Child Rights Network tells President Marcos Jr.: Reintroducing mandatory ROTC to undermine int’l commitments, existing laws
Focus on key child-focused legislation, 19th Congress told
July 27 – A day after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), advocates under the banner of Child Rights Network (CRN), the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines, called on the president to reconsider his position on the reintroduction of mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in senior high school through legislation.
In his SONA, Marcos Jr. proposed that all Grade 11 and 12 students in both public and private educational institutions be required to enroll in the military training program. “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,” Marcos Jr. explained.
The new president’s move is consistent with the earlier pronouncements of Vice President Sara Duterte. This move to include mandatory ROTC in the list of priority legislation was also done by former president Rodrigo Duterte in 2018.
“With all due respect, we call on President Marcos Jr. to listen to children’s rights advocates and engage us in a scientific, level-minded, and balanced discussion on the proposal at hand. For CRN, the move to introduce mandatory ROTC in senior high school is not new, and so are the arguments supposedly supporting it. Child rights advocates throughout the country remain firm and united in our stance on this issue: introducing mandatory ROTC in senior high school is neither warranted nor needed,” CRN Convenor Romeo Dongeto said.
Military training not for children
CRN stressed that military training should not be mandatory for children below 18 years old, noting that senior high school students are often at the age of 16 or 17.
“To revive mandatory ROTC is to backtrack on decades-long developments that made the program no longer required in the first place,” Dongeto said.
In 2001, Republic Act 7077, or the “Citizen Armed Forces or Armed Forces of the Philippines Reservist Act of 1991,” which allows the compulsory registration and training of all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 years who are not reservists, was superseded by Republic Act No. 9163 or the “National Service Training Program” (NSTP) Act, which has made participation to the ROTC optional.
The death of University of Santo Tomas student Mark Welson Chua in March 2001 catalyzed the passage of the NSTP Act. 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. Despite its optional nature at present, reports of physical and psychological abuse in the ROTC remain far too common.
Undermining int’l commitments & existing laws
To introduce mandatory military training for senior high school students is tantamount to the country reneging on existing international commitments on the protection of children from compulsory recruitment into the armed forces.
In the Concluding Observations for the Philippine Government’s Compliance Report on the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict in 2008, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) said that military training, such as the Citizenship Advancement Training (CAT) or formerly known as Citizen’s Army Training for high school students, “promotes militarism and is contrary to the peacebuilding education of the State party and the spirit of the Optional Protocol.” The UNCRC 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 in senior high school 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 which 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 “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, nor be allowed to take part in the fighting or used as guides, couriers, or spies.”
“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 which could impact them throughout their lifetime,” Dongeto stressed.
“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 programs 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,” Dongeto added.
Focus on children’s welfare, 19th Congress urged
Instead of passing a law that will reintroduce mandatory ROTC, CRN called on the 19th Congress to focus its attention on passing laws that will safeguard the rights and welfare of children.
Primary among these proposals is the proposed Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) Bill, which was ratified by the 18th Congress last May but was not signed into law by the outgoing president.
“Passing the Anti-OSAEC Bill will conclusively widen the dome of protection afforded by our laws to our children. In processing legislation concerning children, we urge the 19th Congress to have this question as their guide post: will the proposal safeguard and nurture the future of Filipino children, or will it open the floodgates to various forms of abuse?” Dongeto remarked.
Apart from the Anti-OSAEC Bill, CRN also called for the reintroduction of the Positive and Non-Violent Discipline Bill, a bill that seeks to protect children from all forms of physical and mental violence by prohibiting beating, kicking, slapping, or lashing on any part of a child’s body, with or without the use of an instrument such as broom, cane, whip, or belt.
While the 18th Congress was able to ratify the law, former President Duterte decided to veto it in 2019.
“We would continue to push for this legislation, as it is our fervent hope that Filipino children will one day value discipline not out of fear, but of love and respect,” Dongeto said.
CRN also listed several key measures that it hopes the 19th Congress will give proper attention to in the coming months, including:
• Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy Bill – The bill seeks to provide a national policy to prevent adolescent pregnancies, and institutionalize protection for adolescent parents
• Comprehensive and Responsive Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Bill – The bill seeks to provide a comprehensive and responsive civil registration and vital statistics system
• Magna Carta of Children – The bill is envisioned to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic legislation, and in effect become a comprehensive legislative measure that will not only encourage the protection of children from threats and harm, but more importantly ensure positive support for the development of the child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential
• Philippine Commission on Children Bill – The bill replaces the Council for the Welfare of Children with the Philippine Commission on Children, which seeks to establish linkages with government and non-government agencies, and the Local Councils for the Protection of Children (LCPC).
• Bangsamoro Children’s Code
“We trust that the 19th Congress will be able to move past party lines and act as one and pass the key legislative measures we have identified. Child rights advocates throughout the country are ready to engage with Congress, and together, we believe we can achieve more for Filipino children. Together, let us endeavor to put Filipino children at the very heart of legislation,” Dongeto concluded.###
Child Rights Network is the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines.