Army Day
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - March 15, 2019 - 12:00am

On March 22 the Philippine Army observes its 122nd founding anniversary at their headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. The highlight of their anniversary would be having no less than their Commander-in-chief, President Rodrigo Duterte, to join them for the traditional trooping of the lines and directly address the uniformed men and women of the Philippine Army.

As one of the three major service commands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine Army comprises more than half of the 140,000-strong uniformed personnel. Currently, Lt.Gen. Macairog Alberto is its Commanding General. Alberto belongs to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1986.

On this occasion, we deemed it timely to highlight the Filipino Army men and women – celebrating their anniversary theme “122 Years of Heroism, Securing the Land” – as our featured subject of discussions during this week’s Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum.

We invited key officers in charge of the Philippine Army’s civil-military operations (CMO) to our Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle last Wednesday. Joining us in the conversations were Lt.Col. Demy Zagala, public affairs chief of the Philippine Army, along with Col. Patricio Ruben P. Amata, General Staff College (GSC, Infantry), and assistant chief of staff for CMO G7PA and Col. Facundo O. Palafox IV CAV (GSC) PA Regiment Commander CMO Regiment.

Amata belongs to PMA Class 1993 while Palafox comes from PMA Class 1990. Zagala is a proud product of military training from the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Regardless of where they got their military training, the three Army officers attested to the “meritocracy” principle as the basic guide followed in the matter of promotions at the AFP.

On a personal note, I first came to know Zagala who once served in the Presidential Security Group (PSG) where he was one of the junior officers among the close-in security to former president Joseph Estrada. When he graduated associate bachelor in political science in 1990 from Dela Salle University, Zagala was the ROTC Corp Commander. He was commissioned in the reserve force of the Army in 1991 until he was subsequently called to active duty a few months later.

Zagala is actually an Army brat. He followed his father’s entry into the Army who was also a product of ROTC when he was called to active service during World War II in our country. In fact, his late father, Maj.Gen. Rafael Zagala served as Army Commanding General from 1971 to 1976 until he retired from the military service.

During our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum, Zagala echoed the call for the restoration of ROTC requirement in colleges and universities. Zagala believes the ROTC is the best training ground for young Filipinos to develop the sense of nationalism, patriotism, discipline, leadership, and most especially, the love for country and people. “That’s why, we here, we feel that ROTC can contribute more to selfless service, more towards nation building rather than the individual,” Zagala cited.

Thus, he felt sad that the name of the ROTC has been unjustly dragged in the killing of a freshman college student – an incident that had nothing to do at all with the ROTC, except that the suspect was once an officer of ROTC in the past. This was the reported killing of freshman Willy Amihoy at the campus dormitory last Monday by alleged assailant Elmer Decilao who was identified as ROTC Corps Commander at the Iloilo State College of Fisheries (ISCOF) in 2017.

No less than the Commission on Human Rights declared the incident had nothing to do with ROTC based on their own investigation of the case.

The military denounced obvious propaganda attempt by left-leaning groups to misinform the public by linking the incident to the ROTC and put it in bad light.

The ROTC program, they pointed out, remains focused on making responsible citizens and patriotic citizens out of the country’s young men and women who are interested to become future officers of the AFP.

In fact, no less than President Duterte has been urging the 18th Congress to pass a law to make ROTC mandatory anew in all colleges and universities. The President’s strong push for mandatory ROTC came in the wake of continuing threats of communist insurgency in the country that has reached school campuses as recruitment grounds for young cadres of the New People’s Army (NPA).

At one point in time last year, President Duterte even announced he might issue an Executive Order that would implement this mandatory ROTC. This would amend an existing law that made the ROTC program optional since 2002. A bill reinstituting the mandatory ROTC for Grades 11 and 12 students in all public and private schools nationwide, authored by House deputy speaker Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu, has been approved on second reading last Feb. 6. Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian authored its counterpart bill in the Senate.

It was former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who signed Republic Act (RA) 9163, or the National Service Training Program (NSTP) Act that made ROTC no longer prerequisite in the collegiate curriculum. RA 9163, signed on Jan. 23, 2002, allowed college students to choose between ROTC, Literacy Training Service and Civil Welfare Training Service as part of their required National Service Training Program. The law made the NSTP mandatory for all college students while the mandatory ROTC program it replaced covered male students only.

RA 9163 gained impetus at the height of emotional outburst over the murder of Mark Chua, a University of Santo Tomas (UST) student and cadet who exposed alleged illegal exactions practiced by certain ROTC officers in their campus. His body was later found floating in the Pasig River on March 18, 2001. In 2004, a Manila court found ROTC cadet Arnulfo Aparri Jr. guilty of killing Chua. He was sentenced to death although this was downgraded to life imprisonment without parole when the death penalty was subsequently abolished in 2006.

Though it was just one incident, it unfortunately sent to oblivion an entire program of ROTC that produces our future Army men and women.

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