Band of Unlucky Brothers

He stooped to reach a pile of papers beneath the computer table—photocopies of articles, pictures and history of the University of the Philippines Reserve Officers Training Corps (UP ROTC). He scanned the pile while explaining their plan to set up an exhibit to encourage students to take the ROTC program.

Cadet Major Ronald Cardema, the current corps commander of the UP ROTC, said the materials came from copies of the old university yearbook, The Philippinensian, which he stumbled upon in the Main Library.
He took the whole stack and shelled out his own money to have them reproduced.

“Negative image is stamped on ROTC. But a lot has changed since then. These changes are what we want to show,” Cardema said, adding that the exhibit is purely the initiative of the cadet officers. I

t is not, however, their first time to do a project to promote ROTC. In fact, the cadet officers have been struggling to keep the program alive amid administrative lapses and backlashes from their tainted image.

For two months, the writers have interviewed people—from top officials in the different UP offices to the cadet officers themselves—to build the story. The power of observation coupled with hours of immersion with the cadet officers in their barracks have given the writers the right feel and context. This has helped in understanding what the story is all about. Primary and secondary documents have also been used to substantiate the report, and to corroborate the gathered information.

The aroma of brewed coffee filled his air-conditioned room inside the Department of Military Science and Tactics (DMST). Two tables were placed perpendicular to each other, occupying a large portion of the office which is cramped with shelves full of books and paperwork.

Col. Virgilio Aganon, the commandant of DMST, sipped his coffee while explaining the UP administration’s role in ROTC. “Pres. (Emerlinda) Roman adopts a policy of equal opportunity in administering NSTP (National Service Training Program). It’s a free market,” Aganon said.

Despite this, however, he added that the ROTC faces several restrictions in the form of promotion bans in university dormitories, in most of the colleges, and in the Freshmen Orientation Program. Aganon said college deans refused to adopt the pre-choice system where, supposedly, students were allowed to choose only after a proper orientation from both the Citizen Welfare Training Service and ROTC were given.

“How can we present ROTC when we’re not even allowed inside the colleges? It’s all about money,” Aganon said, explaining the refusal of colleges to adopt the pre-choice system. He added that the more CWTS students a college has, the more income it gets.

Indeed, according to the guidelines for NSTP implementation in UP Diliman, the “tuition collected shall go to the college and shall be used for, among others, honoraria of faculty members who will handle the courses.”

With the implementation of Republic Act 9163 or the NSTP Law in 2002, ROTC ceased to be a requirement for graduation. However, state universities, UP included, are still mandated by section seven of the law to offer ROTC together with at least one of the two other components—CWTS and the Literacy Training Program (LTS).

“The law is clear. UP has to offer ROTC. But we don’t actually see equal opportunity,” Aganon said. In the first semester of academic year 2007 to 2008, the DMST offered CWTS, hoping to use the program as a channel to introduce ROTC.

At the same time, DMST designed its CWTS as a kind of pre-choice system that gave those who enrolled the chance to change their mind if they found ROTC interesting. Unfortunately, in the same semester, the almost 300 demands recorded for DMST’s CWTS in the Computerized Registration System were deleted after an alleged bug corrupted the system. Only the DMST was affected, however, by the error.

“We asked the CRS to change the course title of our CWTS because they got it wrong. They did something with the system and after that, all our CWTS demands disappeared,” Jan Ray Ramos, the ROTC G3 officer for operations explained.

The CRS head Dr. Roel Ocampo was reached for comment and clarification, but as of press time, he failed to grant the writers an interview.

Ramos sat in one of the wooden benches lining the corridor of the ROTC barracks. He lives in the quarters for free as part of the benefits he gets for being a cadet officer. The barracks that he knows, however, is a far cry from what used to be the living quarters of the 120 or so ROTC cadet officers.

Now only 17, the officers are left with the oldest hall in the ROTC complex—the only building excluded from the recent repainting and repairs. Three of the five halls are now used by the UP varsity which has been evicted from the International Center because of financial problems.

Aside from their barracks, the ROTC now has only one classroom, the other two have been converted into additional living quarters still for the varsity.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Elizabeth Enriquez personally delivered a letter of request to Aganon on his first day as DMST commandant. The letter came from the College of Human Kinetics dean, Hercules Callanta, asking permission to use the ROTC barracks as living quarters for the varsity.

Aganon allowed them saying the university had the right to use its facilities as it saw fit. Not only does the varsity enjoy the better condition of the quarters, it also has free water and electricity charged to the DMST’s expenses.

At their peak, the varsity’s electric and water consumption have reached Php 25,000. DMST’s maintenance fund for every semester, however, is only Php 30,000.

A third of the ROTC cadet officers barracks had also been given to the Special Services Brigade (SSB) after the former Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs (VCCA) Ida Lao wrote a letter of request on the same day Enriquez approached Aganon.

Ida said the SSB needed rest quarters for its night shifts which the DMST commandant provided. The quarters, however, is more than a resting place for the SSB. At least two have actually moved into the barracks and are now using it as their second houses.

The expected 20 SSB men who were supposed to use the area had only done so once or twice because the resting station was less accessible than their houses nearby. However, the current VCCA Cynthia Grace Gregorio denied that any agreement between her office and the DMST exists regarding the stay of the SSB in the ROTC barracks.

“One of the SSB men even has a fighting cock in there. One time we made fun of it so he now hides it inside,” Ramos said with a laugh. Ramos is among the oldest in the current batch of ROTC cadet officers.

When he entered in 2004, the ROTC was already suffering a decline in enrollment. It was also during this time that the senior officers dismantled because of rifts and factions that formed under the leadership of former ROTC Core Commander Lt. Col. Jerome Cunanan.

All the first class officers resigned because they lost trust in Cunanan, Ramos said. With all the highest-ranking officers gone, Ramos was elevated first class from just being a third class cadet officer.

A similar event happened almost seven years earlier. On July 5, 2001, more than a hundred cadets from U.P. Diliman and U.P. Manila boycotted the ROTC’s joint opening ceremony. Scandal had rocked the ROTC and its cadets that year, urging others to fall out of formation and join their call: to abolish the program.

During that time, however, the cadets were protesting the death of University of Santo Tomas student Mark Chua, who was killed after he allegedly uncovered corruption in UST’s Department of Military Science and Tactics.

“There are problems inside, not only outside. Unless we deal with these, efforts of reviving the ROTC will fail,” Ramos said. The series of events that started from that boycott in 2001 ultimately led to the creation of the NSTP.

A stigma haunted the ROTC. While proponents of the ROTC argued that the training develops patriotism and a sense of duty to the country, ROTC is clearly not the only way to render service to the country, said history professor Dr. Ricardo Jose, who was himself a cadet in the 1980s.

“Why stick to ROTC? This is the question they have to answer,” Jose said.

A large speaker sat near the entrance of the ROTC barracks. Every Tuesday and Friday, it blares military parade music, exalting bravery, honor and love of country.

In the afternoon, however, the barracks is deserted except for two stray dogs lying on the corridor. Most of the cadet officers are in their classes and the ones left are sleeping in their bunks.

“Why did I enter ROTC? Or why did I stay? It’s not because of the financial benefits, really. It’s more because of self-improvement. I learned leadership here, discipline and time-management. It’s more because of the lessons and the skills. I believe these are useful not only to me, but to everyone,” Ramos said.
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