INITIATIVES, legislative or administrative, to make the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program optional fully satisfies the call of the University and the University Belt Consortium to abolish it. Some may contest this, but the crucial pivot in the Consortium’s statement last summer was the sentence that followed the radical call for abolition. “It should not be made compulsory and a requirement for graduation in college.”

The abolition call does not preclude the provision of options to fulfill the requirement of the National Service Law. What the Consortium, in fact, is insisting is that the ROTC is not the National Service Act and vice-versa.

It is good that an executive-legislative consensus has somehow emerged to give young male students alternatives such as the Civic Welfare Service (CWS) and Law Enforcement Service (LES). Some even suggested to include all able-bodied citizens, even women, in the training to resolve the gender bias that only men should take ROTC. Other choices presented are programs on environmental protection, disaster-preparedness, and community service.

In short, UST and the U-Belt Consortium never asked for the absolute abolition of the ROTC. What it asked for was the abolition of the law that states it is compulsory for college graduation by males. This was very clear. As the statement said, “Specifically, we ask that the ROTC program in colleges and universities be abolished.”

Despite the common notion that the program has long outlived its usefulness, some lawmakers still believe that the country cannot entirely do away with ROTC. While they acknowledge that “there is some good in military training provided that it is not imposed,” they also consider the program as a valuable source of reservists for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

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On the other hand, only one bill has moved for absolute abolition of ROTC: House Bill 2717 introduced by Representatives Liza Masa, Satur Ocampo, and Crispin Beltran. Amid the call for reform, the lawmakers believed that it is “time to strike at the heart of the matter” and there is a pressing need to abolish a “rotting system that gnaws at the lives of our Filipino youth.”

Evidently, the ROTC has become a problematic program. Instead of fostering patriotism, civic consciousness, and social responsibility, the program has subject the youth to undeserved suffering by ordering them to live in a culture of corruption and abuse. So it is only right that its compulsory nature on college males be “abolished,” as the U-Belt Consortium puts it.

Although most of the proposals may be favorable to the students, Congress should still deliberate carefully on which alternative is best. Each bill should be strictly examined so that it would not leave any room for the abusive system and the illegal moneymaking activities that caused the ROTC to self-destruct.

Indeed, the alternative program should inculcate in the youth genuine values of integrity, service, nationalism, and social responsibility in a manner that is not demeaning and repressive.

The program too should be removed from the administration of the military and defense establishment. Perhaps, an inter-agency body led by the Commission on Higher Education should administer the program.

In this time and age, we don’t need cadets and sponsors who can march smartly and perform dummy rifle exhibitions in parades. Rather, we need men and women who can respond to the call of the times to serve society and country.

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