Defending home and country

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

In his 4th State of the Nation Address last Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte urged the Congress to pass a new National Defense Law that would, among others, compel all the youths of the land to undergo training for the Reserve Officers Course, or ROTC. This message formalizes what he had earlier said about compulsory military training for the youth. They must, he said, at least know how to use a rifle in the defense of the fatherland. In the face of China’s intransigence that training of the country’s manpower is a matter of urgent duty.

The 1935 Constitution provided for the training of all Filipinos for military and civic duty and in compliance with this mandate the first law that the Philippine National Assembly passed was the 1935 National Defense Act. This law provided for the creation of our own Armed Forces but envisioned a military force that is composed mainly of soldiers under reserve status. Only 25% of the country’s standing army was to be regular – the rest on standby status but ready on call to duty, either for periodic training or mobilization in the event of an impending war.

The idea of an ROTC, as the name suggests, is to produce soldiers and officers for the reserve force. The regular army leadership was to be trained by the Philippine Military Academy patterned after that of the United States. The ROTC concept was also modeled after the military training course conducted by colleges and universities in the US.

It is interesting to note that the introduction of the ROTC was the proposal of General Douglas MacArthur who at the time was our military adviser. Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon invited the general to come to the Philippines to organize the Philippine Army after the general’s term as the US Chief of Staff and had retired. Quezon then appointed MacArthur as Field Marshal of the Philippine Army, the only man to ever hold that title.

When World War II broke out MacArthur was recalled by US President Franklin Roosevelt to duty and appointed him commander of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) that consolidated under his command the Philippine Commonwealth Army and the ground forces of the United States. The Filipino components thus became members of the United States Army.

The USAFFE included a small air force called the Philippine Army Air Corps. At the time there was no independent United States Air Force; the air service was under the Army. The war necessitated the formation of a separate air command.

I don’t know what kind of ROTC course the planners at the Department of National Defense will frame but probably it will retain the present system. The ROTC had not really been abolished but made optional for the school and the students.

Because the ROTC is a college course with academic credits, the students or cadets pay for all its costs as tuition fee, including office spaces and administrative supplies and assistance to instructors from the regular or reserve army, naval or air force officers and enlisted personnel.

This cost is one reason schools are not enthusiastic about the revival of the mandatory ROTC course. Of course, the students pay tuition for the units earned but unless it has a large enrolment the school must cover the deficit.

Military doctrine and practice have evolved many times over from those of World War II and years after that. Now there is cyberwar and new weapons systems that can bring the soldier inside an office into the battlefield. I know that the wars in the Middle East are being waged by soldiers in the US directing operations directly into the field.

But we are not that rich and sophisticated enough to wage such a war. Our main defense preparation must focus against the most highly probable invader – China. We cannot match its manpower and firepower that some believe that we cannot fight that giant frontally.

Our training must, therefore, be a new kind of guerrilla war. It was effective against a more equipped and trained Japanese forces in World War II. In a 1927 study, the United States expected that a war in the Pacific would be waged by Japan so that War Plan Orange was conceptualized with the view that the war in the Philippines must be protracted.

I will continue next week.