China’s ongoing reclamation projects in disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and its plan to increase its military budget in the coming year should be a cause for concern for the Aquino administration, an administration solon said.
Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian said the government should call on China to stop its construction activities in disputed areas as this violate the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea or DOC signed in 2002.
Under the declaration, claimants should refrain from any activity that would stir tensions or complicate the territorial row.
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Satellite images released recently by defense intelligence provider IHS Jane showed that China is achieving significant progress in its construction projects in Kennan (Hughes), Mabini (Johnson South) and Burgos (Gaven) Reefs, which are areas that the Philippines considers as parts of its territory.
Gatchalian, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said China’s latest foray in the West Philippine Sea should also prod Malacanang to reconsider making the Reserved Officers Training Corps or ROTC mandatory for college students
Mandatory ROTC will help increase the number of reservists who could be tapped during times of emergency, including invasion from a foreign Army.
“The ROTC is the main source of reservists in the Armed Forces of the Philippines or AFP. It is also the breeding ground for the military’s future leaders,” said Gatchalian who has filed a bill that will again make ROTC mandatory to all college students.
Records showed that the number of ROTC enrollees dropped by more than half to around 950,000 in 2012 from over two million in 2001, when the National Service Training Program (NSTP) Act was implemented.
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“The ROTC will ensure we have enough boots on the ground in times of disaster or war. It will also prepare our youth for their civic duty to the country. It is high time to make ROTC mandatory again for college students,” said Gatchalian, a majority member in the House committee on higher and technical education.
Under House Bill No. 2338, all male tertiary and vocational school students will undergo military training while female students will take civil training in basic rescue missions and health services. The ROTC training will also be made a requirement for graduation.
As a preventive measure, Gatchalian urged the Department of National Defense or DND, the Commission on Higher Education or CHED, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or TESDA to design an ROTC program with safety features to protect students from abuse and excessive exercises, including hazing.
He said the government should look at Japan as a model in encouraging the Filipino youth to provide support to the country’s national defense through the ROTC.
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Bloomberg reported in May last year that the percentage of Japanese students wanting to join the army “for the sake of the country” was about 30% in 2012, far higher than the 12% recorded nine years ago.
Nearly 600 new recruits entered the National Defense Academy in 2014, the most since 1978, after making it through an exam in which only one in 10 would pass.
“Admiration for the defense forces’ role in disaster relief, particularly after the 2011 tsunami, and a deepening territorial dispute with China has fueled national pride and increased interest in the academy even as Japanese recruits face an unaccustomed level of danger,” Bloomberg said.
China claims about 90% of the South China Sea, parts of which are also contested by Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, PHL and Vietnam.
China’s increasing military spending reflects its growing power and desire to assert itself in the region and globally.
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However, Beijing said the bigger budgets are only aimed at modernizing and improving conditions for the 2.3 million-member People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest standing military.
Malacañang has taken note of China’s plan to boost its defense spending, but also urged the Asian superpower of its duty to maintain peace in the disputed seas. (Monica Cantilero/R. Burgos)