If mandatory ROTC could cost PH gov’t P61.2 billion, is it worth it?

Bonz Magsambol

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If mandatory ROTC could cost PH gov’t P61.2 billion, is it worth it?

ROTC. Students of a school in Manila start training for the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) amid proposals to make it mandatory in senior high schools.


The total projected budget of P61.2 billion for the implementation of mandatory ROTC can already build 24,480 classrooms

MANILA, Philippines – In a room of senators and advocates pushing to make the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) mandatory, militant group Akbayan Youth chairperson Justine Balane was composed and calm when he delivered their position statement on why they are against the compulsory military training for students.

“Dahil malapit na ang Valentine’s Day, naniniwala po kami na may iba’t ibang paraan ang mga kabataan para magpakita ng kanilang pagmamahal sa ating bayan…. Kaya po sa panukala na gawing mandatory ang ROTC, naniniwala po kami na nawawala ang kalayaan ng ating mga kabataan na pumili ng programa na nararapat sa talento nila,” Balane told senators during a hearing on Monday, February 6.

(Because Valentine’s Day is approaching, we believe that there are different ways for the youth to show their love for the country. With the proposal to make ROTC mandatory, we believe that the youth will lose their freedom to choose which program suits them best.)

Senator Bato dela Rosa, the sponsor of the bill, could be seen half-listening, as he was also browsing through his notes and checking his laptop. Despite this, he thanked Balane for a well-delivered position speech.

“Napakaganda po ng inyong sinabi at ako po ay humahanga sa inyong ideya (You said good things and I admire your ideas),Dela Rosa said. He was previously irked by a defense official who seemed to imply during a hearing in January that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) might not be ready for the enormous task of implementing the mandatory ROTC.

Balane argued that the government should only strengthen the existing National Service Training Program (NSTP) so students would have options choosing which program they are best fit for – ROTC, the Civic Welfare Training Service (CWTS), or the Literacy Training Service (LTS).

May ilan po na pinipili magturo ng mga bata at matanda na di marunong magbasa para umunlad ang kanilang buhay. Kaya’t kung anuman po ang pinili ng ating mga mag-aaral natin, kung ito man po ay ROTC, kung ito man po ay community welfare service training program, o literacy training service, lahat po ‘yan ay porma ng pagpapakita ng pagmamahal sa bayan,” he said.

(There are some who choose to teach the young and old to read so they could improve their lives. That’s why whatever our students choose, whether it’s ROTC, community welfare service training program, or literacy training service, these are all forms of showing love for the country.)

But despite opposition of students to mandatory ROTC, lawmakers hastily passed the relevant bills. In December 2022, the House of Representatives passed a bill seeking to compel college students to undergo a two-year mandatory National Citizens Service Training (NCST), instead of ROTC.

The NCST’s curriculum will be focused on disaster response and management, survival and safety techniques, and civic duty inculcation. Its graduates will be incorporated into the AFP Reserve Force. The House version also seeks to institutionalize the four-year optional ROTC program, with a curriculum to be designed by the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

The version discussed in the Senate was, however, different. The senators proposed to make ROTC mandatory for all college students in the Philippines.

Whopping P61.2 billion

At the Senate hearing on Monday, the DND presented to the Senate the estimated budget for the implementation of the mandatory ROTC. The AFP, which is under the defense unit, will be the lead implementer of the program, with support from the CHED and other concerned agencies.

Colonel Ronald Jess Alcudia, executive officer of the AFP reservist and retiree affairs, said that the program will be implemented in five phases.

  • Phase 1 – Core group training
  • Phase 2 – Administrators training
  • Phase 3 – First year implementation
  • Phase 4 – Second year implementation
  • Phase 5 – Full implementation; evaluation

Alcudia also presented the budget needed for the five-phase implementation, totaling P61.2 billion.

