Fr. Joel Tabora’s Reservations on the Reserve Officers Training Corp Bills.


To the Hon. Sen. Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian and the members of the Committee on Basic Education, Culture and the Arts of the Philippine Senate:

In a dialogue last July 30, 2019 between the COCOPEA and Sen. Win Gatchalian, he informed us of his strong support for the establishment of mandatory ROTC in public and private SHS throughout the Philippines.  We also informed him that, despite our reservations, should the legislators pass the ROTC Act and this is signed into law by the President, our schools would implement it.

As the President of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), a member of the Board of Directors of Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), as well as the President of Ateneo de Davao University, however, I would like to respectfully register before this Honorable Committee my reservations to the proposal(s) to make ROTC compulsory in SHSs, public and private, throughout the land (at least in their current state).  I believe that more deliberation may be necessary to clarify the rational for ROTC in the current historical landscape of the Philippines. Granting that the rationale of ROTC might be clearly military service or civil service for cases of national emergency (invasion, insurrection, etc) more thought may be necessary to ensure that the strengths of the youth be made available for a military or civic effort in case of national emergency.

On the Rationale for ROTC in the ROTC Bill:

In the Senate Bills that I have seen (Tolentino, 212; de la Rosa, 227, Marcos, 413), but also in the HB 8961 (Durano) that was approved by the House of Representatives, whether this be in the explanatory notes or in the bodies of the drafted bills, the Proposal finds justification in Art. III, Sec. 4 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, namely:

“The prime duty of the government is to serve and protect the people.  The government may call upon the people to defend the State and, in the fulfillment thereof, all citizens may be required, under considerations provided by law, to render personal military or civil service.”  (212) (227) (413)

Note:  In their fulfillment of their duty “thereof” to defend the State, the people may be required by law to render personal or civil service.

Similarly, in Art. II, Sec. 13:

“The State recognizes the vital role of the youth in national-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual and social well-being.  It shall inculcate in the youth patriotism and nationalism, and encourage their involvement in public and civil affairs.”   (212) (227)

President Duterte is quoted as saying “Military training instills discipline and patriotism among the youth and promotes a spirit of love of the country.”

In this context:

“The ROTC training is aimed to instill patriotism, love of country, moral and spiritual virtues respect for human rights and adherence to the Constitution” (HB 9861 and SBs).

“The ROTC shall include the following program of instruction:

“Enhancing students consciousness in the ethics of service, patriotism and nationalism, respect for human rights, appreciation for the role of national heroes in the historical development of the country, strengthen ethical and spiritual values, develop personal disciplines and leadership and to encourage creative thinking for scientific and technological development.”  (HB 9861)

The provision leans heavily on Art. IV Sec. 3(2):

“[All educational institutions] shall inculcate patriotism and nationalism, foster love of humanity, respect for human rights, appreciation of the role of national heroes in the historical development of the country, teach the rights and duties of citizenship, strengthen ethical and spiritual values, develop moral character and personal discipline, encourage critical and creative thinking, broaden scientific and technological knowledge, and promote vocational efficiency.”

What are we legislating?

So, what are we legislating?  I think first we may need to clarify the term reserve officer.  SB 227 refers to “trained reservists”.   But even when the proposed Bill has a section on definitions,  neither of these concepts are defined.  In my understanding, a reserved officer is an officer who is trained who can be called to duty by a clearly identified authority upon sufficient warrant.

We are legislating training for that officer or reservist (with all the challenges that come with training or forming free human beings).  But it should be clear that ROTC is not and cannot be taking on the Constitutional function of educational institutions as contemplated by Art. IV Sec. 3(2) of the Constitution.  It is training for reserve officers or reservists.  Originally, these were reserved officers for the military (under the chain of command of the military for situations involving the defense of the State that demand military intervention).  Reserved military officers are, presumably, called to military duty by the Commander-in-Chief or his representative in national emergencies, like, when there is an invasion or serious insurrection.

But it seems now we are also legislating reserved officers for the Philippine National Police, which – as far as I know – is not military.

“Towards this end, the State shall include in the senior high school curriculum subjects that will introduce the student to basic military and police training and will increase their awareness of their country’s need for human resources in times of war, calamities and disasters and national or local emergencies.  It also supports the Government’s law enforcement strategy against crimes and other civic obligations”  (212)

Here, I believe we are breaching what is contemplated in Art. III, Sec. 4 of the Constitution, which calls for personal military or civil service when warranted to defend the State.

