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Sara Duterte's proposed mandatory military service draws support and criticisms: 'A step in the wrong direction'

By NICK GARCIA Published Jan 20, 2022 9:35 pm

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio vowed to push for mandatory military service for all Filipinos if elected as vice president in the 2022 national elections, a proposal that drew support from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and criticism from some government officials.

Duterte-Carpio made the statement on Jan. 19 during a virtual "caravan" with presidential running mate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

"Nakikita po natin ito sa ibang bansa, sa South Korea at sa Israel," said Duterte-Carpio, who's also an AFP reservist. "Hindi po ROTC lang na isang subject o isang weekend o isang buwan sa isang taon."

She responded to a Sangguniang Kabataan official's question on how they'll use their respective offices as platforms to spring young people into action and become part of nation building.

Duterte-Carpio said that if elected, she'll ask the House of Representatives and the Senate to pass a measure conscripting all 18-year-old Filipinos into the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). It's supposedly meant to be an upswing of her father's plan to revive mandatory Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in college.

"Dapat po, lahat ng ating 18 years old, pagtungtong mo ng 18 years old, you’ll be given a subsidy, you will be asked to serve our country," she added.

Under the South Korea's Military Service Act, all able-bodied South Korean men aged between 18 and 28 must serve in the military for about two years as part of the country’s efforts to guard against North Korea. South and North Korea remain technically at war since the Korean War broke out in the 1950s as hostilities only ceased via an armistice, and not a peace treaty.

As for Israel, conscription has been imposed to bolster its defenses against surrounding neighbors following the declaration of its independence on May 14, 1948. 

In a statement Jan. 19, vice presidential hopeful Walden Bello criticized Duterte-Carpio, saying that her proposal "reveals her for the dictator-in-waiting she is, and tells us that she will be no different from Duterte Sr."

"Like father, like daughter," Bello said. "Duterte’s legacy was to arm people and tell them to kill. Now his daughter wants to do it to the youth as well."

Reacting to Bello's statement, Duterte-Carpio said that only the likes of Bello would think of mandatory military service for its citizens as arming them and telling them to kill, "instead of looking at it as something that inspires patriotism in the youth."

"If only he wasn’t so quick to react, he would have realized that I also emphasized the need for the youth to be prepared for disasters and become proactive community partners in rescue operations and in aiding victims of calamities," she said.

"I truly hope that our youth do not grow up to be a Walden Bello — an ungrateful citizen who sleeps peacefully in the comfort of their homes, unable to say a prayer or a silent ‘thank you’ to the men and women who became martyrs while countering violent extremism, insurgency, and terrorism," she added.

The AFP has welcomed Duterte-Carpio's proposal, saying that it's attuned to the times while the government is faced with adversities and challenges, aligned with our aspirations for the citizenry to contribute to nation-building."

"Rendering mandatory military service will only help us to establish a base for strong armed forces, and therefore a strong nation," AFP spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala told reporters.

Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana also backed up the idea, but noted "huge hurdles" in the implementation.

Training camps would need to be established all over the land, and manpower and funds must be allocated to accommodate the millions who will reach the age of 18 every year

"First, are the funds and resources," he said. "Training camps would need to be established all over the land, and manpower and funds must be allocated to accommodate the millions who will reach the age of 18 every year."

Lorenzana, a retired army general, also stressed on the "anticipated objections of those who are not inclined to serve in the military," and the fact that the Philippines is "not on a war footing."

“There will be little need of a general mobilization,” he said, noting that making ROTC mandatory again is a "better alternative."

'Rampant corruption'
VP hopeful Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, however, said that mandatory military training was abolished in the first place as it became a "source of rampant corruption and abuses in the past."

"Babalik lang ang suhulan, paninikil at kurakot sa ROTC kapag ginawa ulit itong mandatory," Pangilinan said in a statement.

Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares, who's running for senator, pointed out that the existing option ROTC program is already "fraught with problems," and making military service mandatory would only make things worse.

For Lito Atienza, who's also seeking the vice presidency, young Filipinos should instead be given more training in disaster preparedness, citing the effects of tropical cyclones like Yolanda and Odette.

"This is a step in the wrong direction," Atienza said. "Rather than giving them military training, we should strengthen their civic consciousness and capability to respond to problems that affect the nation and Filipinos in general."

This is an added burden on the youth. What we should be doing instead is to harness the youth’s strength, energy, and capabilities in sports and cultural development

The mandatory ROTC program was scrapped following the death in 2001 of University of Santo Tomas sophomore cadet Mark Welson Chua, who exposed the alleged fund mismanagement in his school's ROTC unit. Chua's killing sparked widespread anger and led to the abolition of mandatory ROTC via Republic Act 7077.

ROTC, then, became optional and voluntary via RA 9163, or the National Service Training Program Act of 2001. It was approved on Jan. 23, 2002.