This website requires JavaScript.

Senators Deny Hazing Link To ROTC; Student Groups Cite Cases In PMA

Senators Deny Hazing Link To ROTC; Student Groups Cite Cases In PMA
Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa engage with fellow senators during a hearing on the proposal to reinstate the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program on Jan. 25, 2023. Photo by Mong Pintolo, The Philippine STAR

Proponents of the revival of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program in the Senate balked at calls from militant groups to scrap the proposed mandatory course, which they warned puts students at risk of hazing.

Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, said the death of John Matthew Salilig, a victim of hazing, has no bearing on the push to revive the ROTC program for students.

“What a desperate move from anti-ROTC leftist groups. What is the connection? The victim died because of fraternity hazing and not of ROTC training,” Dela Rosa told reporters, in reference to the third year college student of Adamson University whose body was found dumped in Imus, Cavite.

He said the ROTC bill provides for the establishment of local grievance boards and a national grievance and monitoring committee that would conduct investigations motu propio on reported or monitored abuses being committed under the ROTC program.

“If we want to make ROTC optional and when other countries like China attack us, let’s make the defense of our country also optional and set aside our Constitution that states that it is the obligation of every Filipino to defend the state,” he said in Filipino.

He maintained that such calls will not deter the committee deliberating on bills seeking to revive the program from coming up with a measure, which he said is expected to be sponsored in plenary next week.

Dela Rosa said the bill will “likely” be passed in the Senate before the opening of the second regular session of Congress in July.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committee on education and an advocate of the ROTC program, said Salilig’s death by hazing was “perpetuated by individuals who have absolutely no respect for the rule of law.”

“The goal of ROTC, on the other hand, is to inculcate discipline and good citizenship among the youth. It is precisely incidents like these that ROTC intends to eliminate by molding our youth to respect our country and one another,” Gatchalian said.

When asked how senators can ensure that there will be no hazing incidents in the proposed ROTC program as what happened in the past, he said: “The (proposed) law is airtight and equipped with safeguards that will prevent abuses from happening.”

Dampened support

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said the latest hazing death could dampen the enthusiasm for the bill in the chamber and could prompt undecided senators to ask for more time to study the proposal.

“What’s important is we study this and debate on it, not do a fastbreak,” said Villanueva as he recalled the death of ROTC cadet Mark Welson Chua, a student at the University of Santo Tomas in 2001, because the program was ridden with corruption.

“Our schools must be a safe place… our justice system is excruciatingly slow, why have the others who killed Chua not been punished?” Villanueva told reporters in Filipino.

The ROTC was made optional under the National Service Training Program, which was passed following the death of Chua.

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said: “Scrap the bill making ROTC mandatory. Make it only optional to those who are ‘militarily inclined’ or interested in military matters.”

Sen. Nancy Binay, too, maintained her opposition to the revival of the ROTC program.

“I believe we all agree that the culture of violence has no place in a civilized society. The reasons why the ROTC program was suspended were because of corruption, abuse and hazing, right?” Binay pointed out.

Also consistently opposing the program is Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who said that Salilig’s death made the call “even clearer.”

“There is no compelling justification to revive the mandatory ROTC program. Our education authorities, both in DepEd and CHED, should focus on actively making campuses safe spaces and exert zero-tolerance of savage practices like hazing,” Hontiveros said, referring to the Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education.

Hazing linked to ROTC

In response to Dela Rosa’s position in the Senate, the League of Filipino Students (LFS) maintained that hazing is an issue closely linked to the move to make ROTC mandatory.

“LFS decries Bato’s willful ignorance of the history of hazing in military training. Bato said that the hazing incident involving an Adamson student is unrelated to mandatory ROTC, despite numerous cases of hazing deaths in the PMA (Philippine Military Academy),” the student group said.

LFS chairman Ivan Sucgang noted that there had been six cases of hazing deaths in the PMA since 1978. Sucgang noted that Dela Rosa, in a statement in 2018, admitted that he underwent hazing when he was in the PMA.

“Mandatory ROTC will spread the culture of violence within the military to the rest of country, which would result in more cases of abuse involving the youth,” he said in Filipino.

Anakbayan national chair Jeann Miranda said the ROTC, which is patterned after the military, brings out the same form of abuses.

“There are many cases of hazing deaths in the military or the ROTC,” Miranda said in a statement written in Filipino.

“It’s obvious that the well-being of the youth is not the priority of Gatchalian and Bato, but their interest to make the young blind followers,” she added. 

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers earlier urged government officials to drop plans regarding ROTC, noting that it has the same “destructive hazing culture” that dominated school-based fraternities in the country.

ROTC was made optional under the National Service Training Program, which was passed following the Chua’s death in 2001. – With additional reports from Janvic Mateo, Sheila Crisostomo, Emmanuel Tupas