ROTC commanders, lawmakers step-up for mandatory implementation

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Some 100 hundred corps commanders and reservist officers including the Philippines' first transgender military officer gathered on Wednesday to address issues aimed at improving the country's school-based military training program.

The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Summit hosted by the Defense Department at Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday was held in line with President Rodrigo Duterte's order to revive the ROTC.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, one of the proponents of Senate Bill No. 200 or "An act to re-institutionalize the mandatory military and civic reserve officers' training corps (ROTC) for students in all colleges, universities and technical or vocational schools," clarified the program's purpose and importance.

"[The] ROTC is not purely military. [The] ROTC is a training, training of many things, disaster response, discipline, commitment and respect for one another," Gatchalian said in an interview after the summit.

Bataan congresswoman Geraldine Roman also expressed support for the bill.

She will become the first transgender military officer since lawmakers automatically qualify as AFP reservists.

"One's sexual orientation or gender identity has nothing to do with ones desire to serve the country," she said in an interview after the summit.

De La Salle Araneta ROTC Corps Commander John Paul Portacio, who is openly gay, also supports the bill despite struggling to rise through the ranks.

"Eto ako, bakla ako, I am part of the LGBT community and I am proud of it. Kahit anong sabihin ninyo, basta may disiplina ako, isa akong ROTC cadet officer," said the Financial Management major.

[Translation: I am gay, this is who I am, I am part of the LGBT community and I am proud of it. Say what you want, as long as I have discipline, I am an ROTC cadet officer.]

Despite the breakthrough in admitting officers into the training program regardless of sexual orientation, many issues still hound the proposal, including hazing, financial support, additional fees, and academic conflicts.

The bill is opposed by leftist-leaning lawmakers and youth groups, who fear reinstating mandatory ROTC will lead to the abuse of power.

Mandatory ROTC was abolished in 2001 after the death of Mark Chua, a University of Santo Tomas cadet whose death was allegedly connected to his exposé on corruption in the ROTC.

Leftist groups such as Anakbayan and the Kabataan Party list have cited the program's violent past and alleged history of corruption as deterrents from making it a required course.

In a statement released early February, Anakbayan said mandatory ROTC encouraged hazing and fostered discipline through an atmosphere of fear.

"Not only does ROTC put the youth in harm's way, but also discourages them in engaging in political activities through an atmosphere of fear," it said on its website.

Gatchalian and Roman say they will rally colleagues in the Senate and House to hasten its passage and address the bill's contentious issues.

"We have to focus on the execution of the program. Kahit na maganda yung programa natin, kung hindi maganda yung execution, magkaka problema tayo (Even if we have a good program, if the execution is awful, we will have a problem)," Gatchalian said.

"And that's were we need to focus right now, how to prevent what happened in the past, how to prevent abuses, hazing in particular," he added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippine said the annual number of ROTC cadets was 175,000 in 2002, before the program's abolition.

It steadily dwindled down to 77,000 in succeeding years, with only about 8,000 officers and cadets at present.