(Editor’s note: The following is the official statement of the University Belt Consortium on the anti-ROTC campaign.)

THE RESERVE Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program is supposed to realize the constitutional mandate to develop a strong civilian base to supplement the professional military in the nation’s defense system. Made compulsory for male students in colleges and universities, it is designed to initiate young men in the rudiments of soldiership, instilling in them discipline and correct deportment, like true officers and gentlemen.

But many are of the opinion that the ROTC has seen better days. Worse, there is the growing perception that the program has steadily deteriorated through the years. Many young men look at it as a waste of time and money; they would rather devote the half-day every weekend that they are made to take up the program through four semesters of college in study and rest. In an era of spiraling costs, they even wonder if the money they spend for ROTC could be better spent elsewhere.

Considering, too, the compulsory drawn-out and over-regimented two-year program, in which the student allegedly receives little instruction and benefit but much hardship and harassment, it is no surprise that reports of irregularities and abuses are rampant and persistent. Reports cover collection of unauthorized fees, bribery, and extortion. These reports reflect terribly on the military that administers the program and the school administration, which however does not have any say on how the program is run. Since invariably the ROTC is the male student’s first brush with the military, the irregularities and abuses he sees or experiences while taking part in the program become his first—and lasting—impression of the military: corrupt, abusive, and hiding behind the veneer of the nation’s defense system to prey on defenseless civilians.

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Woman

The impression does not reflect faithfully the relatively positive regard that the military enjoy nowadays. Last January, the armed forces top brass heeded the call of the people massed at the Edsa Shrine to reject a corrupt government and turn to the side of the common good. Last May, the military and the police stood their ground and held their peace amid the severest provocation by a raging mob to defend the duly constituted government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. These incidents upheld the ideal of the military. But as far as the ROTC is concerned, the reality has been far from the ideal.

Last December, Mark Welson Chua, a cadet officer of the ROTC program of the University of Santo Tomas, together with another officer and several cadets, filed a complaint of irregularities with the Department of National Defense against the UST Department of Military Science and Tactics headed by Maj. Demy Tejares. The DND gave due course to the complaint and later relieved the entire brass of UST-DMST. It was arguably the first time that a formal complaint had been lodged against the handlers of the ROTC program in the University Belt. It was also arguably the first time that a school’s top DMST brass was relieved.

Even before the euphoria of the victory of justice and fair play subsided, Mark Welson Chua was kidnapped last March. His hands were bound, his face was gagged with packaging tape, and his body dumped on the Pasig River, where it was found days later. Two dismissed members of the UST-DMST have been arrested for the killing so far.

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Facing mortality

Without pre-empting the result of the trial, we believe that the sordid episode is just a symptom of the cancer gnawing at the ROTC system. We believe it is time to strike at the heart of the matter. We believe the solution is nothing short of surgery. Specifically we ask that the ROTC program in colleges and universities be abolished. It should not be made compulsory and a requirement for graduation in college.

There must be a way in which the constitutional end for the formation of a strong civilian complement to national defense can be realized without abetting a system that has exhibited not only wear and tear but also squalid signs of corruption and knavery. To be sure, changes in technology and defense philosophies call for a reinvention of approaches to fulfill the constitutional mandate, approaches which will be more responsive not only to the realities of national defense, but of national development goals and needs as well. The ROTC program, as presently structured, has not—and cannot—achieve the objectives for which it was established. To allow the program to continue would be ultimately unconstitutional and self-destructive.

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