There are many ways of serving the country

Highlights of interview with Senator Pia S. Cayetano on the mandatory ROTC bill
Politics as Usual with Pia Hontiveros
CNN Philippines (February 1, 2023)

Pia Hontiveros (PH): You have no problem with ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) as long as it is not mandatory? Or you don’t want it completely?

Senator Pia S. Cayetano (SPSC): As it stands, we have a law that includes ROTC. Have there been problems and issues on that? I have an open mind to hear. I am against it becoming mandatory. As to whether, as it is, it is doing its job, it is doing what it’s intended to be, I have an open mind. I’d like to hear. But I am against it becoming mandatory.

PH: There are bills in the Senate that are for mandatory ROTC..

SPSC: Yes, you are right, the bills that are currently being taken up in the Senate are for the return of mandatory ROTC. And my position is after reviewing all the bills and also hearing the statements of all the senators and resource persons who attended, basically I can summarize their position as follows: they want a mandatory ROTC to instill discipline, to instill or promote patriotism and unity, basically, and number two, to have a reserve corps that will be able to serve the country in its needs in case of an invasion.

As to the first objective, instill discipline. I’ll just point us to the last Southeast Asian Games which we hosted and we were the overall champions. I’ll point to the Olympics where a lot of our Filipino athletes came home with medals, including Hidylyn Diaz. Were we not most united? Were we not most patriotic and proud to be a Filipino when we saw and cheered for these athletes? So clearly, sports instills patriotism, and obviously, those athletes wouldn’t be where they are today if not for discipline. And I can say the same for the arts, and for music, right? So I don’t think ROTC has a monopoly in terms of being able to instill discipline.

And as to the second objective, to create that corps that will defend the country, what are we fighting against? What are the security threats that we face? Because again, when I read the bill, it felt like I was transported a hundred years ago., where Filipinos were fighting with bow and arrows, maybe later on, rifles, to literally defend our nation. Is that the same threat that we have? It could be. I am not saying walang threat na ganun.

But aren’t our threats now chemical warfare, cyber attacks, food security? Sibuyas nga lang wala na tayong supply. Itlog nga lang, which is a big source of protein, people would be starving without food. Water security, that is major because no one in this world can live without water. These are serious ‘security threats.’

And I humbly submit, I may not have the military training as our esteemed guests in our hearings, but I was a scholar of the US Defense in the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. And when I went there, our topics were all about soft security. Sinabi ko nga, food security, water, the effects of climate change, disaster risk. So if we now have warm bodies, and I am referring to the college students who want to study the sciences so that they can protect us against chemical warfare, they can protect us against viruses, should we not allow them to give all their heart and mind and time to the pursuit of these studies? Eh may shortage na nga tayo ng nurses. May shortage na nga tayo ng iba-ibang health professionals, pharmacists, midwives, doktor – lahat yan shortage. And these are not easy courses. And then, we’ll put now additional units to take them away from it. So medyo it boggles my mind. I am trying very hard to be logical in understanding and digesting the logic, but medyo hindi ko masundan ang premises dito na, ano ba yung kalaban? Ano ba yung security ng Pilipinas na kailangan nating paghandaan? And I am prepared to study it further, but I’d like to get more clarity on these things.

PH: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Let’s not change things na?

SPSC: That’s one way of putting it, Pia. But again, I’m very happy for them to review what our current ROTC program is like, what is the current NSTP program. But to now introduce mandatory ROTC… for example, it says in all the bills, they will exempt persons with disabilities. So the assumption is, it’s a physical exercise. Kasi if you’re exempting these people with physical disabilities, then that means physical kasi yung activity. Eh diba nga yung wars of the future, it could be online? It could be a cyber attack. So parang I don’t feel na we are thinking of the current situation or even the future when we are discussing ROTC again.

As to service to the nation, of course, I think we can all do our part in that. And again, there are different ways of serving the country. And again and again, they refer to disaster risk. Do you really have to have ROTC training to become a volunteer for disaster risk? It would help, and it would be great if that’s the track that you want. But you can participate in disaster risk in many, many ways. You could be a scientist preventing disasters from happening. You could be a teenage volunteer who is monitoring, understands how the sea levels rise. There are different ways. I just have a problem with the argument that ROTC is the way to instill discipline and ROTC is the way to solve our security. There are other ways din naman, let’s not be close-minded naman.

