Through a mother’s lens: My son Mark exposed ROTC corruption and lost his life

Bonz Magsambol

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Through a mother’s lens: My son Mark exposed ROTC corruption and lost his life

Illustration by Alyssa Arizabal

Amelita Chua, mother of slain Mark Welson Chua, says there are little to no discussions on why mandatory ROTC was stopped in the first place

MANILA, Philippines – It was a fine Thursday afternoon over two decades ago when Mark Welson Chua, 19 years old back then, told his mother Amelita that he would expose corruption in their Reserve Training Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program in their campus publication.

Amelita thought it was just a simple campus issue. Little did she know that it would cost her son’s life.

“Noong one time na nagpunta siya sa ‘kin dito sa bahay, sabi ‘nya sa ‘kin na mommy, may i-e-expose po kami. I told him, ‘Mark, you have to be careful kasi delikado ‘yang ginagawa niya. Sabi ko, puwede ka patayin niyang kinakalaban ‘nyo,'” Amelita recalled in an interview with Rappler on Tuesday, February 14.

(One time he visited me here in the house, he told me that they would expose something. I told him, “Mark, you have to be careful because what you’re doing is dangerous. I said you could get killed by that person you’re challenging.”)

“Then he told me, ‘If that’s the price I have to pay, then so be it,'” Amelita recalled.

It’s been over two decades ago but Amelita could still vividly remember how the news about Mark’s demise shattered their family’s hearts and dreams for their son.

“Hindi talaga ako supportive doon sa pag-e-expose niya ng sa ROTC. Nag-advise lang ako sa kanya (I am not really supportive of his decision to expose the ROTC corruption. I advised him not to do so). We never thought that it was going to happen,” Amelita said.

Mark was murdered by his fellow cadet officers in their ROTC program. He exposed practices of corruption, bribery and extortion in the ROTC unit of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in their campus publication Varsitarian in 2001. 

Mark’s body, wrapped in a carpet, was found decomposing in the Pasig River on March 18, 2001. His head was wrapped in cloth and packing tape, with his hands and feet bound by shoelaces.

The murder of Mark led to the abolition of the mandatory ROTC program in 2002. It became optional through Republic Act No. 9163 or the National Service Training Program Act of 2001.

He wanted to be president

Amelita described her son as soft-spoken, reserved, and kind. He was also idealistic, she added. “Idealistic siya eh kasi gusto niyang maitama ang mga mali. Ma-prinsipyo siya na tao.” (He was really idealistic because he wanted to correct the flawed system. He was a principled man.)

While he was taking up engineering in UST, Amelita said Mark would tell her that he wanted to be president of the country someday.

“Kung nabubuhay pa siya, baka successful siya na engineer. At one point, he said gusto niyang maging presidente ng Pilipinas. Look at how idealistic he was,” she added.

(If he were still alive, maybe he would have been a successful engineer. At one point, he said that he wanted to be president of the Philippines.)

Mark grew up with his grandparents since his parents were separated. But Amelita said that despite their family situation, Mark would always make sure that he would visit her.

The night Mark went missing, Amelita said that she didn’t think that brutal incident would happen. She added that Mark was the type who would always tell them about his whereabouts.

“Noong midnight na ‘yon, nag-alala na kami. Nagtanong-tanong na kami sa mga classmates niya kung natulog ba sa kanila or magkakasama ba sila,” Amelita recounted, adding that the whole incident traumatized her.

(That midnight, we were really worried. We asked his classmates if Mark slept with them or if they were together.)

“Talagang heartbreaking ‘yung nangyari na ‘yon,” Amelita said, continuing:

Halos maloka ako for three years. Nakatitig lang ako sa ceiling. Sobrang sakit.


(That incident was really heartbreaking. For three years, I felt like I was losing my mind. I was just staring at the ceiling. It was really painful.)

But these struggles that Mark’s family went through seems to be disregarded by government, as the passage of the bill making ROTC mandatory looms.

Amelita said that much of the discussions now are too focused on pushing to make ROTC mandatory again, and there have been little to no discussions on why it was stopped in the first place.

Ang always nilang sinasabi, ibabalik ang ROTC, i-a-abolish ang ROTC. Pero paano ‘yung root cause ng pagkawala ng ROTC? Hindi nila pinag-uusapan ‘yan,” she told Rappler.

(They would always call to bring back mandatory ROTC or abolish ROTC. But have they discussed what was the reason for scrapping it in the first? They’re not talking about it.)

Despite opposition from students and various groups, mandatory ROTC is among the priority measures expected to be passed on June 2.

The total projected budget of P61.2 billion for the implementation of mandatory ROTC can already build an estimated 24,480 classrooms.

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President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. included mandatory ROTC in his priority agenda in his first State of the Nation Address, as Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte also pushed for this proposal.

The Vice President’s support for mandatory ROTC has been criticized, with activist groups saying compulsory military service sends a strong message that “any dissent will be met with force.” When she was campaigning to be the country’s second highest official, Duterte was already vocal about her plans to push for mandatory military service training.

It can be recalled that her father, former president Rodrigo Duterte, also made a bid to make ROTC mandatory for all college students early in his presidency, but this plan fizzled out.

Reopen the case

If there’s one thing that Amelita would ask from the government, it is to reopen Mark’s case.

“After so many years, wala naman nangyayari. Wala naman gustong tumulong sa amin. If you would be able to find my son’s killer, saka ‘nyo na pag usapan na yang ROTC na mandatory,” Amelita said.

(After so many years, nothing has happened. No one wanted to help us. If you’d be able to find my son’s killer, then you could talk about bringing back mandatory ROTC.)

According to a report by the Varsitarian, the corruption exposé of Mark and his fellow cadet, Romulo Yumul, led to the relief of Major Demy Tejares and other Department of Military Science and Tactics officials.

In an interview with the campus publication in 2021, Amelita said that she wanted the case reopened since two of the four persons implicated in Mark’s murder, Paul Tan and Michael Rainard Manangbao, remained at large. 

Meanwhile, one of the accused Arnulfo Aparri was sentenced to life imprisonment, while another accused Eduardo Tabrilla pleaded guilty to homicide in 2006.

Sana i-open nila ang kaso. At ituloy nila ang paghahanap sa killers para magkaroon kami ng peace of mind, pati na rin si Mark,” Amelita appealed to the government.

(I hope they reopen the case. And they will continue to look for my son’s killers so we, as well as Mark, would have peace of mind.) –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.