Since the passing of RA 9163 more than a decade ago, at least six bills have been proposed in Congress to amend this law. Five proposals seek to reinstate mandatory ROTC, while one (mentioned earlier) proposed abolishing it altogether. Thus far, none have been adopted. Yet, in the face of increasing tensions over the West Philippine Sea, the persisting threats posed by domestic and international terrorism, and the increasing frequency and destructive force of recent natural disasters, the importance of maintaining a robust reservist force has garnered increased attention in both government and military circles. The issue may very well begin creeping back into the public debate. In April 2015, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte then “proposed the revival of mandatory military training for male college students to augment government forces in the face of Chinese aggression in the disputed West Philippine Sea.” In his statement, Duterte argued that “the Philippines cannot rely solely on its mutual defense treaty with the U.S,” and therefore needs to “build up a credible self-defense force.

The question of how to best improve our national defense posture over the coming years will very likely include revisiting the question of ROTC’s place in our nation’s educational institutions, and more broadly, the relationship between citizens and their obligations to the nation in general.

Not known to a large number of today’s Filipino youths, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program was once an integral, universal and, indeed, mandatory component of the early adulthoods of all college-going men. Today, ROTC is just one of three tracks of the National Service Training Program (NSTP) — the civic education program, which since 2002 has been a requisite for graduation at all Filipino colleges, universities, and some vocational schools. Over the past decade and a half, young Filipinos have become increasingly removed from the concept of military service. Among the younger Filipino generations, the existence and role of the ROTC program barely register — only 14% of NSTP enrollees opt for the ROTC track.

Among older generations of Filipinos, the memories of ROTC are strong and, for the most part, viewed positively and nostalgically as an important component of their most formative years. For these generations, the ROTC was not merely useful in terms of personal development, but was a crucial pillar of their national identity. Many of the ‘fighting Filipinos’ that resisted Japanese invasion and continued the struggle during the subsequent three-year occupation during the Second World War, were drawn from the ranks of the reserve force. In the post-War era, ROTC was maintained as a mandatory program — institutionalizing the belief that our democracy is best protected by citizen-soldiers. The ROTC program was lauded as instilling young Filipinos with a sense of discipline, shared identity, and love of country. On a strategic level, the pervasiveness of the program provided a strong base of trained citizen-soldiers that could be called upon in times of war or other crises.