December 10, 2018 – Child Rights Network (CRN), the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines, is firm in its position that military training cannot be mandatory for children below 18 years old. In the same vein, CRN opposes moves to introduce mandatory courses on Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in senior high school, and even in college, through either legislation or the issuance of an executive order.

To revive mandatory ROTC is to backtrack on various developments that have taken years to come into fruition.

We would like to remind the Philippine government and our legislators on the death of University of Santo Tomas student Mark Welson Chua in March 2001, which catalyzed the passage of the National Service Training Program (NSTP) Act, which has made participation to the ROTC optional. Chua was allegedly killed by his ROTC advisers whom he reportedly exposed for mismanagement of funds.

Making ROTC mandatory again may expose students to the corruption and physical abuse that led to the abolition of the course years ago.

Undermining past commitments and existing laws

To introduce mandatory military training for senior high school students aged 16 to below 18 is tantamount to reneging in past international commitments on the protection of children from compulsory recruitment into the armed forces.

As a State Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the Philippines has a legal and moral obligation to promote and enact policies that place utmost importance to the best interest of the child. In 2008, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child told the Philippine Government that military training for high school students “promotes militarism and is contrary to the peacebuilding education of the State party and to the spirit of the Optional Protocol [on children situated in armed conflict].” The Committee further recommended “the abolition of military content from the training, and to promote instead the values of peace and respect for human rights within the education system.”

Introducing mandatory ROTC is also incongruent with existing national and international laws.

Using campuses for military training and, for some campuses the provision of a barracks, is inconsistent with Rules 22-24 of the International Humanitarian Law and other treaties that restrict the use of schools for military purposes.

Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act also states that “public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and rural health units shall not be utilized for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments, and supply depots.” Article X, Section 22(b) of the same law specifically prohibits the recruitment/use of children in armed conflict. It states, “Children shall not be recruited to become members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines or its civilian units or other armed groups, not they be allowed to take part in the fighting or used as guides, couriers, or spies.”

Undermining children’s rights

CRN also fears that the proposed scope on the revised ROTC will gravely undermine children’s basic human rights, safety, and security. The contents of proposals to revive ROTC are wider than the original military training as it includes marksmanship training and weapons orientation. This proves to be problematic in the Philippines, where the proliferation and use of small and light weapons lead to death and injury of children and adults. Likewise, training on handling weapons at a young age further legitimizes the use of violence to resolve conflict, especially in the community. Increased military presence in schools for the delivery of ROTC also put children at unnecessary risk of becoming target for attack by armed groups.

Introducing a militarist course in senior high school, at a time when students are at the height of their adolescence period, may also make them vulnerable to developing various risk behaviors sensitive to adverse and negative experiences that could impact them throughout their lifetime.

Review the NSTP Act instead

Instead of pushing for this dangerous move that will indubitably trample upon children’s rights, we recommend that the government review the NSTP Act and see how it can improve what is actually an already good law that adheres to international obligations, where military training for college students is voluntary, not mandatory. Expanding offerings that put premium on serving the community, the less fortunate, the poor, and the marginalized—and not militarism for children—is what instils true patriotism.

Instead of instilling militarist lessons on children, we urge the government to again follow UNCRC’s recommendation in 2008 for the state “to develop and implement training programmes and campaign to promote the values of peace and respect for human rights and include the subject of peace education and human rights as a fundamental subject in the education system.” ###

About Child Rights Network

Child Rights Network(CRN) is the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines. CRN has a membership of 46 organizations across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

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Child Rights Network