PH: There are different versions in the House and in the Senate…

SPSC: You know, actually, I am chairing a hearing on the Medical Reserve Corps. And this is a priority measure as well, it was mentioned in the SONA. This is also a product of the experiences we had in the pandemic. So walang problema doon. I have no issue, and I may have a similar view with Mr. Guido Delgado [UP Vanguard National Commander, who was earlier interviewed] na we have to have a reserve corps of some sort. But wouldn’t we want a reserve corps that voluntarily wants to be doing that?

This medical reserve corps, kapag may interes ka dyan, you don’t have to be a doctor, you don’t have to be a nurse, but you can be given special training in health, in medical emergencies. Dito sa disaster risk, you can also be given special training, and you volunteer. Why don’t we promote that? Tingnan natin where people want to be, instead of this concept na military.

And on that note, maraming bansa na walang compulsory. Let’s not think na napag-iiwanan tayo because hindi compulsory ang ROTC. We must focus on what our strengths are. And we’ve always said our strength is the FIlipino, the people. So what are those characteristics that we have that we can maximize? Magaling talaga tayo a IT, so baka naman yan ang maging strength natin against whatever threats we will face in the future. So that is the position that I would like to put forward. #

“Let’s not think na napag-iiwanan tayo because hindi compulsory ang ROTC. We must focus on what our strengths are. And we’ve always said our strength is the FIlipino people.” – Senator Pia Cayetano
There are several ways of serving the country and resolving various threats to national security, Senator Pia S. Cayetano emphasized, as she explained her position on the proposed Mandatory ROTC (Reserve Officers’ training Corps) bill in the Senate. Cayetano was interviewed by Pia Honiteros on CNN Philippines’ ‘Politics as Usual’ on Wednesday evening (February 1).

On mandatory ROTC and investing in our youth

Manifestation of Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Senate hearing on the proposed mandatory ROTC bill

Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.

Mr Chairman, I am happy to give a very short intervention for the consideration of our esteemed resource persons, many of whom I know are learned men, most are men yata, yung spokesperson natin sa DND. Sana magdala din kayo ng babaeng spokesperson para may gender voice din tayo. But good afternoon po sa lahat ng spokespersons natin.

Mr Chairman, let me go straight to the points I’d like to raise. I’ve been studying the bills, and as you know, I joined you in the first hearing last Congress, if you recall. I’ve been studying these bills and I note that the the bills have their foundation and history way back in the original ROTC, I don’t know if it was a law or mandate that goes back in 2012. Sen JV Ejercito mentioned this in his explanatory note.

And as I review the different bills, it seems to me that it is still premised on that narrative, yun bang turn of the century where the Filipino people… their human selves are putting their lives at stake to defend their country. Literally yung katawan nila ang human shields. And of course, our Chairman and our colleagues here who have a military background know more about that than me, diba? From bow and arrows to shotguns to propeller planes that were dropping bombs, I am talking about world wars, na naging jets na, naging nuclear war na, and now we’re talking about chemical warfare and cyber attacks, and the like.

So I humbly submit that these bills do not represent those realities. When I read the bills, of course, you will not see anything there that talks specifically about marching on the field and all that. But it seems to be a very physical endeavor, that’s why apparently there is an exception on those with special needs, which was actually pointed out by the representative from the National Youth Commission.

I am all for physical activity, you know that. I’ve done marathons, Ironmans, triathlons. I am all for physical activity. I believe a healthy body goes hand-in-hand with a healthy mind. But if we are truly trying to address these existential threats that we need to face, to me these would be some of the following.

These ‘existential threats’ to me are food security, I need not go into details but just the lengthy discussions even us senators had both on the floor and off the floor, from asin, the passion of our Majority Floor Leader, Sen. Joel Villanueva, from asin to onions, to eggs. Food security is a real threat.

