Several bills have been filed for the resumption or revival of mandatory Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) ever since the president included this in his 18-point priority legislation.
In his first State of the Nation Address on July 25, Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. asked solons to pass the bill on mandatory ROTC in both public and private senior high schools, or in Grades 11 and 12.
“The aim is to motivate, train, organize, and mobilize the students for national defense preparedness, including disaster preparedness and capacity building for risk-related situations,” he said.
In 2019, the House of Representatives approved on final reading the mandatory ROTC training for senior high school students. The Senate was not able to pass its version due to time constraints. Former President Rodrigo Duterte pushed for mandatory ROTC training to “instill patriotism,” certifying the proposal as urgent, despite Duterte himself not finishing the training and even revealing that he falsified medical documents to get exemption from the service.
His daughter, Vice President and Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Sara Duterte, has been vocally pushing for mandatory ROTC to become a priority legislation. During the campaign period, the younger Duterte said she wants not only mandatory ROTC but also mandatory military service for all Filipinos when they reach the age of 18, male or female.
But on September 29, she said that officials—after a meeting with congressmen and senators—are now considering putting the program back in the college level.
“During our discussion, I think it was clear to everyone that it is better to return ROTC to higher education since it was already there before. The basic education will focus on other parts of the curriculum that will instill discipline and love of country for our learners,” she told reporters in a mix of English and Filipino.
Despite this backtracking, the controversial bill will have more time to be discussed and passed during this Congress.
Criticisms against mandatory ROTC
Various groups have criticized mandatory ROTC as an added burden in time, effort and money to students and their families as well as its repressive nature.
Students complained how their time was wasted marching or standing under the sun for hours, learning to restrain themselves while being shouted at by their officers, doing pushups as penalty or just at their officers’ whim, or blindly following orders, even the most menial ones such as serving officers water or food. Members of the LGBTQ+ community also tended to be preyed upon or mocked, as if having to conform to the strict standing and marching drills and dress code were not enough.
Groups also stressed how the mandatory ROTC program before was source of corruption, state-sponsored militarism, surveillance and intelligence gathering on students, hazing and other abuses.
“With all its flaws, it should not have taken the death of Mark Welson Chua to revoke mandatory ROTC,” said Alwen Santos, National Union of Students of the Philippines NCR coordinator.
The move to rescind mandatory ROTC for male college students as a graduation requirement was spurred by the 2001 death of University of Sto. Tomas ROTC cadet Chua, who was killed by his ROTC officers after he exposed corruption and abuses in the program.
The Department of National Defense (DND), the agency named as designer, implementer and overseer of the program or its instructors in most bills, tries to assuage concerns saying that mandatory ROTC for senior high school will not be inspired by a militaristic approach. They said it would focus on citizen development, particularly patriotism, drug awareness, following traffic rules, and disaster resilience among others.
But in all the bills filed, there is not much assurance that history will not repeat itself.
A lot of these bills draw from the Republic Act (RA) 7077 or the Citizen Armed Forces of the Philippines Reservist Act of 1991 and also move for the repeal of the RA 9163 or the National Service Training Program (NSTP) Act of 2001—the program that gave students the choice or the alternatives to ROTC on how they wish to learn to serve the country.
The House bills for mandatory ROTC filed so far
There are 16 House bills for the revival or resumption of mandatory ROTC filed from July 26 to September 28, 2022.
Program of instruction. The program of instruction of the bills are similar, usually three points: enhancing the students’ consciousness in the ethnic of service, patriotism and nationalism, human rights, ethical and spiritual values, etc.; basic military training (provided that no student below 18 years old take part in direct hostilities); and civic training for health, education and environmental protection, disaster risk response, law enforcement, etc. Others include a fourth and separate point on preparedness during actual disaster response operations.
The bills also said that students who finish the program will be enlisted to the Reserve Officers Corp only upon reaching the age of 18.
Requirement for graduation. All bills make ROTC a requirement for graduation. In addition, those who do not take the ROTC program shall be a ground for Compulsory Military Training in pursuance to Section 14 of RA 7077.
Part of Section 14 of RA 7077 reads as “Compulsory Military Registration and Training.—All male citizens between the ages of eighteen (18) and twenty-five (25) years who are not reservists shall be required to register for military instruction.”
Duration. The bills also stipulate 2 years of mandatory Basic ROTC training. After which, the students may go on to continue with 2 years of voluntary Advanced ROTC training after senior high school.
Exemption. Most bills also cite as one ground of exemption those who are physically or psychologically unfit as certified by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Surgeon General or his duly authorized medical officer. Some bills also include varsity players in sports competitions among those exempted from mandatory ROTC.
Liability of schools. The instructor or faculty-in-charge and the school and its officials shall be criminally, civilly and administratively liable for damage of injury caused to a student. This is despite that most bills cite the organization (and staffing), operation and maintenance of ROTC units are to be prescribed by the Secretary of National Defense—or in accordance to Sec 41 and 42 of RA 7077.
