"If you arrive late at the CWTS Orientation, you are automatically transferred to the ROTC Unit."
This is the announcement released on the freshmen' Facebook page prior to the registration day. But when the day came, everything went downhill— students waiting senselessly under the heat of the sun, mired in the line, and registration moving extremely slowly until gates were closed at 7 AM sharp; stranding students outside, even early birds and students who came on time. As a result, they are automatically transferred to the ROTC unit— against their right of choice.
Most students have certain expectations over the systems that govern them; trusting their ability to lead, organize, and even handle their charges in a fair and efficient manner. But what then would happen when the system that governs fails to be effective?
What happened in the scenario above was "claimed" to be under the new management policy wherein all students under the unit who accumulate up to 30 minutes of "tardiness' in all NSTP events are “recommended” to transfer to ROTC, which, according to NSTP Director Joy Belen: “Aimed to help teach students timeliness”, as well as supposedly helping them unto a more developed program. More relevant to the matter though may seem to be the fact that 70% of NSTP registrants chose CWTS, which Director Belen admitted to be too undermanned to handle.
Regardless, the move definitely does not have any legal basis from either RA 9163, the “National Service Training Program (NSTP) Act of 2001”, in which Visayas State University (VSU) includes two of its three components: the Citizen Welfare Training Services (CWTS) and the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), or in RA 7077 aka the Citizen Armed Force act in which the ROTC is modeled from. Neither law provides a provision that comes even close to justifying (or even describing) such an action. In fact, RA 9163 Section 13 recounts that students who have yet to complete basic ROTC must be able to shift to the program component of their choice, "with the basic ROTC courses they did complete counting towards their completion of the NSTP Unit".
And really, how helpful would this mandatory transfer be in the first place? With students being forced to endure the hardships of military training, not really being left with much choice in the matter with the time for appeals being long gone. As it was also learned that students who weren’t late to the orientation but were simply caught up by the line could have appealed with evidence on the matter: information that was learned far too late, with only 25 hours remaining before the deadline.
With this incident, one can question whether this out-of-paper management policy was simply to discipline students and cut off the surging population of CTWS registrants, or a creeping scheme to support the enactment of the mandatory ROTC bill. As long as the bill remains as is, one should not restrain the freedom of the students to choose an NSTP course. If this type of incident is already happening even if it is still a bill, what more restraints will we witness if the mandatory ROTC officially becomes a law?
Let me echo the words of Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro that "the concept of national service is not merely through military service". Both civil defense and military service play equally important roles in national service, and this should be highly emphasized especially in the education system.
Each and every student has a right to choose how they wish to serve their country, and violating this right would not only compromise the social contract between the country and the person but also compromise their ability to serve in the first place. Who would, after all, want to help a nation that doesn’t even let them choose between a broom and a gun?