ROTC Philippines

[OPINION] Senator Gatchalian, please do your homework

Jayeel Cornelio
[OPINION] Senator Gatchalian, please do your homework
'The ROTC is an imagined solution to a problem that does not exist.'

There’s no other (diplomatic) way to put it. Senator Win Gatchalian is wrong.

But he believes that it will soon become a law, referring to the call for mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in senior high school. For the chairman of the Basic Education, Arts, and Culture Committee, this is one of his priorities as a legislator.

He might be right that mandatory ROTC will soon become a law. After all, no less than FM Jr. wants it, a fact that the new president made clear in his first SONA

But Senator Gatchalian is wrong in a fundamental sense. 

His priority bill is premised on shaky reasoning. 

One, he believes that “the supermajority of our population wants ROTC.” He is correct if we are to rely on the survey he commissioned. Pulse Asia reports that 69% of adult Filipinos agree with the proposal to make the ROTC mandatory. Two, he also believes that this will foster discipline among the youth. Without citing any evidence, he claims that “parents want the discipline back.” This is because the youth are all about “cellphone, Tiktok, games.”

These two points are easily refutable.

Elephant in the room

Let me begin with the elephant in the (class)room. 

Senator Gatchalian (and many others) believe that it’s time to restore discipline among our youth. But what exactly does he mean by this? 

We do not know not only because he does not explain it. We do not know because we simply do not have evidence that our young people are undisciplined. 

It’s one of those statements that everyone seems to agree with. 

But when asked to explain, they will simply point to “cellphone, Tiktok, games,” as the senator himself has done. As if these are proxy indicators for the lack of self-restraint. 

This is but another attempt to “securitize” the youth. 

In the social sciences, “securitization” is the act of turning an imagined enemy into a threat to social order. Once it gains traction, policymakers and law enforcers are justified to use extreme measures to control the enemy, usually with the help of the police and military. Karl Hapal, who is based at UP Diliman, has written a highly cited scholarly piece on this matter.

This is exactly what is happening with all this call for mandatory ROTC: Young people are undisciplined. They are a threat to their parents and society. Let’s give them the discipline they need, military style.

And yet the questions remain: How exactly are our youth undisciplined? And what about the ROTC will solve that problem?

I dare say that these questions will remain unanswered because Senator Gatchalian and his comrades are only imagining the problem.

On the contrary, we know that our students persevered through the pandemic. 

If that’s not discipline, I don’t know what is. The least that the senator could do is recognize the hard work this generation had to endure in the past two years.

The real issues

The issue, therefore, is not discipline. 

The issue, for one, is learning poverty. Nine out of ten Filipino children cannot read properly by the age of 10. To say that they are lagging behind their peers in Southeast Asia is an understatement.

This is because learning poverty has serious, long-term consequences. 

There are indications, according to research, that failure to address learning poverty will simply sustain (or widen) inequality. This is because high-flyers will continue to be successful while those lagging behind have a lot more catching up to do over time. 

In the Philippine context, high-flyers are in elite, private schools who end up in selective universities here and abroad. We can celebrate all we want the successes of our top universities but we all know that none of it matters if the rest of our population suffers from inadequate education.

Making ROTC mandatory will not solve this problem.

Second, the issue is access. In 2020 alone, the number of out-of-school youth rose when the pandemic and lockdowns began. No less than the UNICEF has expressed concern that many children have yet to go back to school now that onsite classes are about to resume.

Related to access is space. It turns out that we don’t have enough classrooms for all our students. 

The DepEd has admitted that it lacks 91,000 classrooms for the new school year. This figure has yet to factor in demand if physical distancing were implemented. For now the immediate solution is to create shifting schedules. 

Again, making ROTC mandatory has no contribution to solving this problem.

Evading the real issue

All this talk about discipline (or the lack thereof) evades the hard questions that the senator should be asking himself: 

Are students back in school? Do they have decent facilities? Are they learning anything? And what sort of help do they need to catch up?

This the irony of it all: All this talk about discipline is in fact intellectually undisciplined. It is a non-issue that has no basis at all.

To make it worse, the senator relies on the survey he has commissioned. But relying on public sentiment (that 69% of Filipinos want the ROTC back) is meaningless. The survey does not tell us what the actual issues are.

And so at the risk of repeating myself, let me ask again: What problem is mandatory ROTC supposed to address? 

We, therefore, arrive at only one conclusion. The ROTC is an imagined solution to a problem that does not exist. 

The real problem for the education sector is clear. But the senator has chosen to build a strawman. 

Access, quality of learning, the future of our children. 

These are the real issues, Mr. Senator. Please do your homework. –

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is the new Associate Dean of Research and Creative Work at the Ateneo de Manila University. For his contributions to education and sociology, he was named among the 2021 TOYM awardees. Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.

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  1. ET

    Dr. Cornelio, thank you for this highly informative and enlightening article.