THE CADET who started it all would have wanted to be there himself.

Mark Welson Chua, 19, a sophomore Mechanical Engineering student, would have wanted to stand in formation with the uniformed soldiers and render a perfect salute to the generals as he accepted his medal. Seeing his cherished dream come true, he would have been the happiest person alive.

But Mark couldn’t be there. Celebrated for filing a formal complaint that exposed anomalies in the Reserve Officers Training Corps of UST, he was later seized and dumped in the Pasig River. The honor heaped on him was for his courage and boldness in revealing the truth and standing up for it.

Despite Mark’s absence, Welson Chua couldn’t be prouder of his son as Secretary of National Defense Gen. Angelo Reyes conferred on Mark a Posthumous Outstanding Achievement Award, the highest award accorded by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on a civilian.

More than a hundred enlisted men and civilian employees, including AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Diomedio Villanueva, endured the heat of the morning sun as they witnessed the awarding ceremonies at the AFP General Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

The AFP bestowed the award on Mark for performing public service of the highest order. They recognized his efforts as cadet sergeant major of the UST Golden Corps of Cadets and as member of the School Intelligence Network of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) which he performs “with dedication and commitment, and at times, without regard to his personal safety.”

They honored Mark for upholding “the highest level of moral values such as honesty and integrity” in the UST-ROTC.

In his speech, Reyes praised Mark since he stood by “integrity of purpose and lived by principles that defied mediocrity and corruption of others.”

“It is true that no medal or award could ever bring him back. But I agree with the often quoted saying: ‘The depth of our life is more important than its length,’” he said.

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Despite strong calls for the abolition of the ROTC, Reyes said that in Mark’s memory, the ROTC should be restructured into a program where the youth can engage in meaningful service.

“If we transform ROTC into a more productive exercise, then perhaps it would overcome the perception of its utter meaninglessness. Cadet Chua surely did not regard ROTC as a worthless endeavor. He cared for the program deeply enough to effect the necessary changes to make ROTC more relevant and true to its mandate,” the defense chief said.

Reyes appealed to the people to help carry out Mark’s mission to change the system.

“Let us turn this tragedy into a moment of victory. A life lost for a worthy cause shall never fade away nor be forgotten,” he said.

Though he lived but for a brief time, Reyes said that Mark knew his purpose and, with that, his life is complete.

“He will remain an inspiration and an enduring example of courage and integrity for all to follow. He will forever live as a call to conscience and an appeal for true and active patriotism,” he concluded.

Mark’s Lorenzo

There was not a dry eye in the room when Welson Chua accepted the San Lorenzo Ruiz Medal of Courage at the Santissimo Rosario Parish Church last June 13.

Named after the first Filipino Saint, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Medal of Courage is conferred on students who have “shown exceptional and exemplary courage in standing up for the truth and Thomasian ideals.”

“When you remember his gruesome death – how they tied his hands and feet, stuffed his face with a shirt, wrapped his head with silver packaging tape, rolled him in a carpet, and probably threw him in the Pasig River alive – please remember that he wanted to be one of the first, and not the only one, who would stand up and fight for what is right,” Chua said.

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According to Chua, all sectors of society must “take courage” against “misfits in uniform” to prevent them from abusing people.

“If we do not resist these scalawags in and out of uniform, (they) will come to your own backyard and take away your loved ones. Are we waiting for another life to be taken?” he said.

Last May, UST spearheaded the drafting and release of a statement by several universities calling for the aboliton of ROTC, described as “a cancer in our system that needs to be excised.”

“We reiterate our call to the authorities for the speedy delivery of justice for this senseless killing,” UST Rector Fr. Tamerlane Lana, O. P. said in his speech.

However, Chua believes ROTC should be reformed. Although he feels the same disgust the youth and civic groups feel for the ROTC, he said he is not in favor of abolition.

“May I humbly suggest that, yes, one way is to abolish it. But the better way, the harder way, Mark’s way, is to reform it. May I point out to you that all our institutions – the church, the government, the NGO’s – have their own anomalies. Shall we abolish them too?” he said.

In addition, Chua said that there are still men in uniform who are honorable. These are the same people who helped him with his son’s case.

In an interview with the Varsitarian, Colonel Froilan Maglaya, who was present in the dialogues between the military and presidents of universities in the University Belt, agreed with Chua. He said ROTC is not optional like defense and taxation. It is like other erring systems that must be reformed and not excised.

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“It might not be the most popular decision, but we certainly know it’s the right decision. Maraming galit sa ROTC because of the discipline we are imposing, but in our society we need (that) discipline (since) nobody obeys rules anymore,” he said.

On the other hand, Michael Von Rainard Manangbao, the corps commander for this school year, admitted that there is something wrong in the ROTC system but believes that reform is a better alternative.

“Since ngayon kami na ang first class (cadet officers) with the new administration of the UST-ROTC, we will do our best upang mapaganda ‘yung system at para justice na rin kay Mark. Tignan nyo na lang sa first training day, ipapakita na lang namin sa inyo kung ano ang magiging pagbabago,” Manangbao said.

Meanwhile, Mark’s case was moved from the National Bureau of Investigation – Special Action Unit (NBI – SAU) to the Anti-Organized Crime Commission. Chua said he asked Dir. Reynaldo Wycoco to have the case moved since he felt that the NBI had too many cases to handle.

According to Chua, he also received reports that the witnesses had backed out. He feels that the mastermind of the crime bribed the witnesses.

On the other hand, Lauro Vizconde of Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption said their organization will help provide moral and legal support to the victim’s family. He said Chua must never give up pursuing justice for his son.

“It took me eight and a half years before I could get justice. Whatever the risk, I was consistent in pursuing my case. From the start, I was vigilant and, perhaps, that was why I succeeded,” Vizconde said. Maria Pacita C. Joson and Jayme Emerald C. Brucal

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