Mandatory ROTC will expose students to corruption, says lawmaker

MANILA, Philippines – A teacher turned legislator and an organization of alumni from the University of the Philippines (UP) are against the proposal to make the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program mandatory for Grades 11 and 12.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers Representative France Castro and UP Vanguard Incorporated raised their concerns about requiring ROTC for senior high school students, during a hearing of the House committee on basic education and culture on Monday, December 10.

Castro said ROTC was abolished in 2002 because of reports of corruption within the program.

"Bakit po ba tinanggal 'yung ROTC no'ng 2001? Kasi maraming nareport na ginagamit ito sa corruption…. At an early age, natuturuan na ang bata ng corruption," she said.

(Why was ROTC removed in 2001? Because there were many reports that it was being used for corruption…. At an early age, children would be exposed to corruption.)

ROTC was previously implemented at the college level, but it was scrapped in 2002 after an investigation showed that a University of Santo Tomas student was murdered after he exposed alleged corruption in the program.

ROTC was later made optional and voluntary through Republic Act No. 9163 or the NSTP Act of 2001.

The House hearing was held on Monday in response to President Rodrigo Duterte restating in November that he wants ROTC to become mandatory for students.

But Castro pointed out during the hearing that Duterte had claimed in public speeches that he himself tried to skip ROTC as a student.

While an undergraduate at the Lyceum of the Philippines, he supposedly tricked the military registrar by submitting another person's medical documents to prove he was too sickly to take ROTC, thus exempting him from the requirement.

What is the stand of UP Vanguard? UP Vanguard – an alumni organization composed of graduates of UP ROTC courses – also does not want ROTC to be required among Grades 11 and 12. Instead, the group wants the program to be mandatory for college students.

"The position of the UP Vanguards is not against ROTC. On the contrary, we fully support the President's drive to bring back ROTC. But [the bill being discussed now] actually [is] creating a new compulsory military training at the high school level," said UP Vanguard's Gilbert Reyes.

"We cannot use minors as part of the reserve component without violating the protocol…. If we pass this bill and we adopt this as our policy, we will be open to challenge. Instead of implementing this, we would have to face temporary restraining orders, cases.... So we fully support ROTC, but we want to return it where it should be – at the tertiary level where the youth are more mature," added Reyes in a mix of English and Filipino.

UP Vanguard's Guido Delgado also said mandatory ROTC for Grades 11 and 12 would violate the Philippines' declaration in its ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. 

"Worse, transferring the ROTC to Grades 11 and 12 is in fact a contradiction in terms, in that senior high school students are not even qualified for officership in the reserve force," said Delgado.

Why do the DepEd and DND support mandatory ROTC? Both the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of National Defense (DND), however, stand by Duterte's proposal.

Education Undersecretary Tonisito Umali said they have already drafted a memorandum of agreement with the DND that seeks to implement what the House bills on mandatory ROTC are proposing.

Umali also said they have identified the modules to be used and the initial list of schools where ROTC may be required for Grades 11 and 12.

"We interpose no objection. We are okay with the concept of allowing our senior high school students going through some form of ROTC program, where love of country and good citizenship will be the primordial objectives, instilling it in the minds of our students, even if there is a military component training," said Umali.

But he clarified the DepEd would only back the mandatory ROTC program if there would be no provision requiring students less than 18 years old to be part of the reserve forces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. 

As for the DND, its chief for legal affairs Norman Daanoy said bringing back ROTC will not lead to the training of young soldiers.

"The crafted House Bill 5113 is not a violation of the international protocol. We are not training child soldiers for warfare," said Daanoy.

"Before 2001, ROTC was mandatory. About 800,000 students were enrolled in ROTC in any given year. Due to the passage of RA 9163 or the NSTP law, about 14% enrolled in ROTC. Grads of non-ROTC, where are they now?…. In case of mobilization, we do not know where they are now," he added. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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