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Proposed mandatory military training for students instills culture of violence and risks peace education gains

Civil society organizations express their concern about the mandatory ROTC bill

A bill to reintroduce mandatory military training for college students has been filed in the Philippine congress and is expected to be passed in the coming weeks. forumZFD and other civil society organizations fear that the bill continues trends of militarization of education spaces, promotes military means as a preferred solution to conflict, runs the risk of abuses of power, and enables a culture of violence among students.
Conflict Sensitive Journalism Peace Philippines
© forumZFD

We, the undersigned, express our grave concern about plans to reintroduce mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. Senate Bill 2034 or the "Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) Act", which will replace the National Service Training Program (NSTP) Act of 2001, introduces a mandatory four-semester ROTC program for all undergraduate, diploma or certificate programs that are not less than 2 years as a graduation requirement. The program does not allow for any exemptions but foresees a specialized program for foreign students, students with disabilities, students whose religious beliefs prevent them from using firearms, and students with convictions for crimes with “moral turpitude”. The bill has already been passed at the House of Representatives and is currently in second reading at the Senate. The mandatory ROTC program had been phased out in 2002 after public outcry over the killing of Mark Welson Chua, a college student who exposed bribery and extortion within the program, by senior ROTC officers and had been replaced by the NSTP. 

Proponents of the bills argue that basic military training for students is necessary to instill patriotism and nationalism and to increase national defense preparedness. Declared a priority bill, they hope to pass it by the end of May 2024. 

We recognize the need for territorial defense given the tense geopolitical climate as well as ongoing disputes over the West Philippine Sea. However, we believe that subjecting students to rigid and prone-to-abuse training regimens is not an adequate way of increasing the Philippine Republic’s capacities for territorial self-defense. Rather, the program runs the risk of exacerbating domestic conflicts and violence by perpetuating the idea that the use of force should be the preferred means of responding to conflict. It thus feeds into existing trends of militarization and securitization that normalize the use of violence. 

We are concerned that the introduction of mandatory ROTC in academic institutions will also lead to additional presence of military officers in educational spaces and may heighten surveillance and red-tagging of students or teachers expressing critical opinions curtailing the freedom of expression and freedom of speech. In fact, such cases have already been noted and documented in the past following the government’s crackdown on the communist insurgency.

As the program has been described to create a culture of impunity, violence, and blind obedience, the strict hierarchies and power imbalance inherent in the ROTC structure can be easily abused by those put in positions of power. Not only the prominent case of the killing of Mark Welson Chua shows this. Indeed, there have been several other cases of psychological, emotional, and physical abuses as a result of the ROTC. According to the Philippine Collegian at least 14 cases of hazing, sexual or physical abuse, and murder have been recorded since 1995[1].

We strongly believe that schools, colleges, and universities should be safe places of learning that encourage free exchange of ideas, self-expression, and a culture of peace and agree that civic service and engagement should be taught and encouraged in schools. We, therefore, recognize the value of existing efforts of the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education to promote and integrate peace education in schools and further enable community engagement. However, by reducing civic engagement to military service alone, the proposed bill narrows the spectrum of ways in which one can be engaged for the nation and present military means as the preferred or even only means of dealing with conflict and social issues. In an already highly competitive learning environment, the imposition of mandatory ROTC further subordinates creativity, critical thinking, and self-actualization to unquestioning obedience and military discipline. 

Therefore, we urgently call on lawmakers to reconsider support for the reintroduction of the mandatory ROTC and to explore alternative options of promoting civic consciousness and engagement such as building on existing NSTP and community outreach programs. Academic institutions need to be safeguarded as places of learning, developing skills, and helping students live up to their full potential. It is only in this way that they can be genuine spaces for building peace as well. 


Signed by

Bagat Youth Alliance

Center for Peace Education, Miriam College

Darussalam Al-Farouq Youth Organization


Kagan of Bongbong Youth Volunteers

Learned Kagan Muslim Foundation, Inc. 

Media Educators of Mindanao

Mindanao Histories and Studies Advocacy Group

Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute

Mindanao State University System - Institute of Peace and Development in Mindanao

Pax Christi Pilipinas

Responsible Young Leaders Organization

Salam: The Ateneo Muslim Society

Samal Island Muslim Communities Development Center, Inc. 

Tri-People Youth Collective for Peace of Mindanao (AKMK)

Towards Peace Lanao Chapter



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