(PhilStar) MANILA, Philippines — Some senators defended Friday the administration-backed measure to make the Reserve Officers Training Corps program mandatory again in the face of calls from some groups and other lawmakers to drop this plan following the hazing death of Adamson University student John Matthew Salilig.
Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who is leading committee hearings at the Senate on bills that seek to revive mandatory ROTC, said in a statement the appeal to scrap the proposal is a “desperate move from anti-ROTC leftist groups.”
“The victim died because of fraternity hazing and not of ROTC training,” Dela Rosa continued, while failing to acknowledge that there have been some reported cases of hazing within the program.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said in a text message that incidents like hazing is what ROTC seeks to eliminate “by molding our youth to respect our country and one another,” which prompted leftist youth group Anakbayan to call the lawmaker “crazy.”
“Gatchalian is crazy if he thinks mandatory ROTC will eradicate these cases. Abuse and not respect is what the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] will instill through mandatory ROTC,” Anakbayan national chairperson Jeann Miranda said in a statement in Filipino.
According to ABS-CBN’s investigative and research group, 15 of 58 hazing victims since 1954 came from military or maritime training institutions, although 21 of them came from private schools and institutions and 19 from public learning institutions.
“We have seen and heard a lot of things about [the Philippine Military Academy, the Philippine National Police Academy,] et cetera. You always have worries,” Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said partly in Filipino in a virtual briefing.
“I have a child. To see all these things happening left and right, you have to give me that assurance before I give my support for this program,” he said.
These hazing cases were also raised by Sen. Nancy Binay, who called ROTC a “training course that is flawed to the core.”
“The reasons why the ROTC program was suspended were because of corruption, abuse and hazing? We need to put a stop to the decadent culture and violent tradition which have long been embedded in the system,” Binay said in a statement.
But Sen. Jinggoy Estrada assured that hazing is prohibited under the proposed bills reviving mandatory ROTC.
“In my version of the measure, I have proposed the imposition of the maximum penalty under existing laws against hazing,” Estrada said in a statement. “Hazing is another form of bullying and therefore should never be part of any activity. It has resulted in tragic deaths even until now when we already have a law against it.”
Gatchalian also said the proposed law is “airtight and equipped with safeguards” against hazing, while Dela Rosa pointed to local and national grievance boards that can conduct investigations on reported or monitored abuses in the ROTC program.
Article VI, Section 27 of Estrada’s Senate Bill No. 468, and Dela Rosa’s Senate Bill No. 1349 provides that acts or omissions including hazing and sexual harassment will be punished by the maximum penalty imposed by existing laws that prohibit these in addition to the offender being perpetually barred from holding public office.
Senate Bill No. 1551, authored by Gatchalian provides a prohibition against hazing in the ROTC program and adopts the same penalties under the anti-hazing law.
Villanueva and Sen. Risa Hontiveros both recalled the death of University of Santo Tomas ROTC cadet Mark Welson Chua who was murdered after he exposed corruption in his unit on the campus paper The Varsitarian.
Villanueva also said there are now louder calls for the mandatory ROTC bill to be studied and stronger reservations about it following the death of Salilig, although he added that some senators have expressed apprehension about the proposals even before the student’s demise allegedly during initiation rites into the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity.
Among them is Hontiveros, who said that “there is no compelling justification to revive the mandatory ROTC program.”
“Our education authorities, both in [the Department of Education] and [the Commission on Higher Education,] should focus on actively making campuses safe spaces and exert zero-tolerance of savage practices like hazing, to protect students from all forms of violence and unnecessary, preventable deaths,” she said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, meanwhile, backed calls to junk the mandatory ROTC bills and make it optional for those who are “militarily-inclined or interested in military matters.”