Doctors debunk Galvez claim that ROTC ‘cures’ students’ mental health issues

Bonz Magsambol

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Doctors debunk Galvez claim that ROTC ‘cures’ students’ mental health issues

Defense Chief Carlito Galves attends the senate hearing on the revitalized Reserved Officers Training Course, on February 6, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Doctors say forcing ROTC may be 'more detrimental to one's mental health'

MANILA, Philippines – Will making the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) mandatory cure mental health issues of students? Doctors didn’t think so.

At the Senate hearing on Monday, February 6, Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez said that making ROTC mandatory would benefit students. Without presenting data to back up his claim, Galvez said that ROTC could cure mental health problems of students.

“‘Yun ang pagkakaiba po sa NSTP (National Service Training Program), ang experience training talaga pong naisasapuso niya po ang lahat ng ginagawa niya. ‘Yung survival instinct nandoon. So ‘yung sinasabi nating mental problem, it can be cured, kasi ‘yung frustration tolerance ng tao, tataas,” Galvez said.

(It’s difference with the NSTP is the experience training that is being taken by heart. The survival instinct is there. So the mental health problem that we’re saying, it can be cured because one’s tolerance to frustration will be high.)

Galvez made the statement to compare the ROTC program with the NSTP, which critics have been lobbying to be implemented instead of what they called “added burden” military service training.

“Meron po siyang makukuhang experience na ‘Bakit ako naghihimutok eh ganito ‘yung nakikita natin na mas malala pa pala yung ginagawa ng ibang tao.’ Meaning, ‘yung mental ano pwede siyang ma-cure,” Galvez added.

‘More detrimental’

Mental health advocate Dr. Gia Sison said that forcing ROTC may be “more detrimental to one’s mental health.”

“Creating a psychological safe space definitely includes choices and not forces,” she told Rappler.

The hearing, convened by the Senate Committee on Higher, Technical, and Vocational Education, was joined by officials from the Department of National Defense. Presiding over the hearing was Senator Ronald dela Rosa, the first police chief of then-president Rodrigo Duterte and one of the architects of Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign.

For Dr. Dinah Nadera, a psychiatrist, “increasing frustration tolerance is not always healthy.”

“Kasi ang focus dapat na values na patriotism, nationalism at character-building o values formation ay hindi mo maso-solve sa pag-increase ng frustration tolerance. Magkaiba ang resilience sa frustration tolerance,” she said.

(The focus should be on values promoting patriotism, nationalism and character building or values formation that can’t be a result of increasing frustration tolerance. There’s a difference between resilience and frustration tolerance.)

Meanwhile, Dr. Joan Rifareal of the Philippine Psychiatric Association said that ROTC would not necessarily “cure” mental health problems, but it can serve as “an outlet for the frustrations that students may have for the various facets of life they belong to.”

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. The ROTC became optional through Republic Act No. 9163 or the National Service Training Program Act of 2001.

Dela Rosa, a staunch advocate and sponsor of the ROTC bill in the Senate, supported Galvez’ statement saying that youth nowadays should be toughened to raise their tolerance level in difficult times.

Baby na nga, ibe-baby mo pa ng 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.)

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. included mandatory ROTC among 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 met with criticism, with activist groups saying compulsory military service sends a strong message that “any dissent will be met with force.” –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.