improve it and make it deliver well on the ROTC’s supposed goal of making disciplined young reservists ready for the call of duty in times of civil emergencies or external threats. Remember that ROTC was institutionalized during martial law and it became an instrument for militarization and de facto undermining of civilian supremacy. Two of Chua’s killers remain at large, and there have apparently been no attempts on the part of the AFP or law enforcers to bring them to justice, underscoring how militarism continues to undermine civilian rule. This is the militarism which Duterte seeks unabashedly to formalize by filling his cabinet with retired military and police officers, dismissing instances of police and military abuse, as in the murder in cold blood and in full view of mobile camera by a bystander of a mother and her son in Tarlac by Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca last December, and in his insistence that compulsory ROTC be restored.


President Duterte’s claim that the ROTC would “invigorate (the youth’s) sense of nationalism and patriotism” is both farcical and deluding. A nurse in a Covid-19 ward or a mother helping her child through a lesson module is as patriotic as a soldier on the battlefield or a police officer manning a quarantine checkpoint. While military service is honorable and dutiful, any Filipino’s lack or even absence of instruction and exercise in that field does not make him or her less patriotic.

It’s remarkable how the Commander-in-chief can still define for us what nationalism is and ought to be when he appears the most helpless and confused about patriotism while cozying up to China despite the communist totalitarian country’s incursions into our territorial waters. Duterte has allowed China to build military facilities on Philippine waters. He’s played footsie with the communist bosses of Beijing and now he dares question the patriotism of our youth! At the least, we should say that it doesn’t take compulsory ROTC to play harlot with Beijing. Malacañang whoredom is one thing, patriotism another, with apologies of course to whores.

The revival of mandatory ROTC, whether in senior high school or college, means the failure of systemic values, civic and nationalistic education—including the National Service Training Program (NSTP), whose establishment through Republic Act 9163 in 2001 was a consequence of the Chua case. The basic military course, designated as an optional component of the NSTP, has produced 1,435,000 Armed Forces of the Philippines reservists in 10 years since. The two other components, the Civic Welfare Training Service and the Literacy Training Service, have produced 10.6 million and over 538,000 graduates, respectively, in the same period. These figures will likely double by 2022, and they cannot be ignored. The statistics show that “patriotism and the sense of nationalism” are alive and well in the country. We don’t know if that’s the case in Malacañang.

For its part, the University of Santo Tomas has to take the lead once again as it did in 2001, when it stood tall and firm in denouncing the failures and abuses in the ROTC program.

And then, as the Varsitarian has been a refuge to Mark Welson Chua and his disclosures 20 years ago, we will continue to tell and retell his story, and renew our commitment as a keeper and purveyor of truth and justice. Because we owe it to the courage and patriotism of individuals like him, and the rest of us who labor honestly and persistently, to lead good lives, uphold truth and justice, and build a proud nation.


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