Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Remembering those PMT and ROTC days

This picture (c1920) of seminarians in what could be the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary today in Naga City reminds us of our high school PMT--Philippine Military Training--in the early '60s, when we were a cadet officer, and if we remember right, a first lieutenant.

Ours was a private secondary school, not a seminary. We relate to the picture because of the white uniform and the horses.  Our gala uniform was white too, and this we donned during formal events, and we felt great pride in white gala, well-polished black shoes and with shiny swords on a horseback during the town fiesta parade.  It was quite an advantage that we had an uncle who owned and drove a karetela for a living, and fiesta was holiday for his brown horse from his daily grind.  The stallion could not have complained, but could probably have been as proud as the young cadet officer astride his back in the long parade around the town.

PMT became CAT--Citizens Army Training--during the Bagong Lipunan regime of Ferdinand Marcos.  PMT or CAT, both were compulsory military education for junior and senior high school students. We don't exactly remember what topics were lectured to us, but we do remember we carried wooden guns, learned how to put on canvas leggings in lieu of boots, to salute properly, and to march in cadence during the pass-in-reviews. 

Our nephews, now sophomores in the University of the Philippines (UP), never had CAT.  They were just right in high school when the law was passed making it a voluntary course.  They also opted not to take any military science subjects under the CMT (Citizens Military Training) curriculum that replaced ROTC--Reserved Officers Training Course--which we went through for two years in our time.  Some of our friends attended the COCC (Cadet Officers Certification Course), and thus added two more years to their military education. Every male student had to finish at least two years of the course unless there were valid grounds for exemption like being asthmatic or physically handicapped; otherwise, he will not be allowed to graduate from the university.

In 2002, the National Service Training Progran (NSTP) was instituted by law as a response to the clamor for the abolition of ROTC.  Nevertheless, it remained as an option in the NSTP for students to take, if they are inclined to the military; otherwise, they can render literacy training service, or civic welfare service. Mayor Lim of Manila was very dead serious in a recent TV interview that enrollees in the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) have to take ROTC because he believes it is the best way to instill discipline among the youth.

For us guys who had ROTC every Saturday morning for two years in UP before martial law and the FQS or first quarter storm, our recollection would include the banana-que or turon from the iconic vendors on the Diliman campus during breaktime, the crawl on the marshy sunken garden while enduring the smell of rotten grass and the sting of insects, the pyrotechnics of popping bullets when the vintage '40s quonset hut armory burned one late afternoon, the corp of sponsors who enlivened our marching days when they're around, and the culminating bivouac to La Mesa dam when Commonwealth Avenue was still lined on both sides with madre de cacao and fields of cogon grass. We remember too the swishy gay in our company who would regale us with the latest laughables on campus during turon time--being gay was no excuse to evade the marches, push-ups and fast assembly-disassembly of rifles, and, of course,  our laundrywoman who would deliver our fatigue uniform every Friday afternoon, sometimes still soggy despite the hot ironing it went through.

They did not teach us that ROTC had its beginning in UP way back in 1912 with the Philippine Constabulary doing the military instructions.  Ten years later, the United States designated an American professor of military science and the first ROTC unit was established there.

The National Defense Act or Commonwealth Act No. 1, implemented by Executive Order 207 from President Manuel Quezon in 1939, made ROTC a compulsory course in all universities and colleges with more than a hundred enrollment.

Stories tell us of the heroism of patriotic ROTC boys who died defending our country as members of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) until the Fall of Bataan in 1942, or who survived the Death March, became guerillas, harassed the Japanese and paved the way for the liberation army of Gen. McArthur in 1945. It took more than sixty years for a handful of them to live and finally receive the recognition and rewards promised them by the USA.

In our case, we can recall a couple or two of our contemporaries who moved to the Philippine Military Academy during our sophomore year, and one of them rose to become Chief of Staff of the AFP during the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime.

We don't know if their 2-year ROTC military science instructions proved valuable, but a few of our friends went to another guerilla war and disappeared forever.

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