Police are not military;  they are public sector enforcers of the law.  But are we now legislating training for Reserve Officers of the Philippine National Police?  If so, are we legislating for the reserve officers under the PNP chain of command?  Does this not introduce a conflict with the military chain of command of the reserved officers for the AFP?

In SB 212 the Basic Military Training Program includes “training in the operation and maintenance of essential government or private utilities in the furtherance of overall mission” (Sec. 3b).  [Is this not overambitious for SHS ROTC?]

In the same SB 212, the Basic Police Training Program “includes, but is not limited to, basic trainings in law enforcement, disaster preparedness, traffic management, rule of law and civil rights”  (Sec. 3c)

In SB 417, the proposed “Citizen Service Program” for SHS focuses on community service, disaster preparedness, and environmental protection.  (Sec. 3)  It is only on the tertiary level that the CSP has two streams (a) citizen service and public safety   or (b) the Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC).  (Sec. 4)

The emergency during which reserved officers of the AFP can be called up is clear:  invasion, rebellion and war (esp. when the standing AFP cannot handle the emergency).  What would be the emergencies whereby reserved PNP officers could be called to duty?   There is a war on drugs in the Philippines.  It is a national emergency.  But it involves the PNP and not the AFP.  Could those trained in the contemplated ROTC program be called for duty in a war on drugs?  What about the emergencies of human trafficking, child abuse, illegal aliens, situations of informal settling, streets cluttered with vendors in the country?  When do “emergencies” end?  Are the Government’s “law enforcement strategy against crimes” clear in the contemplation of this ROTC law?

There is an even greater unclarity in the concept of ROTC training youth for “other civic obligations.”  Which obligations?  When and how can reserved officers be called up for service under these obligations?

And in a country where the burden of necessary public service (like the military and police service) too often falls on those who have less in life,  how can it be assured that there is equitable calling to duty of reserved officers between the social classes?  And that the military, police, and civic obligation reserved officer not be abused.

But the proposed legislation also includes the notion of ROTC training interventions in case of disaster.  We are training volunteers.

But if we are training volunteers, why are we training them under the rubric of mandatory ROTC?  Volunteers should be trained through activities that are also voluntary.

I believe the proposals that we are training reserved officers for the PNP and capabilities for natural calamities confuse the bill, and more seriously, muddles and harmfully hides the original intention of ROTC and may impair the meaningfulness of whatever military training may be given in an ROTC course that is necessarily limited.  Against what appears to be overenthusiastic legislative proposals, which may bloat curricula, less may actually be more.

What is the core goal of the ROTC bill?  If it is for the better defense of the State in case of war or insurrection, then the bill should target those learning outcomes  (necessary knowledge, basic skills) which would create reserved officers under the military chain of command for these situations.   Period.

If this is the core goal, the ROTC bill need not take on the burden of Art. IV. Sec. 3 (2), which is the burden of the educational institution.  Patriotism, nationalism, understanding the role of heroes (like Rizal, Aguinaldo, Bonifacio, Mabini, Luna, Sultan Kudarat?  Benigno Aquino? – all warranting deep discussion and debate!), citizenship, discipline, critical and creative thinking are very involved topics.   The troops under Hitler were disciplined, but the discipline fell short of humanity.  Obedience is normally a moral virtue, but under certain circumstances, disobedience is a moral imperative.  In Mindanao where “Filipinos” were seen to have caved in to American invaders and Muslim defenders of freedom from American rule were considered non-Filipinos or “second classs citizens” by Filipinos from the north, a critical understanding of patriotism and nationalism is indeed necessary and urgent.  But I submit this cannot be the burden of an ROTC bill.  It is the burden of the Philippine educational system and of the schools that deliver education.  ROTC training must presume that the basic education unit supervised by the DepED is doing its share in forming the patriotism, nationalism, an willingness to serve the public good in the SHS learning.

