MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives approved on second reading the bill that would make the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program mandatory for Grades 11 and 12.
Legislators approved House Bill (HB) 8961 on Wednesday, February 6, through viva voce voting or a vote of ayes and nays.
The bill needs only one more round of votes, the 3rd and final reading, before hurdling the House. With the 17th Congress expected to adjourn by Friday, February 8, HB 8961 would likely be passed in May, when session reopens.
The Senate's version of the bill is still being deliberated at the committee level.
HB 8961 says the conduct of military training under the ROTC “shall apply to all students in Grades 11 and 12 in all senior high schools in public and private educational institutions.”
The goal behind the proposed two-year mandatory ROTC is “producing well-trained and prepared reservists for military and civic service.”
“The ROTC training is aimed to instill patriotism, love of country, moral and spiritual virtues, and respect for human rights and adherence to the Constitution,” said HB 8961.
But "in no way should the ROTC be used for political gains, to teach and instill particular ideology, and as a mechanism for hazing and abuse.”
Before approving the bill on second reading, legislators agreed to remove the provision requiring public and private universities and other higher education institutions to establish an advance ROTC course for students who would volunteer to take them.
President Rodrigo Duterte restated in November 2018 that he wanted ROTC to become mandatory for students. But Duterte had also claimed in public speeches that he himself tried to skip ROTC as a student.
Who would be exempted? Only students whom the Armed Forces of the Philippines surgeon general or his or her medical officer deem as physically or psychologically unfit for the ROTC program would be exempted, “in pursuance to the recommendation of the educational institutions where the concerned student is enrolled."
What would be the punishment for non-completion of the training? Any student who would not complete the mandatory ROTC program would not be allowed to graduate. This would also be a ground for compulsory military training.
A school that would refuse to offer the required ROTC program would be subjected to “administrative sanctions” by the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, or the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
Why is the mandatory ROTC program criticized? Lawmakers against HB 8961 have argued that making the ROTC program mandatory for senior high school students would expose them to corruption.
“Instead of addressing the woes on basic education caused and worsened by K to 12, Duterte and Congress are prioritizing subjecting students to mandatory military service instead, which is a hotbed of abuses, and has a long history and culture of abuse, corruption, and impunity,” said Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago.
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.
The UP Vanguard – an alumni organization composed of graduates of UP ROTC courses – has said it does not want ROTC to be required among Grades 11 and 12 either.
They said the proposal 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.
Instead, the UP Vanguard wants the ROTC program to be made mandatory for college students once again.