MANILA — Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa on Tuesday said he was confident that by next year, the Senate would pass a bill making the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program obligatory again for students.
Speaking before reporters after leading a Senate hearing on the matter, Dela Rosa said that while lawmakers were still completing the final version of the legislation, they were inclined to put back the mandatory program in the tertiary level.
Bills filed in the Senate and the version of the Executive Branch do not make exemptions in terms of the gender of students, he noted.
Male and female students will train together and in case of harassment or gender abuse, related laws will be applied, Dela Rosa said.
Dela Rosa clarified that the training would not only include military and combat drills but also "disaster preparedness, civil defense, among others."
"Dahil ang pagmamahal sa bayan, hindi lang naman ito limited sa lalaki o babae," he said.
(Because the love for the country is not limited to one's gender.)
"Gusto n'yo gender equality, ayaw ninyo maging weaker sex [ang women]. Mahalin natin ang ating bansa. So sama tayo dito. Hindi lang naman lalaki ang tinatamaan ng bala, babae rin naman ang tinatamaan ng kalaban so kailangan natin depensahan ang ating bansa," he added.
(You want gender equality and you don't want women to appear as the weaker sex. Let us love our country; so we're all in this together. Women also face gunshots; it's not exclusive to men. So we need to defend our country.)
Dela Rosa’s version of the bill proposes putting exemptions for persons with disabilities (PWDs), foreign students, those that underwent military training, and students with conflicting issues with their personal religion, among others.
During the joint Senate hearing, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) presented a "consensus bill" that would address issues or concerns raised by stakeholders.
CHED Director IV Spocky Farolan said there should be 2-year mandatory “National Citizens Service Training Program” which would teach students in the tertiary level "individual survivorship, civic duty, community emergency disaster response, and citizen soldier training."
The "citizen cadet" will undergo both military and non-military training as well as disaster response and emergency, he said.
“Those who are taking up TESDA courses, or training courses which are less than 2 years, especially those taking up 2 courses would also be subjected to some reorientation in our citizen service training program and they will also eventually be part of the our pool of volunteers and the human resource when it comes to national emergency,” Farolan explained.
An optional 4-year ROTC program is also proposed for students who would want to eventually be an officer for the regular and reserved force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Once they graduate from the 2-year program…they will be issued 2 serial numbers, it would be a dual registration system. They will be registered under the National Service Reserve Corps… for non-combat and non-military activities. But they will also be issued serial numbers for the AFP Citizens Armed Force because they will be deemed as members of the citizens armed force,” Farolan said.
Department of National Defense (DND) Undersecretary Igancio Madriaga said they support placing the training at the tertiary level, but suggested that a "preparatory program" should be introduced in senior high school.
“The intent of the [training in grades] 11 and 12 is not to really create ‘child soldiers’ like the critics are saying,” Madriaga said.
“The program is a sort of a citizenship training that would introduce to the 11 and 12 how to become a good citizen, how to follow the law. It would be like a ‘boy scout’ sort of training,” he added.
UP Vanguard Chairman Emeritus Gilbert Raymund Reyes meanwhile suggested that the mandatory training should be spearheaded by an "independent" commission.
Dela Rosa said the Senate committee will convene a technical working group to discuss further how to consolidate the different versions of the bills.
The ROTC was made optional in 2002 following the controversial death of Mark Chua, a University of Santo Tomas student who was allegedly killed by fellow cadet officers for exposing corruption in the program.
It is now 1 of 3 components of the National Service Training Program that college students can choose from, along with the Civic Welfare Training Service and Literacy Training Service.