The history of the Reserve Officer Training Corp in the Philippines

Sunday June 21, 2020 ()

ROTC training in the country dates back to our colonial past. During the British invasion of the Philippines in 1762, some 200 students from the University of Santo Tomas were organized to aid the Spanish forces in defending Manila. Later on, the native contingent was professionalized and the cadets were given access to military training.

The history of the Reserve Officer Training Corp in the Philippines

(ROTC cadets on training)

But the official founding of ROTC in the country was in 1912, when the Philippine Constabulary organized the first military training at the University of the Philippines. The leadership of the program was transferred to the Philippine National Guard, which was however, dissolved after World War I.

The first ROTC unit was born with the establishment of the Department of Military Science and Tactics at the University of the Philippines in July 3, 1922. Subsequently, other universities and colleges like the National University, Ateneo de Manila, Liceo de Manila and the Colegio de San Juan de Letran followed suit and formed their own units. But ROTC would only become mandatory after 13 years when President Manuel Quezon signed Commonwealth Act 1, also known as the National Defense Act of 1935.

The National Defense Act of 1935 also created the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).

By 1941, the regular armed forces numbered around 30,000. With the imminence of war, President Quezon intensified the ROTC program. There were 33 colleges and universities that maintained ROTC units. About 100,000 cadets strengthened the regular forces. With the eruption of World War II and with Japan occupying the Philippines, the ROTC units were called to the colors in 1942.

Almost half of the 75th Infantry Regiment of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) was composed of ROTC cadets from Silliman University. ROTC cadets from Manila also fought the Japanese forces and defended Bataan until it fell. There were about 300 Philippine Military Academy and ROTC cadets who were unable to join the USAFFE units because of their youth. Most banded together in a common desire to contribute to the war effort and formed the Hunters ROTC.

Founded and led by a PMA cadet named Miguel Ver, the Hunters ROTC were among the most aggressive guerrillas in the war. They were the only guerrilla unit to have raided a Japanese prison to free resistance fighters and obtain arms. They were known to have supplied the best intelligence data on the island of Luzon. They joined the Philippine Commonwealth Army, the Philippine Constabulary and the United States Army in many operations in Manila, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Tayabas.

Aside from ROTC cadets banding together to form guerrilla units, there were also patriotic and freedom-loving Filipinos with no military background that formed resistance groups to fight the Japanese. The "Hukbong Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon" (People's Army Against the Japanese) or HUKBALAHAP was one of them. Constituted in 1942 and founded by Luis Taruc, the HUKBALAHAP was to be part of a broad united front resistance to the Japanese occupation.

After the war, the country could not afford to keep a large military force without draining its resources, thus the ROTC units were disbanded and demobilized.

President Ferdinand Marcos, a product of the ROTC program, class of 1937, was a soldier during WW II. He restored the ROTC as a mandatory program in 1967 with Executive Order 59. Amendments were implemented when he signed Presidential Decree 1706, the National Service Law. From around 60,000 troops, the regular armed forces grew to some 270,000 personnel.

With many issues plaguing the program from the 1980s and 1990s, ROTC became optional when the National Service Training Program Act of 2001 was enacted into law.

In 2006, Alfredo Lim sponsored Senate Bill 2224 and Representative Eduardo Gullas sponsored House Bill 5460, seeking to make ROTC mandatory again. In June 2013, Department of National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin aired a proposal to make ROTC once again mandatory for college students, a move ardently being protested by progressive youth groups such as Anakbayan.

There have also been reports of schools offering merchant marine courses that want to retain the ROTC program as mandatory, arguing that maritime companies prefer mariners with ROTC training.

Members of the House of Representatives of the 16th Congress of the Philippines have filed at least six house bills related to the ROTC program. Congressmen Francis Abaya, Rodolfo Biazon, Erico Aumentado, Sherwin Gatchalian and Manny Pacquiao have proposed reinstating the mandatory nature of ROTC training, while Kabataan Party-list representative Terry Ridon has proposed the outright abolishment of the program.

In February 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte approved the proposal to revive the mandatory nature of ROTC training for senior high school students in both public and private schools. Duterte certified the proposal as urgent and forwarded it to the Congress of the Philippines - House of Representatives and Senate.

The House of Representatives passed their version of the proposed law on May 21, 2019.

Source:

  • "Kumander Liwayway" and the ROTC, Jose B. Jimenez 3rd, July 25, 2019, The Manila Times
  • National Defense Act of 1935, (https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1935/12/21/commonwealth-act-no-1/)
  • Wikipedia

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