A PLATOON of Philippine Army Soldiers and a large contingent of Philippine National Police, some carrying guns, practically turned the campus into their barracks during the tense first training day of the new National Service Training Program (NSTP) at the Engineering Sports Complex last June 23.

According to Army Lt. Col. Meliton Sangria, commandant of the Department of Military Science and Tactics (DMST), the heightened alert was in anticipation of activist groups sabotaging the training.

Last year, student activists led cadets in boycotting the first training day of the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program in UST. The walkout was duplicated in other campuses and resulted in calls for the scrapping of the ROTC.

Last June 23, several policemen from the University Belt Area Police and reserved officers from the military were deployed to the campus apparently to prevent a repeat of last year’s boycott. The police had long firearms while some of the soldiers had side arms.

The sight of heavily armed soldiers and policemen inside the campus shocked many people. Even in the most volatile political rallies outside, anti-riot policemen and soldiers are not allowed to carry firearms, merely nightsticks and shields.

Moreover, everyone entering the University passed through the strict questioning of the guards, policemen, and soldiers.

Meanwhile, worried parents waited until their children were dismissed.

“(Binabantayan) ko kasi siyempre babae ang anak ko. Nagkaroon ako ng takot. Kasi mayroon akong naririnig na mga ‘foul play’,” said Mercy Garcia, whose daughter is from the College of Nursing.

UST Registrar Rodolfo Calvio said the Department of Military Science and Tactics did not inform him about the soldiers and policemen. “I think they (DMST officials) should be careful, especially now that female students are included in the training,” he said.

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Vice-Rector Fr. Juan Ponce, O.P. likewise said he was not informed about the deployment.

Ironically, it was the UST administration that led the widespread call last year to have the Reserved Officers Training Program (ROTC) abolished after the murder of UST Engineering student Mark Chua who had exposed corruption in the DMST. In calling for the abolition, UST and the University Belt Consortium of schools had decried the militarization of the campus as a result of the ROTC.

It was after the extraordinary call of the U-Belt Consortium that cadets from all over Metro Manila walked out of their training.

In response to the call, President Macapagal-Arroyo enacted the NSTP law that made ROTC optional. Students could choose non-military components of the NSTP program.

But since the non-military components of the program are not offered this year, students will have to take the ROTC. Even more, females will now have to take it up.

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