Another threat that we have is water scarcity. Already in some parts of the country. We in Metro Manila, I know because I am from the southern part of Metro Manila, in BF Homes, Paranaque, which is a middle class subdivision. Wow, decades na yan walang tubig at certain times of the day. And in Visayas and Mindanao, there are certain areas there that don’t have electricity, water. These are serious threats to our daily existence and productivity as a nation.

And then third would be the effects of climate change. Sen. Loren Legarda who, always, is on top of this issue, she delivered a privilege speech just this Monday. We have islands that are sinking. The homes of people can be gone in a matter of decades.

And then the draining of our human capital. All over the world, every day, I see news about health workers going on strike in other parts of the world, countries that are richer than us, in the US, in the UK, hospitals that are in dire demand of health workers. Schools that are in demand of teachers. Saan nila kukunin yun? Sa Pilipinas po. They are getting our very valuable human resource for their own needs, not for ours, but for their needs. Karapatan naman po ng mga kababayan natin to go where their heart leads them, where they need to go.

But these are clear existential threats which I don’t think any of our colleagues and our esteemed resource persons can deny. So, my challenge, dear colleagues, and to our resource persons, is how can we use best this human capital?

Kasi when I read the bills, the narrative seems to be nga, yung pagkaalam ko sa ROTC. I’d like you to educate me and tell me how these existential threats I mentioned will be addressed in that way? Because I would prefer, and this is a personal preference, with all due humility, that we continue to invest in the education of our youth for STEM related classes [and] courses, where they would be able to develop our own strengths by way of ensuring that wala nang magugutom sa Pilipinas; by way of ensuring that we desalinate water, we filter water so that we have clean water. And tama naman ang mention nang disaster risk, but these are very specific skills training that are required.

And I humbly submit that we will be taking away valuable hours that should be used, whether it’s in the classrooms or on the field, developing these skills that our youth, either already have or can be further honed, but not by way of military training per se.

Now on the issue of compulsory, narinig ko some of the comments of our dear colleagues, you want a professional group, you want them to be dedicated. Pero the most professional and dedicated are those who choose it for themselves. Hindi yung mandatory na wala ka naman choice and you are forced to do something. Medyo mahirap to get dedication out of that.

And then in terms of love for country and patriotism, I submit that our men in uniform are patriots and devoted to our country. But I also would like to forward the idea that when are we most united? Hindi ba ho when we watch sports, when we see the former Sen. Manny Pacquiao defend the title, when we watch the Olympics, kahit po kaming mga senators cheering in the lounge, nag-break kami sandali just to cheer for EJ Obiena and the other Olympians. And I don’t think anyone can question their dedication, their discipline. So kung ang pag-uusapan is discipline, and I know colleagues of ours who swear that they developed discipline through ROTC training. Ako din, I swear that I developed my discipline through sports training as a varsity athlete. So there are different ways of developing discipline, your honors.

And this is really like what I’d like for us to determine when we come up with a bill that I don’t think any of us would deny that the objectives are good. Developing discipline, love of country, patriotism. We all agree on that. But what is the way to get to that? That is something I feel has to be explored further, deeper. Because there is just not one way, your honor.

So yan ang humble request ko, na pag-aralan ito and tell me, I am happy to sit down and discuss this further because I am really worried na at the rate our education system is going, and we have improved, to take away valuable time from the students to do this, when they could be still serving our country and maybe be more effective by pursuing the courses that are already available there. We have a shortage of nurses, doctors. So mamamatay din ang mga kababayan natin from diseases when we don’t have enough health workers to take care of them.

I’d rather, with all humility, that they be working on this, their degrees to save lives, than an existential threat. And I think the existential threat of being invaded, and the skill requirement naman that will come out of a 2-year graduate will really not be – and again with due respect, I don’t know, I am not an expert – to address that. Pero if we have doctors who are saving lives, I can assure you that they will save lives. If we have teachers who will teach better and come up with students that can address IT cyber attacks, our Chairman was very active in the hearings on that, as were many other colleagues. Cyber attacks are real but we cannot even begin to counter that if we don’t have the expertise in those areas. Those are the areas I feel that are important for us to look into.

