Concerns grow over Philippine student military training plan

Duterte wants to reintroduce cumpulsory Reserved Officers’ Training Corps program in all schools
Concerns grow over Philippine student military training plan

Students stage a mock military encounter during a Reserved Officers Training Corps session in Manila. (File photo by Mike Taboy)

Child rights groups and church leaders in the Philippines have voiced concern over a move to reintroduce compulsory military training for schoolchildren.

The Lower House of Congress last week approved a bill making the Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program mandatory for Grade 11 and 12.

The proposed law states military training "shall apply to all students ... in all senior high schools, both public and private."

It added that the aim of the training program is to "instill patriotism, love of country, moral and spiritual virtues, and respect for human rights and adherence to the Constitution."

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, however, warned against abuses that might result from the program.

"There are many good aspects [to the program], but the problem comes with implementation," he said.

The prelate noted that the training program in the past was a "waste of time and money because young people did not learn anything."

"I hope it will be educational and create patriotism among the young," said the bishop who heads the Episcopal Commission on the Laity of the Catholic bishops.

He also warned those who will run the scheme to ensure that the rights of children will be respected.

Abuses in the past

The ROTC program was made optional in 2002 following the killing of a student who exposed corruption in the scheme at the University of Santo Tomas, a Manila Catholic university.

In March 2001, Mark Welson Chua was allegedly killed by his superiors after accusing them of mismanaging program funds.

The student's death sparked calls for the abolition of the program in schools.

Cadets in a northern Philippine university also complained of physical and sexual abuse.

Female cadets in Manila and in the southern region of Mindanao also reported physical and sexual abuse, including an attempted rape.

President Rodrigo Dutertehas said he wants to reintroduce the ROTC to "instill patriotism" among the young and to keep them away from using drugs.

Child rights group, Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, however, said basic rights, safety, and security will "severely be undermined" as the program will include marksmanship training and weapons orientation.

Catholic Church leaders also voiced similar concerns.

Militarism of the youth

Salinlahi also criticized the “militarism” the ROTC promotes.

The alliance’s secretary-general, Eule Rico Bonganay, said it "develops vulnerable young minds submissive to authorities."

He also warned that introducing mandatory military training is tantamount to reneging international commitments on the protection of children from recruitment into the armed forces.

As state party to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Philippines is obliged to promote and enact policies that place importance on the best interests of the child.

In 2008, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said military training for high school students, "promotes militarism and is contrary to peace-building education."

The U.N. body recommended that the Philippines abolish “the military content from the training, and to promote instead the values of peace and respect for human rights within the education system."

There is no conscription into the Philippine armed forces.

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