Training for loving the country, defending the nation, and serving the people

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

I TOOK ROTC, or four semesters of military science, in college.

Frankly speaking, it did not teach me love of country, nor did it foster a sense of duty to defend it.

What it taught me instead was to hate the drill. It led me to associate Saturday mornings with inconvenience so much so that I dreaded the thought of Friday evening because of what came next. It also made me look forward to 12 noon of Saturdays as an end to misery.

And I am sure I am not alone here.

Thus, this idea of resurrecting the ROTC and junking the NSTP-CWTS program which took its place, as a way to teach nationalism among the young needs serious study.

Nationalism and love of country is not going to be optimally cultivated by coercive, sexist measures which the ROTC was, for aside from being a requirement, it was only for male students, and not for all.

What I propose is a national program with four major modules.

The real place to teach duty to serve is in a civilian defense module where college students are given training to acquire the appreciation of service to the people during times of need, such as disasters and calamities. Modules on emergency and relief operations, traffic management that includes driving, first aid and public health literacy, and disaster preparedness could be one set of activities.

Another major component should be a community service module. However, the current NSTP-CWTS has to be re-imagined. Instead of students being taken to areas to momentarily immerse in communities in need, a more sustained and focused approach should be adopted. Students must, as a requirement for graduation, and working through local government units, government agencies, or NGOs, render service in real communities over a given, continuous period, which is different from their on-the-job training or practicum requirements.

To prepare students for military service, to become a reserve corps in case the county would need it, I would also agree that a component of this should be a military training module. A one-time summer training program in military science for all and not just for male students, focusing not only on the mechanics of a drill, but also on the science and the art behind soldiering for the nation, would be an optimal way to do this.

However, these modules on civilian defense, community service and military service require a deeper understanding of our sense of being a nation and the process of nation-building. This can be accomplished by a more focused, non-academic module on inter-cultural education, where students will be required to learn the cultures and history of ethnic groups other than their own.

For example, it’s about time that non-Muslims learn the culture and history of the Muslims, even as the latter should also get an appreciation of the culture and history of other ethnic and cultural groups. I would even go so far as to require students to learn at least two other Philippine languages other their native language or dialect and Filipino. This can provide an avenue by which college students will learn to appreciate otherness and difference, and value the fact that we are a country with differences. It is in understanding these differences that we can strengthen our nation-building process that rests on recognition of the diverse cultures that we have, and that these differences should not divide us, but instead should be the substrate for our national unity.

Our brand of nationalism should not subsist on the celebration of one narrative, considering that we are a multi-ethnic country, but with a very low level of ethnic consciousness. We do not declare our ethnicity in official forms and documents, unlike in other countries. One way of looking at this is that perhaps we do not put much value on our ethnic identities. But a more insidious implication of this is that perhaps it is also the outcome of a process that has pushed aside our ethnic identities because we assume that we are all Filipinos, even if we do not have a clear understanding of the differences that threaten to silently divide us. Our differences are silenced and made invisible, when what we should do is to appreciate these as realities to affirm the many identities that make the Filipino.

We have always assumed that we are one country, one nation, when in reality we are a country with many nations.

The process of nation-building, which is not completed, could easily descend into a process of nation-destroying if the modality we pursue is the propagation of a dominant and homogenous narrative for a singular nation. What should be fostered is the recognition of our differences, and a celebration of this diversity.

We have to be reminded that what made us into a nation is a colonial narrative that imposed imagined representations on our collective psyche. We have always presumed that there is only one Filipino, one which the colonizers left behind.

In order for us to truly love, serve and defend our country, we must have an authentic understanding of what makes us one. Otherwise, we will remain captured by an illusory sense of nation that makes us delude ourselves that we are one big happy family.

An inter-cultural learning module can serve as the anchor from which other modules on civilian defense, community service and military service would derive their logic and reason. This can truly make the Filipino youth prepared to love the country, defend the nations that comprise it, and serve the different peoples that we call Filipinos.

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