It used to be called the Reserve Officers Training Corps or ROTC program from the Commonwealth era all the way to the proclamation of martial law in the Philippines in September 1972. Conceived as a training ground to prepare able young college men to defend the country in the event of a war, the ROTC program was in every university and college co-curricular list.
The program had two phases: the basic and the advance courses.
Every able-bodied male college student in the Philippines was required to take the basic course, which consisted of four semesters of what was then called “military science and tactics.” The students were required to wear a khaki or fatigue uniform, sport a prescribed haircut, observe strict rules of military discipline, march in cadence under the sun, read maps, carry a firearm or at least know how to handle one, and rough it up in the campus grassland or at a similar place elsewhere.
Graduates of the basic course are considered part of the reserve force of soldiers who may be called upon if war breaks out.
Those who choose to take the advance course continued with four more semesters of the same thing, or something more complicated than that. The students enrolled in the advance program become cadet officers tasked with handling the military training of their fellow students.
Upon completion of the advance phase, the student concerned becomes a reserve officer in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
A commandant is in charge of the program. He is usually a sergeant or a probationary second lieutenant from the AFP.
Upon the proclamation of martial law in 1972, the ROTC nomenclature was renamed the Citizens Military Training (CMT) course. The new name was more descriptive of the program considering that not everyone who takes the course ends up as an officer in the reserve corps of the AFP. Besides, the program was all about training college students to be part of a citizen army.
Critics of the ROTC-CMT program argue that the military training is superficial because it is just about marching and parades, and that any training beyond that, like the use of firearms and map reading, is useless in a nuclear war. They also argue that the entire program is a profitable enterprise for the ROTC-CMT officers who are alleged to receive a commission from the sale of military uniforms and supplies.
The ROTC-CMT program experienced a setback in 2001 when a scandal rocked the corps of cadets in the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. A cadet officer was found dead after he allegedly exposed corruption in the corps.
That incident prompted Congress to enact Republic Act 9163, which replaced the ROTC-CMT program with the National Service Training Program (NSTP). Under the NSTP law, military training became optional for university and college students.
As many had predicted, enrollment in the ROTC-CMT program declined drastically. Nobody wanted to sport a military haircut on campus, march under the hot sun, and be shouted at by a foul-mouthed sergeant.
Many parents also saw the ROTC-CMT program as a useless expense and welcomed its abolition.
The NSTP program may have an ROTC option, but as long as it is an option, its consequence on the Filipino youth will not be felt.
Seventeen years since the abolition of the ROTC-CMT co-curricular requirement, many of today’s young Filipinos do not know what to do in the event of a war hitting Philippine shores, much less discharge a firearm.
If they had at least taken the ROTC-CMT program, then they will know to what camp they are to report to, and they will at least know how to handle a firearm. More importantly, they will have the requisite nationalism, inculcated in them in the ROTC-CMT program, to resist enemy invasion without fear or favor.
This writer is an alumnus of the CMT program of the University of the Philippines (UP) from 1977 up to 1979. Each cadet was taught military discipline and courtesy which, in a way, contributed to one’s personality development. The drills also taught each cadet the importance of command and, more importantly, command responsibility. Each cadet had to know how to handle a real firearm, and got to fire one at the firing range at Fort Bonifacio.
The discipline taught in the ROTC-CMT made better persons of every cadet. In retrospect, this writer is grateful for what he learned in the UP ROTC-CMT program.
Of course, the ROTC-CMT program is prone to corruption and abuse by scoundrels and scalawags. The solution is not to abolish the program, but to institute safeguards against corruption and abuse.
Seventeen years is too long a wait and an experiment on the NSTP. It’s time to reinstate the ROTC-CMT program.