Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s angry outburst at a Senate hearing last week was an embarrassment—to himself and the institution to which he now belongs.
During a discussion on a proposal to revive the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) for senior high school students, Dela Rosa flew into a rage when the president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) ‘Raoul Manuel’ made a passing reference to the senator’s support for giving convicted murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez a second chance, and his own history of leading the government’s bloody anti-drug campaign when he was still chief of the national police.
“What you’re saying is way off-topic, Mister!” Dela Rosa blurted out. “Is that part of this hearing, that comment of yours? That’s an affront to...” he continued, struggling to finish his sentence.
"I take offense at what you said that ROTC is a misrepresentation of nationalism. What do you think of us? You’re judging us as like that, huh?” the senator continued.
"Are you sure you’re...a true representation of the Filipino students? Is that so? Only a few students are leftists. There are many more out there who want to take ROTC, I must tell you frankly!”
Then Dela Rosa, raising his voice, challenged Manuel: "Do you love your country? You answer me! Do you love your country, ha? Go ahead, you respond!”
Manuel coolly responded: "Of course, students love our country and we have different ways to show how we love our country.”
"Okay! You love your country. If China attacks us, who would you send to fight those Chinese? The NPA? You will call on the NPA?” Dela Rosa retorted, referring to the communist New People’s Army rebels.
Still calm, Manuel answered: “We want to defend our country against foreign invaders but in our very Constitution, the AFP, which is tasked to preserve our integrity and national sovereignty, we don’t see in them any intent to defend our country so we don’t have a role model for that.”
Despite an effort by the panel chairman to shut down the exchange, Dela Rosa was not finished with his harangue.
“Did you know that I myself want to execute that Sanchez, huh? I am for death penalty. If there was death penalty then, that Sanchez would have already been hanged! But you guys, you don’t want the death penalty. Now, the person gets a second chance because he’s reformed, according to the computation, he’s eligible for pardon, but you don’t want it either! Where then would we place ourselves? What kind of thinking is that?"
Then he used Manuel as an example of how students today lack discipline—and said this made the case for reinstating mandatory military training.
On the contrary, we suggest, the senator’s outburst demonstrated exactly the very lack of discipline that he complained about, while the target of his ire, Manuel, showed maturity and composure in the exchange with an older and more powerful adversary.
If it is true, as Dela Rosa claims, that more students want ROTC than not, why do they not opt to take it today, when it is still available as an option? One survey that suggests majority support for the ROTC was commissioned and paid for by another senator, Sherwin Gatchalian, who is behind the bill that was defeated in 2017—hardly a credible basis for policy making.
Finally, Senator Dela Rosa needs to be reminded that our love of country is not best demonstrated by jingoistic professions of patriotism, or the presumption to question the nationalism of those who may hold a view or opinion different from ours.
Somewhere in his tirade, Dela Rosa advised Manuel to listen to him because he was older than the student leader, suggesting that he knew better. Sadly, as this case shows, maturity and wisdom do not always come with age.