By Getsy Tiglao
It’s a radical idea to be sure, especially with today’s generation of youth who are easily hurt and offended – they would surely howl that their “human rights” are being violated. But listen: the best countries in the world have some form of compulsory military service and it’s a key element of nation-building.
In Israel, all citizens 18 years of age are required to serve in the Israeli Defense Force, with the men serving for three years and women about half that time. The women are not confined to desk-bound jobs but are trained together with the men for combat situations.
Europe has a long tradition of having a military service option for its citizens and some nations have kept their conscription or compulsory enlistment laws, including Germany, Austria, Finland, Greece, and Norway. Recently, too, French President Emmanuel Macron said that France will bring back compulsory national service in a bid to promote social cohesion and nationalism.
In Asia, Singapore requires its male citizens and second-generation permanent residents to serve in the military for two years. South Korea also mandates a two-year service for male citizens between 18 and 35 years, with even its popular K-Pop singers not being able to escape this compulsory service.
The Philippines used to have a compulsory, short-term program called the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) for college and university students. The ROTC was already a weak version of the conscription programs in other countries but then it was eroded further with the passage of the National Service Training Program (NSTP) in 2002, which offered civic and literacy training as options along with ROTC.
Of course, the young people would choose the easier option of community service rather than military training! Today’s millennials are spoilt for choice, and it doesn’t help that modern parents have become overprotective of their children. There’s a fine line between love and discipline, but seeing the weakening backbone of many young Filipinos, the necessary balance, alas, has been lost.
As a result of our coddling the youth, we lost the opportunity to instill love of country, to inculcate the values of discipline and organization, and to teach common sense to an entire generation of Filipinos.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines suffered as well because of the poorly-thought out NSTP (which was just a knee-jerk reaction to the death of one ROTC cadet). Previously, the military was able to source a large number of its officer corps from the graduates of the ROTC programs in various schools.
Now the country’s military has to contend with a severe lack of officers. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said recently that the AFP needs to recruit 500 to 600 new officers every year to replace those who have resigned or retired. “The products of the Philippine Military Academy are not enough,” he noted.
Another problem for the AFP is the forced retirement of its soldiers upon reaching the age of 56 years. In today’s world, 56 is still young with the officers just reaching their peak. We need continuity in military policies and administration, and not the current revolving door of chiefs of staff who serve just a few months prior to their retirement.
The situation described above can easily be rectified by amending or abolishing the Marcos-era Presidential Decree No. 1650 which established the 56 year retirement age for military personnel. In fact, President Rodrigo Duterte has said that he wants the retirement age raised to 75 from 56.
Is there any legislator out there who is willing to sponsor this bill to upgrade the retirement age of soldiers? More importantly, is there any senator or representative who will have the guts to file a bill that will create a national military service act or a new national defense act?
Perhaps one of the legislators who were recently inducted into the reserve officers corps can do the honors in filing these important bills, among them new AFP colonels House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, Senators Loren Legarda and Manny Pacquiao, and Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia.
At present, there are bills pending calling for the revival of the ROTC for Grades 11 and 12 – which I think is too young for military training or education. It will be better if the ROTC program is restored to the college or university level as a requirement for graduation.
What’s best is if a new law is created making it mandatory for all Filipinos 21 years old and above to serve in any of the uniformed services for at least two years. Men and women should have equal opportunity to train and learn even for combat operations.
Of course, there can be the usual exceptions such as for expectant mothers or those in ill health. But I think that those holding dual citizenships should not be exempted. With the privilege of being a Filipino citizen should come the responsibility of serving. Those holding dual passports can’t have it both ways.
Scary prospect? Yes, but no one else will defend this country except us. Nope, we cannot rely on the United States which has its own problems. The Communists and terrorists are just out there wreaking havoc in the countryside, not to mention recruiting University of the Philippines students to be part of their “officers corps.”
We have always pointed out that the biggest obstacle to our development is our lack of nationalism. There’s a glimmer of hope, however, as the Duterte administration goes old school with its support for the revival of the ROTC. It should also think about expanding ROTC into a compulsory military service for all able-bodied citizens. We will all benefit from having more patriotic Filipinos around us.