Bato dela Rosa flares up at activist during ROTC hearing

JC Gotinga
Bato dela Rosa flares up at activist during ROTC hearing
The senator flies into a rage when a youth activist contrasted the possible release of rape-murder convict Antonio Sanchez, with killings in the war on drugs

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa on Thursday, August 22, flared up at the leader of a student activist group who hit his stance on the possible release of rape-murder convict Antonio Sanchez, during a Senate hearing on mandatory military training in schools.

Dela Rosa, who spoke little compared to other senators in the panel, broke his silence just as Raoul Manuel, President of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) was wrapping up his speech.

“Siguro, kung mahirapan tayo i-uphold ‘yung…law enforcement and rights awareness, magkakatalo na lang kung amongst the ranks of our public officials, ay hindi po nag-a-agree doon,” Manuel said, summing up his group’s opposition to mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and preference for the existing National Service Training Program (NSTP).

(Perhaps, if we have difficulty upholding…law enforcement and rights awareness, it will just boil down to whether amongst the ranks of our public officials, some would not agree to it.)

“Lalo na if we have a senator who will say na okay lang na makalaya at may second chance ang isang rapist na mayor habang ang mahihirap ay madaling tokhangin na lamang (Especially if we have a senator who will say it’s okay to release and give a second chance to a mayor who’s a rapist while the poor can just be killed through tokhang),” Manuel then added.

At this, Dela Rosa, former Philippine National Police chief who first operated Oplan Tokhang, the government’s bloody war on drugs, went into a rage.

Ang layo naman ng sinasabi mo, Mister! Kasama ba ‘yan dito sa hearing ‘yung comment mo na ‘yon? (What you’re saying is way off-topic, Mister! Is that part of this hearing, that comment of yours?) That’s an affront to…” the visibly upset Dela Rosa began his tirade, at times groping for words as he seethed at Manuel.

Manuel tried to respond but was prevented by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, Chairperson of the Senate committee on basic education, arts and culture, who told the 24-year-old activist to let Dela Rosa finish.

“I take offense at what you said na ‘yung ROTC is a misrepresentation of nationalism. Ano’ng tingin mo sa amin…. Jina-judge mo kami na ganun, ha (What do you think of us…. You’re judging us as like that, huh)?” the senator goaded Manuel in the presence of military officers attending the hearing.

“Are you sure you’re…a true representation of the Filipino students? Ganun ba? Iilan lang ‘yang makakaliwa diyan sa mga estudyante. Mas marami diyan na gusto mag-ROTC (Is that so? Only a few students are leftists. There are many more out there who want to take ROTC), I must tell you frankly!”

Do you love your country?

Then Dela Rosa challenged Manuel: “Do you love your country? You answer me! Do you love your country, ha? O sige (Go ahead), you respond!

“Of course, students love our country and we have different ways to show how we love our country,” Manuel replied, maintaining his composure.

“Okay! You love your country. ‘Pag inatake tayo ng China dito, sino’ng palabanin mo diyan sa mga Chinese na ‘yan, NPA (If China attacked us, whom would you send to fight those Chinese, the NPA)? You will call on the NPA?” Dela Rosa retorted.

Calmly, Manuel answered, “Gusto namin na ipaglaban ang aming bansa laban sa foreign invaders pero mismong sa ating (We want to defend our country against foreign invaders but in our very) Constitution, the AFP, which is tasked to preserve our integrity and national sovereignty, hindi natin nakikitaan ng intent to defend our country so wala tayong role model for that (we don’t see in them any intent to defend our country so we don’t have a role model for that).”

Seeing the situation could go out of hand, Gatchalian intervened and told Manuel to submit a position paper instead of going on with the verbal tussle with Dela Rosa.

He reprimanded Manuel for saying things that had nothing to do with the subject of the hearing.

As an invited resource person, Manuel should have kept to the topic, Gatchalian said.

Senator Pia Cayetano then instructed the transcriber to strike Manuel’s “irrelevant” statements from the record.

‘Sanchez would have been hanged’

Dela Rosa, however, wasn’t finished.

“Did you know na ako mismo, gusto kong bitayin ‘yang Sanchez na yan, ha? I am for death penalty. Kung may death penalty noon, dapat, nabitay na ‘yang Sanchez na ‘yan! Pero kayo naman, ayaw naman ‘nyo ‘yung death penalty. Ngayon, mabigyan ng second chance dahil na-reform na ‘yung tao, according to the computation, eligible siya for pardon, ayaw naman ‘nyo! Saan na kami pupunta? Anong klaseng pag-iisip yan?”

(Did you know that I myself want to hang that Sanchez, huh? I am for death penalty. If there was death penalty then, that Sanchez would have already been hanged! But you guys, you don’t want the death penalty. Now, the person gets a second chance because he’s reformed, according to the computation, he’s eligible for pardon, but you don’t want it either! Where then would we place ourselves? What kind of thinking is that?”

Manuel had referenced Dela Rosa’s earlier statement that if the plan to release former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez from prison is allowed by the law, then “why not?”

The former Bureau of Corrections chief added that Sanchez, who got 7 life sentences for the rape and murder of Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her boyfriend Allan Gomez in 1993, “deserves a second chance.”

The news sparked outrage overnight, and Manuel, who wasn’t born when the rape-slay made headlines, said he was incensed when he read about it and Dela Rosa’s comment.

When he saw the senator among the panel, Manuel could not help making the comment that ticked Dela Rosa off, he told reporters after the hearing.

The proposal to revive the ROTC program for Grades 11 and 12 failed to hurdle the 17th Congress, and now the Senate was picking it up with new versions of the proposal up for discussion.

Senators Pia Cayetano and Imee Marcos questioned the necessity of mandatory military training to instill patriotism among students, saying there wee many ways to kindle nationalism.

But for Dela Rosa, his argument with Manuel proved his position.

“That goes to show, kung ikaw ang representation ng estudyante ngayon, ganu’n na pala ang estudyante ngayon kawalang-dispilina. Kahit ang senador kayang tirahin sa walang, non-relevant issue dito sa ganitong forum. Ganu’n na pala,” he said.

(If you are the representation of students today, then that’s how much students now lack discipline. They can even take on a senator over an irrelevant issue in a forum like this. So that’s how it is now.)

Kaya dapat pala talaga ibalik ROTC para madisiplina kayong estudyante (So it’s really time to bring back ROTC to discipline you students),” Dela Rosa concluded, to applause from many in the hall.

Manuel, an Applied Mathematics graduate from the University of the Philippines Visayas, apologized to the committee for his “irrelevant” statement, but told reporters afterwards that the apology was meant only for the panel, not for Dela Rosa personally. – Rappler.com

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.