Seven of the 16 House bills mirror the consolidated bills of then-Reps. Raneo Abu, Raul Tupas, Micaela Violago and Ramon Durano filed in the 17th congress for mandatory ROTC in Grades 11 and 12. They are almost word-for-word copies of each other, save for the explanatory notes (most invoking Sections 4 and 14 of Article II of the Constitution) and some slight modifications in the bill’s shortened title. These are:
- House Bill (HB) 503 filed by ACT-CIS Partylist Reps. Edvic Yap and Jeffrey Soriano, Benguet Rep. Eric Yap, and Davao 1st District Rep. Paolo Duterte;
- HB 639 by Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda;
- HB 2174 by Iloilo 5th District Rep. Raul Tupas;
- HB 3035 by Leyte 4th District Rep. Richard Gomez;
- HB 3613 by Ilocos Sur 2nd District Rep. Kristine Meehan-Singson;
- HB 4083 by Parañaque 2nd District Rep. Gus Tambunting;
- and HB 2628 by Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Arroyo, when she was president, signed the NSTP Act of 2001 into law on January 23, 2002. Under NSTP, both male and female students are required to undergo two semesters of one of three programs—Civic Welfare Training Service, Literacy Training Service or ROTC—as a requirement for graduation. Schools may opt to offer any of these programs, and not necessarily ROTC alone.
HB 3045 filed by San Jose Del Monte City Rep. Rep. Florida Robes is similar to the seven bills above, but is the only one to state among all the bills “the need to reestablish mandatory ROTC because schools have been infiltrated by left leaning organizations and organizations designated as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council.”
HB 3637 filed by Manila 6th District Rep. Bienvenido Abante is also similar to the bills already mentioned, but adds to the program of instruction the “promotion, protection and instilling in them ethical, moral and spiritual values.” It also stipulates that ROTC training “shall be conducted on any day except Saturday and Sunday in deference to the student’s freedom of religion.”
HB 4019, the lengthier and more detailed one among the bills was filed by Camarines Sur 2nd District Rep. Luis Raymond “LRay” and Camarines Sur 5th District Rep. Miguel Luis Villafuerte, Camarines Sur 1st District Rep. Tsuyoshi Anthony Horibata and BICOL SARO Partylist Rep. Nicholas Enciso VIII. It added emphasis on schools as zones of peace, guidelines to safeguard students, establishment of local and national grievance committee, and ROTC instructors’ capacity development program. The bill also pushed for a pilot program as part of the transition. Similar to this bill is HB 4105 filed by Quezon City 4th District Rep. Marvin Rillo.
The coverage of mandatory ROTC differs in the rest of the House bills filed so far.
HB 1692 filed by Pampanga 3rd District Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales wants mandatory ROTC for senior high school, college and technical-vocational schools.
HB 2339 filed by Bohol 2nd District Rep. Maria Vanessa Aumentado pushes for mandatory ROTC for male students in the college level and in technical-vocational institutions.
HB 2759 filed by Nueva Ecija 2nd District Rep. Joseph Gilbert Violago seeks mandatory ROTC for Grades 11 and 12 and the repeal of the NSTP Act of 2001. The coverage of mandatory ROTC in his bill is military training for male students in Grades 11 and 12 and in the college level, while female students will be required to undergo civic training for basic rescue and delivery of health services.
HB 4308 filed by Valenzuela 1st District Rep. Rex Gatchalian pushes for the reinstitution of mandatory ROTC in the tertiary level, and subsequently the abolition of the NSTP Act of 2001. Manila Teachers Partylist Rep. Virgilio Lacson’s HB 5217 also covers college students and includes the Department of Transportation as one of the implementers of the program.
The Senate bills filed so far
Five Senate bills for the revival of mandatory ROTC were filed from July 7 to September 27 this year.
The first two filed before the president’s SONA were authored by Senators Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa and Robin Padilla.
Senate Bill (SB) 199 by Dela Rosa and SB 387 by Sen. Win Gatchalian seeks mandatory ROTC in Grades 11 and 12. Dela Rosa’s bill exempts ecclesiastics and seminary students among others. Gatchalian’s bill, meanwhile, is similar to HB 4019.
Gatchalian, chairman of the Basic Education, Arts and Culture Committee, said there is a big chance mandatory ROTC will be passed this 19th Congress and said that it is one of his priority bills.
SB 236 by Padilla covers college students in degree or diploma programs, while SB 468 by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada covers college and technical-vocational students and adds foreign students to those exempted.
The program of instruction in basic ROTC in most bills include external and territorial defense; internal security, peace and order and public safety; and disaster response. Padilla’s SB 236 includes a fourth point: human rights and international humanitarian law.
Those who are exempted from mandatory basic ROTC will have to undergo the Special National Service Training (SNST) that includes literacy training, civic welfare training, emergency life support training, etc.
SB 468 also cites that the program should be free for students from State Universities and Colleges, while tuition in private schools can be charged to the Tertiary Education Subsidy of the Commission on Higher Education.
Estrada’s bill also stipulates that graduates of basic and advanced ROTC and SNST become members to the Reserve Officers Corp until the age of 40. The president can mobilize the Reserve Officers Corp in a declaration of a state of war, state of lawless violence, state of calamity. Failure to comply can mean jail time of 6 months to 2 years for states of war and lawless violence or community service 120 hours for state of calamity. Employers need to grant leave to their staff who will be mobilized, or else they will be slapped with a fine of P50,000 to P500,000 or 1 month to 1 year in jail or both.
On September 27, just two days before VP Duterte’s statement about reviving mandatory ROTC in college and not in senior high school, Dela Rosa filed SB 1349 for mandatory ROTC in college and technical-vocational schools. The bill is similar to SB 468.