This is important because SHS is now unfortunately overloaded with the current DepEd requirements.  Where these are respected, the learners have very little time for themselves – or for serious additional requirements.  This Committee I am sure knows that there are 17 common core subjects that a SHS learner has to master. Apart from the common core subjects, the SHS learners must also to take up strand-specific subjects that add on to the already heavy load that is completed within two years. One practical concern is where the ROTC program would fit in, given the already “full” load of these SHS learners? How would the ROTC program be accommodated, considering the limited facilities available to SHSs today?  Would government be able to fund the acquisition or construction of ROTC appropriate facilities that might be commonly used?  Or is this ROTC bill again an unfunded educational mandate, which would be unfair, if not unjust.

[Since it is I believe the intention of this Committee to convene the Oversight Committee on the Implementation of the K-12 Law (RA 10533), it may be wise to wait for the results of its evaluation of the performance of the K-2 Law and of its delivery of basic disciplines our country needs, at least before the implementation an ROTC Act for Senior High School might become mandatory.]


Assuming the purpose of an ROTC bill is military service in time of invasion in the context of the situation of the military today, where the military in  Mindanao is engaged in efforts at reconciliation with former enemies, promoting inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, overcoming the CPP-NPA-NDFP (CNN) rebellion rooted in evident social injustice in Mindanao, and being prepared to face eventualities in the West Philippine Sea in the context of an unreliable USA, and the global ambitions of China, including its Belt and Road initiatives, the legislators may wish to give clear directions on what the content of the ROTC training must be, even if it is clearly training for reserve military officers.  In Mindanao military officers do not just train their guns and shoot enemies, consider that many of these have been Filipino adversaries fighting causes acknowleged to be just.  Especially in recent years, without letting up on the measured use of military force, military leaders have waged campaigns of peace-making and peace-building, seeking to win over the hearts and minds of “the enemy” but also of the people.

Mindful of the current context, any ROTC program must likewise be responsive to such changes in the nature of military operations. It cannot simply return and reinforce the old “macho,” “violence-laden,” “unthinking, unquestioning obedience” principles that it used to apply under the previous ROTC program which created myriad problems — hazing, corruption, abuse of power, harassment and bullying among others – and a military frame of mind that it is only through military force that victories are won. Otherwise, history will just repeat itself.

In this context the Proposed Legislation must also be mindful of academic freedom which the Constitution guarantees higher educational institutions (Art. 14, Sec 5.2); this is reinforced in the Higher Education Act (RA 7722).    In this context, the following provision of SB 212 would be objectionable and would need re-casting so as not to offend against academic freedom:  “It shall be mandatory for all public and private universities, colleges and similar learning institutions to offer and provide a training school for the Advance Military Training program which shall have a duration in accordance with the curriculum prescribed by the DND and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).  The Secretary of National Defense, in coordination with CHED, shall prescribe the curriculum for Advance Military Training and the proram of instruction in pursuance to the applicable provisions of R.A. No 7077.”

Perhaps DepED and the CHED, in consultation with the appropriate government agencies (DOJ, DND, and possibly other agencies involved in disaster relief and management) as well as the private education experts can craft a more meaningful expression of the ROTC program — one that takes into account the contemporary environment of conflicts and disputes and even considers variations of the ROTC program based on the various SHS tracks.   Perhaps ROTC in SHS and especially advanced ROTC in the tertiary level should not be “one size fits all,” but should aim precisely at integrating competencies developed by students through their serious schooling  into a military structure or into military operations that are certainly more diverse than what is learned by uniformed students marching up and down an ROTC field, obeying orders mechanically, and learning how to twirl a wooden gun.  But even if the learned skill is to handle and use a real gun with skill and competence, some skills of military value that can be taught learners in SHS according to our ADDU School of Engineering (given the time) are:

  1. Basic power generation
  2. Basic electrical wiring for buildings
  3. Basic water treatment
  4. Basic Carpentry
  5. Basic Plumbing
  6. Basic Masonry
  7. Basic Construction Steelworks
  8. Basic Sanitation
  9. Basic Automotive mechanics
  10. Basic Building Works
  11. Basic Painting
  12. Basic Communication System
  13. Basic Rope Knotting
  14. First Aid
  15. Basic Firefighting
  16. Basic Water System

But beyond these it must be appreciated that for military operations today the competencies of civil engineers, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, surveyors, industrial operations managers, computer programmers, data scientists, communications specialists, accountants, and even chaplains etc. can be integrated into a military structure.  An ROTC program might begin to identify these competencies, form and elicit commitment among the youth to use them in defense of the State in times of genuine emergency, genuinely integrate them in the structure of the military, and clarify which office can call up the reservists for service through their competencies in times of emergencies.


