President Marcos and Vice President Duterte want ROTC revived – in Grades 11 to 12. That can be illegal.
Most Grades 11 and 12 students are minors aged 16 to 17. The UN Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict forbids states from involving minors in war. State-parties like the Philippines must ensure that persons below 18 are not recruited or conscripted into any armed group. “Generally accepted principles of international law [are] part of the law of the land,” the Constitution states.
Reserve Officers Training Corps prepares trainees for military action. Thus, it should be for majority age starting 18.
The simple solution is to restore ROTC in college – first and second years for students aged 18 to 19. More Filipinos now go to college since it became free starting 2017.
No need to reinvent the wheel. In 2018 then-Senate president Koko Pimentel and Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo already co-sponsored such bill. Their proposed Citizen Service Act even expands ROTC from external defense to internal peace and order, and disaster operations. The 2019 election campaign overtook Senate Bill 1322 and House Bill 5305. Time to dust them off the shelf.
I wrote about it in Gotcha, May 31, 2019, “Restore ROTC in College to Avoid Legal Tangles”. Excerpts:
“ROTC is not for inculcating nationalism. Trainees should have imbibed love of country and been taught Filipino history and culture from age five. ROTC is for military preparedness to defend the motherland. It includes training in combat, marksmanship, artillery, map-reading, and other basics of soldiery. ROTC is for adults. If enforced in Grades 11 and 12, or ages 16 to 17, it would violate international law against child soldiers.
“Aside from training, ROTC entails readiness for mobilization. Graduates will be given ranks and serial numbers as part of the reserve Armed Forces. Deployment shall be in emergencies and for contingencies: external or territorial defense, internal peace and order, and disaster risk reduction and management.
“Congress is still debating compulsory ROTC’s age and aim. Other matters have been hurdled, like inclusion of all genders or physique. The Constitution does not distinguish between male and female, able-bodied and handicapped. It just requires military training for all Filipinos, to comprise a citizens’ armed force. In defense of the State, citizens may be called upon to render personal military or civil service. The old ROTC law needs updating. The number of military reservists has been dwindling. The National Service Training Program which made ROTC optional in 2002 needs replacing. The Commission on Higher Education has deemed it a failure.
“At what age should ROTC be re-imposed? The House has approved a version for Grades 11 and 12, senior high school. Defeated was Macapagal Arroyo’s preferred first and second years of college or vocational course. Pending at the Senate are counterpart bills for Grades 11 and 12. Separate is SP Pimentel’s version, akin to Macapagal Arroyo’s, for tertiary level.
“The younger age violates the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. OPAC stems from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. State-Parties, like the Philippines, must ensure that persons below 18 are not recruited or conscripted into any armed group. States may not send children to the battlefield, and must criminalize such child abuse.
“The Enhanced Basic Education Program, or K-to-12 Law, itself specifies the ages of enrollees. Kindergartners must be at least five years old, Grade 1 at least six, Grade 11 at least 16, and Grade 12 at least 17. Age cutoff is June 1 of the school year. So Grade 12 students who will finish ROTC would still be 17 upon school graduation the following March. (Schoolyear was altered to August-May in 2020.) Since ROTC would be a requirement for high school graduation, the OPAC will be breached.
“The University of the Philippines Vanguard Inc., consisting of Advance ROTC finishers, points up the risk. Mandating ROTC in Grades 11 and 12 can be questioned in court, say UPVI chairman Gilbert Raymund Reyes and national commandant Guido Alfredo Delgado. One cannot claim that ROTC Philippine-style is purely internal; the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties compels signatories to enforce them. Even the old ROTC law requires reservists of the Armed Forces to be at least 18 years old.
“Two arguments attempt to dismiss the age issue. One is that Grades 11 and 12 students of today were the college freshmen and sophomores of yesteryears. Both were 16 to 17, before K-to-12 added two years to the basic curriculum. But that was also before the Philippines ratified the OPAC in 2003 and made ROTC optional in 2002. The other option is grayer. A proviso is inserted to the effect that, while ROTC trainees shall be registered upon graduation, such registration shall not be construed as enlistment in the reserve Armed Forces. What then is the point of registration, if not for enlistment and mobilization as reservists?
“The mobilization part is crucial. Pimentel’s Citizen Service Bill will form a commission to oversee training for deployment in emergencies and contingencies. ROTC cadets of old were mobilized for aid during floods and election precinct guard. Graduates comprised regional reserve forces also for disaster relief. If not for battle against invaders, future ROTC trainees’ role will be mostly in disaster mitigation and prevention. That could include enforcement once and for all of the law requiring all barangays to have water impoundments against floods and droughts. The commission shall have the extra duty to investigate corruption, hazing, and sexual harassment that marred the old ROTC.”
Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.