OPPOSITION Senator Risa Hontiveros criticized the proposed two-year mandatory basic Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program which includes senior high students who are minors saying it may violate international laws.
Hontiveros said that Senate Bill No. 2232, violates the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a protocol to which the Philippines is a party.
“Most students enrolled in Grades 11 and 12 are 16 to 17 year-olds. They are minors. The protocol we are party to ensures that persons who have not attained the age of 18 years old are not compulsorily recruited into the armed forces,” explained Hontiveros.
“Since the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is also composed of a ‘citizens’ armed force which shall undergo military training’, we would be violating our international commitment if we compulsorily recruit into the reserved forces those who are not of the age of majority,” she added.
Hontiveros also expressed concern over the funding and logistical requirements in making ROTC mandatory.
“There are around 11,000 high schools in the country. How do we overcome the financial burden of institutionalizing ROTC in all these high schools? How can we assure the public of proper implementation when we can barely sustain our K to 12 program?” she asked.
Despite her criticisms, Hontiveros insisted that she recognizes the value of military education and training for students to mobilize them for national defense, but it should be kept optional.
“Students must be given options of how to fulfill their socio-civic responsibilities to the country. Love of country and the defense of its sovereignty can take many forms. It can take the form of active citizenship and volunteerism in the deployment of social welfare services, teaching literacy and numeracy skills to schoolchildren and yes, even reserve military training,” Hontiveros said.
In defense of the ROTC bill, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said that it contains sufficient safeguards to protect students against abuse and corruption.
In his sponsorship speech for the bill, Gatchalian said the establishment of grievance committees, both at the cluster unit and national levels, ensures that there is a reportorial, investigative, and disciplinary mechanism available to address wrongdoings perpetrated under or through the ROTC program, should it be reinstated.
“Likewise, this bill requires that the ROTC program be run hand-in-hand with legal safeguards against hazing, abuse, exploitation, discrimination, bribery, and corruption -- in recognition that these problems have plagued the program in the past,” he added.