In this context, more serious consideration should be given to the issue of exemptions.  Exemptions may be full.  But they may also be partial.

Exemptions may be justified because of physical disability.  But they may also be justified to ultimate advance the military purpose of the Bill.

The importance of this Bill, I believe, is betrayed if “those who were chosen by their school to serve as varsity players in sports competitions” (SB 212 Sec 9 b) are fully exempted.  Why should such varsity players be exempted, and not student government leaders or student volunteers in urgent projects of social amelioration?  Why should ecclesiastics be exempted (SB 227 Sec 5a), if chaplains play an important role in the military?

What are the “valid reasons” contemplated in SB 212 Sec. 9 c  “recommended by the school” and approved by the DND or DILG?  Similarly, in SB 227 5 c.

Can a valid reason be that a student learner has shown evidence that he or she is serious about becoming a civil engineer, mechanical engineer, data scientist, etc. , whose competencies could be placed at the service of the military in times of need?

If this is a valid reason, and exemption may be full or partial.  Let it be mentioned in the bill.

The valid reasons may have to be legislated to actually advance the goals of this legislative proposal.  This goal may be a type of military that is very different from traditional military models.

We have gone beyond traditional military training.

Finally, DepED, in consultation with the appropriate government agencies (DOJ, DND, and possibly other agencies involved in disaster relief and management) as well as with the private education stakeholders must also bear in mind the 2008 Concluding Observations for the Philippine Government’s Compliance Report on the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which states that traditional military training for high school students, “promotes militarism and is contrary to the peace-building education of the State party and to the spirit of the Optional Protocol.” (emphasis, underscoring and italics supplied.)  A more well-rounded curriculum content could include an introduction of the principles of international humanitarian law and the respect for human rights as well as principles of peace-building.

“School-age children should be educated to become productive and peace-loving citizens who are compassionate and caring, and not seeking to harm others,” the UNCRC added. Moreover, it urges government “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.”

[This may be why SB 227 explicitly states that only those who have reached the age of 18 may take part in hostilities  (Sec. 4b2) and why SB 413 postpones ROTC to the tertiary level.]

Last week a meeting in my University of Bishops, Ulamas, NGOs and the OPAPP led by Sec. Carlito Galvez adopted the Doctrine of Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together signed  by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayyeb which declares “the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual collaboration as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.”  Perhaps this document might also be adopted as a framework for crafting an enlightened ROTC program for our youths in basic education.  The military training must go beyond waging war, as necessary as this may sometimes be.  It must be about waging peace through dialogue, collaboration and mutual understanding among those in the past who had “othered” each other as enemies.  This is a crucial learning of basic education.

Faculty Concerns

It was good that clarification was made regarding the implementation of this proposed law, were it to be passed today. DND spokeperson Andolong clarified that there will only be a partial implementation of the law for the first two years, selecting pilot schools for its test run, and afford time for instructors to be fully trained under an ROTC instructors academy.

Some related practical concerns would be the following:

  1. will faculty members who enroll in the ROTC instructors academy come from the various schools or does the proposed legislation contemplate the entry of some military, police and ex-military/police personnel going to the various schools to teach the ROTC curriculum?
  2. Will government shoulder the cost of training for both public and private school teachers while they are enrolled in the ROTC instructor’s academy?
  3. upon completion of the course, and assuming that these graduates of the ROTC instructors’ academy are absorbed into the faculty complement of a school (unless they are existing employees), can the Government pay for or subsidize the salary of these ROTC instructors?
  4. who exercises power of control over these ROTC instructors? In the event of abuse of power or unethical conduct exhibited by an ROTC instructor, who wields the power to dismiss him/her?

Other observations in the proposed bill  

  1. non inclusion of a private education sector representative in the ROTC grievance committee
  2. provision on who are not covered by the law must clearly articulate the exemption of certain SHS (e.g. the T’boli SHS, among others) where the insertion of an ROTC curriculum would fundamentally alter the character of their SHS course content.



About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
This entry was posted in Personal Views, Philippine Educational Reform, Position Paper and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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