Youth oppose NCSTP as the ‘new face of brutal mandatory military training’

Photo by No to Mandatory ROTC Network

By BRELL LACERNA and AIRA MARIE SIGUENZA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – “Nationalism should not be forced.”

Noel, not his real name, a 17-year-old Grade 11 student has reservations about the proposed National Citizen Service Training Program (NCSTP) since there are other ways to serve the country other than forcing students to join military practices.

In a series of protests, progressive groups decried the passing of House Bill (HB) No. 6687 or the NCSTP Act in Congress, which is basically a new form of mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

The bill was certified as ‘urgent’ by the Marcos administration.

Progressive youth groups all over the country expressed their opposition to the “railroaded” NCSTP Act. Several protests were held, along with email blasts, social media rallies and petitions, and lobbying efforts in congress.

ROTC, under the National Service Training Program (NSTP) Act of 2002, is a voluntary course at the tertiary level where the youth are involved in military practices as training grounds for national defense. Last January 19, Vice President and Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Sara Duterte publicly expressed support for the mandatory ROTC to encourage youth to join the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Back then, her father, Rodrigo Duterte, during his presidential term, vouched for the amendment of the Republic Act 7077, otherwise known as the “Citizen Armed Forces of the Philippines Reservist Act,” suggesting the mandate of ROTC in senior high school and tertiary levels, in all public and private schools.

In many forms of proposed bills to mandate ROTC in schools, its history remains a breeding ground for cases of harassment and abuse against youth. The most notable case is the murder of the University of Santo Tomas student Mark Welson Chua after exposing corruption in the program. This case also led to the abolishment of the ROTC program as mandatory.

ROTC also had cases of abuse in women participating in the program. Last 2016, men cadets from Benguet State University (BSU) and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Pasig (PLP) were convicted of attempted rape and violence against women.

Hazing, which was institutionalized as a crime by the Anti-Hazing Act of 2018, was a prevalent form of punishment against cadets. One of which was the murder of cadet Darwin Dormitorio last September 18, 2019 inside the Philippine Military Academy, a school known for training military reserve forces.

“Heinous record of hazing, sexual assault, verbal attacks, imposition of blind compliance, repression, and other forms of physical, emotional, and psychological abuses,” is how the No to Mandatory ROTC Network described ROTC and the state’s mandate for its return.

At a press conference of the No to Mandatory ROTC Network last December 12, Dante Panalangin Jr., a senior high school teacher, fears the repercussions once ROTC in its new forms is required.

“The ROTC will not teach the students having a hard time reading comprehension. We should learn from the K-12; we should not make the students subject of experiments because, in the end, they will just be abused,” Panalangin Jr. said.

Since it became voluntary, from 800,000 students undergoing ROTC every year, it has decreased to 112,000.

In its revival in the form of NCSTP, No to Mandatory ROTC Network asserted that the bill would only benefit the Marcos administration’s campaign on disinformation and historical distortion of the crimes committed by their family.

‘Just another MROTC’

For Benhur Queqquegan, a member of the No To Mandatory ROTC Network, NCSTP is no different from MROTC.

House Bill (HB) No. 6687 was authored by House Speaker Martin G. Romualdez, who is also the first cousin of Marcos Jr.

Under this bill, all students in higher education institutions (HEIs) and in technical-vocational institutions (TVIs) under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) will be mandated to enroll under this program for at least four semesters or two years, unless one is able to procure a certificate of exception from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) or TESDA, or for “justifiable causes.”

Under the NCSTP’s curriculum, the subject’s program will focus on “competency training,” including ‘civic duty inculcation, literacy training services, survival and safety techniques such as first-aid administration, and community or mass emergency and disaster response and management.’

Aside from this, one of the bill’s objectives is to “enhance the capacity of its citizens to mobilize and perform their constitutional duty to render personal military or civil service to the [country] in times of calamities and disasters, national or local emergencies, rebellion, invasion or war.”

The students who will finish the program will automatically be incorporated into the AFP Reserve Force.

Unlike the current NSTP program, the NCSTP will remove the freedom of the students to choose the NSTP component they would participate in, whether the Civic Welfare Training Service (CWTS), Literacy Training Service (LTS), or ROTC.

This will institutionalize only the ROTC program, which will be designed by the CHED and the Department of National Defense (DND).

Amid the youth and people’s opposition against NCSTP, Marcos Jr. certified the bill as urgent, leading to the bill’s passing in the lower chamber last December 15 with a total of 276 votes.

No to MROTC Network listed the dangers and drawbacks associated with the bill – the reason why they are opposing it.

Added expenses and waste of public funds

Queqquegan stated that since there are still no Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), the budget for NCSTP has yet to be finalized. However, it can be remembered that in 2019, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said that the ROTC program “will cost the government some P38 billion annually.”

For Queqquegan, this amount will surely double in NCSTP, given that the program will be expanded for two years.

For the No to MROTC Network, the funds that will be allocated for the bill should be put to better use, such as “filling in the shortages in classrooms, books, teachers and staff, and the retrofitting of schools in compliance with the minimum health standards to ensure safe resumption of classes.”

Added burden to students, teachers, and parents

The network has also emphasized that the program will be highly “physically demanding” and can negatively affect the well-being of the students since they are also already exhausted with their academic loads.

Not only will the students be severely affected but also their parents and professors. Queqquegan stated that this would lead to extra burden and cost for the parents and additional workload for the professors, especially if the professors will undergo training and seminars by the AFP and PNP if they’ll be the ones instructing NCSTP.