So I rest my case there, Mr Chairman. You know that I believe in healthy debates and I am a team player. I would like to work with you on this. And by the way, with all due respect din, I am a graduate of ATCSS, Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. I was sponsored by the US government to study in Hawaii and ang classmates ko karamihan are civilian and men, mostly men, pero alam ko may ladies din pero wala lang akong classmate. My classmates were all men in uniform except for one other woman from Hong Kong. So my point is, yung studies namin doon, lahat were on ‘soft security’ kasi these were the threats. Soft security is what I talked about – yung water scarcity, food scarcity, human lives being lost to health issues. And so that’s the discussion that I’d like to be a part of.

And on a last note, thank you Mr Chairman for giving me the time to express my views on this. I also take note that it’s only the National Youth Commission that spoke on behalf of the youth. I believe that there are other youth groups who would like to speak also. And sa akin lang naman po, having been a senator for nakalimutan ko na gaano katagal, 13 years, the Senate has always to my mind been the best venue for the healthy exchange of ideas. So I hope that we will also be able to listen to them. I know it’s the prerogative of the Committee Chair kung sino magsasalita. Pero [for this bill] changing the 4 or 2 years that students are going to be in school, I think it’s very important that we listen to them, including other experts on developmental psychology and education, because I’d really like to know if yung goals natin would be achieved through this manner.

So yun lang po Mr Chairman and thank you very much.#

At the hearing on the proposed mandatory ROTC , Senator Pia Cayetano cited several ways to develop discipline and patriotism among the youth, which would enable them to serve the country. (file photo)

Alternative measure to mandatory ROTC filed

Senator Pia S. Cayetano is pushing for the establishment of a comprehensive and holistic policy that would strengthen the sense of patriotism and nationalism among Filipino students. 

The senator filed Senate Bill No. 925 or the ‘Youth Patriotism and Bayanihan Act,’ which is an alternative to the proposal to revive the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program for senior high school students.  

At the Senate Committee on Basic Education’s public hearing on Thursday (August 22), Cayetano stressed that instilling love for country among young Filipinos should start as early as their formative years. 

“Do the core values of nationalism and patriotism only begin at senior high? That’s the question I pose. This is not just a concept that should be focused on senior high,” she said.

“I just want to put my point out there, that there are different ways to develop nationalism and there are different components [that should be considered],” she added.

Earlier this week, the senator filed SB 925, which seeks to institutionalize a two-tiered program to strengthen the values of discipline, patriotism, and nationalism of students from Grades 1 to 12. 

The first tier is the introduction of a Fundamental Program in the curricula of Grades 1 to 12 in all public and private educational institutions in the country. The components of which shall include Physical Fitness, Arts and Cultural Heritage, Community Outreach, Basic Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, and Basic Security. 

The second tier is the establishment of a Specialized Program for Senior High School students in public and private educational institutions. This seeks to provide advanced and dedicated training for the development of the students’ skills on security, survival, and public service.

The Specialized Program shall have the following components: Internal Security and Peace and Order, Dedicated Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, Advanced Security, and Career Development.

Cayetano said her measure particularly promotes the importance of “soft security,”  which pertains to the ability of citizens to respond to threats to the country’s sustainability through the efficient management of resources and delivery of services.

In her bill, the senator distinguished ‘soft’ from ‘hard’ security, which refers to the country’s ability to respond to security threats through the use of military force.

“That’s why my bill includes more components [other than military-based training] because I’d like to think that there is not just one track… We want to be sure that the programs [we will establish] would be suited to the skills that we want our youth to develop,” she said. 

Furthermore, Cayetano said if the purpose of the mandatory ROTC is to train the youth in helping protect the country from external threats, there are many other ways to do so.

“If we are preparing for external invasions… should not the preparation be in terms of our students being the best in engineering, psychology, sociology, history, medical care, and the like?” she asked.

“My point is, we need to strategize where our human resources are needed. And it is essential for the Filipino youth to contribute to the preservation and sustainability of our country’s available resources,” she concluded.  #

Senator Pia Cayetano: “If we are preparing for external invasions, should not the preparation be in terms of our students being the best in engineering, psychology, sociology, history, medical care, and the like?”