  • Phase 1 (2023) – P5,240,000
  • Phase 2 (2024, Q1 to Q3) – P5,542,498,579.20
  • Phase 3 (2024, Q4; 2025, Q1 to Q3) – P14,861,591,011.20
  • Phase 4 (2025) – P20,384,338,579.20
  • Phase 5 (2026) – P20,384,338,579.20

The bulk of the budget will be for personnel service. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian requested the AFP to trim the budget, saying that because the program would need 9,584 AFP personnel who will serve as trainers, each officer will end up receiving a P106,000 monthly salary.

More classrooms for the P61.2-billion ROTC budget

During the presentation of her Basic Education Report on January 30, Vice President Sara Duterte said that only P15.6 billion was allocated for new construction this year, as the government targets to build 6,000 classrooms. Doing the math, this means that each classroom is estimated to cost roughly about P2.6 million.

Education Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III told Rappler that cost per classroom varies “depending on single story or multi-story building.” He said that price range is P2 million to P2.5 million per classroom.

If mandatory ROTC could cost PH gov’t P61.2 billion, is it worth it?

Using the higher end of that price range, the projected P61.2 billion budget for mandatory ROTC can fund the construction of around 24,480 classrooms. The Department of Education (DepEd) had said that the country lacks 91,000 classrooms for the current school year 2022 to 2023.

“Ang DepEd na mismo ang umamin na nasa gitna tayo ng isang education crisis. Kung may kailangan pondohan man hindi ito boots at barracks kundi mga dagdag classroom, suweldo sa teachers, mas maayos na pasilidad at iba pang pangangailangan para matuto nang mabuti ang mga kabataan,” said Kabataan party-list executive vice president Renee Louise Co.

(The DepEd has already admitted that we’re in an education crisis. If there’s one thing that needs funding, it is not the boots and barracks, but the additional classrooms, salaries of teachers, better facilities, and other needs of students so they could better learn.)

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. included mandatory ROTC in his priority agenda in his first State of the Nation Address, as Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte also pushed for this proposal.

The Vice President’s support for mandatory ROTC has been criticized, with activist groups saying compulsory military service sends a strong message that “any dissent will be met with force.” When she was campaigning to be the country’s second highest official, Duterte was already vocal about her plans to push for mandatory military service training.

It can be recalled that her father, former president Rodrigo Duterte, also made a bid to make ROTC mandatory for all college students early in his presidency, but this plan fizzled out.

Currently a voluntary college program designed to produce military reservists, ROTC was previously a requirement at the college level. It used to be mandatory but was scrapped in 2002 following the death of Mark Welson Chua, a University of Santo Tomas student, who exposed the ROTC program’s alleged corruption. ROTC became optional through Republic Act No. 9163 or the National Service Training Program Act of 2001.


At the Senate hearing, Dela Rosa said that Filipino youth nowadays should be toughened to raise their tolerance level in difficult times.

Baby na nga, ibe-baby mo pa nang husto, baby sila forever. Kailangan talaga training,” he said. (They are already soft, and you still want to be easy on them, they will be like that forever. They really need training.)

Groups have been denouncing the looming passage of the mandatory ROTC bill, as the country deals with more serious problems in the education sector. For instance, a recent World Bank report showed that 9 in 10 Filipino students struggle to read simple text. Critics have said that the government should allocate more funds to improve the quality of education in the country.

Nakikita po natin ang rason ng ibang mga bansa na nasa giyera kung bakit may military service [training] sa kanilang mga sibilyan. Pero ang Pilipinas po ay wala sa giyera,” Balane told senators.

(We’re seeing the reason why other countries at war have military service training for their civilians. But the Philippines is not at war.)

But for Dela Rosa, military training service will prepare Filipino youth in case China decides to invade the Philippines over the disputed West Philippine Sea.

“Paano kapag ininvade na tayo ng China? Kailangan namin na mag-serve kayo sa military. Paano natin magagamit ang kabataan kung ang alam nila ay literacy service lamang?” he asked. (What if China invades us? We need you to serve in the military. How can we use you if you only have literacy training service?)

Marcos and Duterte have explicitly said that the country’s education sector needs fixing, but they are also insistent on pushing for mandatory ROTC. Can the Philippines’ top two officials keep their priorities straight? –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.