Culture of violence and corruption

If the NCSTP will institutionalize ROTC, it will be associated with the latter’s bloody and violent history.

In 2014, an 18-year-old Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) student was hit by wooden rifles causing severe bruises at the back of her thighs by two senior cadets as a punishment for not attending the briefing night.

Read: Hazing victim calls for justice, ROTC abolition

In 2019, a 19-year-old Bago City College student suffered a hematoma in the abdomen after being assaulted by six criminology students in Negros Occidental. In the same year, Willy Amihoy, 23, a student of Iloilo State College of Fisheries, was allegedly killed and found wrapped in fabric by Elmer Decilao, a corps commander.

Promotes fake nationalism

“Under this program, the students will learn blind obedience instead of nationalism, especially if they are being threatened by punishment or abuse or if they will not follow the ordered hairstyle, stance, and thinking of the officers. Nationalism should not be forced,” says Lance Avery Alo, No to Mandatory ROTC network convenor.

Aside from this, the network stated that the components of NSTP, such as CWTS and LTS, already offer programs and lessons where students can engage in nation-building, disaster response, health, and education.

Threat to academic freedom

For Queqquegan, the NCSTP is a threat to the student’s academic freedom, especially since this program will allow the presence of the police and military on the schools’ premises.

“It is worrisome, especially in the current political situation where students are being red-tagged after expressing critical ideas or joining progressive organizations. It will also violate the accords set in some universities, such as the PUP and UP, which prohibits the presence of police and military forces in the university’s vicinity,” said Queqquegan.

Aside from the dangers listed, Queqquegan noted that the youth did not have a chance to take part in creating the bill’s provisions, contrary to the claim that the NCST Program is a “consensus bill.”

What the students genuinely need

Aside from the impending danger brought by the proposed NCSTP bill, the students are facing three primary crises, according to Queqquegan, which are educational, economic, and democratic rights crises.

For several years, various universities have faced budget cuts annually. This year alone, the Marikina Polytechnic College will meet the proposed biggest budget cut of 80.92 percent. Aside from this, 115 out of 116 SUCs will have a reduced budget for maintenance and other operating expenses. At the same time, 83 will suffer from lower capital outlay, and 17 schools will need more adequate funds for personnel services.

Read: Students decry impending budget cuts in SUCs, oppose funds for mandatory ROTC

Aside from this, the Department of Education (DepEd) last year stated it lacks around 91,000 classrooms for the school year 2022 to 2023. All of these are happening while the educational sector is still facing hardships brought on by the pandemic.

Noel noticed the lack of functional facilities and resources to help them with their activities – this compels her to spend her own money. “The priority in this bill is misaligned since currently, the country is facing the problem with defective facilities, classrooms, and more.”

Apart from this, the students are also facing an economic crisis, especially now that inflation has reached an all-time high. From 6.1 percent last June 2022, the inflation rate peaked at 8.1%l percent in December, all while the minimum wage remained insufficient at P570 ($10.24) in the National Capital Region (NCR) and P341 ($6.12) in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) – this severely affects the Filipino people.

Read: #NoGoldenEra | Workers suffer as pay remains insufficient amid incessant price hikes

Read: #NoGoldenEra | Food is now a luxury for low-income families

“The students have no choice but to be working students – forced to juggle school and work just to sustain their families’ needs, especially now that the price of basic commodities is continuously rising,” said Queqquegan.

Lastly, the students face a crisis in their democratic rights due to the incessant attacks against the youth.

Under Duterte alone, the youth has been one of the most targeted by state-sponsored attacks through the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and Hands Off Our Children (HOOC) Movement, both known as serious red-taggers of the youth.

It can also be remembered that last year, three Far Eastern University (FEU) students almost faced expulsion after joining in a September 21 protest commemorating the 50th year of Martial Law.

Read: ‘Drop the charges’ | Students denounce university’s looming expulsion of 3 protesters

“Because the state fears critical and proactive youth, it seeks to narrow the available democratic spaces for young people and other marginalized sectors by discrediting them through red-tagging,” said Kabataan Party-list.

Read: ‘Resisting Tyranny’ | Youth persists against Duterte’s desperate attacks to quell their struggles

For Noel, these problems faced by the youth will not be solved through the NCSTP and instead call for the government to focus more on fixing the issues in the education sector and give more priority to improving students’ literacy.

“History has documented cases of abuse in the ROTC, so the current administration should take a lesson from these. If they really want to teach the youth patriotism, they should know why the youth opposes the bill,” said Noel.

In response, Kabataan Party-list filed House Bill No. 1159, or An Act Expanding the Coverage of the National Service Training Program (NSTP) by Amending RA 9163 or the NSTP Act of 2001, also known as the Expanded NSTP Bill.

This bill aims to “provide more engaging social and civic service programs that will uplift the Filipino students’ sense of nationalism and duty under the NSTP.”

“What we need as a nation today is not an army of young men and women trained in the ways of the military but an army of volunteers and advocates ready to serve and uphold the needs of their communities and nation as a whole,” said the bill.

After the resumption of the session, the bill will be tackled in the bicameral session in the Senate.

“We call on our legislators to listen to and address the legitimate concerns of the youth. The railroading of bills related to ROTC is not what our country needs right now, and it will never be. What we need is a nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented education,” said Alo. (RTS, RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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