Philippine Defense Establishment Backs VP Candidate's Conscription Plan

JC Gotinga
Philippine Defense Establishment Backs VP Candidate's Conscription Plan Vice Presidential candidate and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio (center) distributes relief goods during a visit to the southern Philippine island of Siargao, which was devastated by Super Typhoon Rai in December, Jan. 20, 2022.
[Courtesy of the Office of Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio]

The Philippine defense establishment, which is supposed to be politically neutral under the constitution, appears to be backing a plan by President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter to conscript young adults into military service if she is elected vice-president this year.

Sara Duterte-Carpio, a candidate for the nation’s second highest office, said Wednesday that she would make military service mandatory for Filipinos aged 18 and older. Her comments drew criticism from a civil rights group, which said conscription violates basic civil and political rights.

On Thursday, both the armed forces and the Defense Secretary issued statements in favor of Duterte-Carpio’s plan.

“We welcome the proposal as this is attuned to the times while [the] government is faced with adversities and challenges,” Col. Ramon Zagala, a spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said in a statement.

The proposal is “aligned with our aspirations … for the citizenry to contribute to nation building,” he added.

Mandatory military service, he said, would help the country establish the base “for a strong armed forces, and therefore, a strong nation.”

When contacted by BenarNews, Zagala clarified that he wasn’t favoring any candidate but was only stating a preference.

Duterte-Carpio is contesting the May general election as the running mate of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of a former Philippine dictator.

“I will use my office, the Office of the Vice President, to talk to our Congress and the Senate … to make military service for all [people] 18 years old, male and female, mandatory in our country,” she said Wednesday during a virtual campaign event alongside Marcos Jr.

Under the plan, conscripts’ fees and other essentials would be subsidized, she said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he supported the plan.

It would create a ready pool of trained soldiers and reservists to defend the country and to be deployed in times of disasters, he said.

In a statement, Lorenzana acknowledged that there would be certain “hurdles” if the plan were implemented, including the allocation of funds to accommodate millions of Filipinos who turn 18 every year.

The other two potential obstacles include resistance to the draft from “those who are not inclined to serve in the military,” Lorenzana said. “Third, we are not on [a] war footing and there will be little need of a general mobilization.”

Instead, Lorenzana suggested making an existing college military training course mandatory once again.

Originally mandatory for all college students in the Philippines, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) was made voluntary several years ago following reports of abuse and brutality in the ranks.

President Duterte has been advocating for its reinstatement as a mandatory course.

Marcos and Duterte-Carpio are seen as representing the legacies of their fathers.

President Duterte has often resorted to police and military intervention in non-security crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. And Marcos’ father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, placed the country under martial law from 1972 to 1981.

Not everyone is on board with Duterte-Carpio’s plan. Conscription violates the right to conscientious objection against military service guaranteed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the rights group Karapatan, said in a statement.

“Mandatory military service or conscription, especially with the current prevalent repressive military institutions that we have, will not only bring about involuntary servitude or forced labor,” she said.

“It violates basic civil and political rights such as the right to freedom of thought, beliefs, and conscience, especially if you are forced to provide service or fight in unjust wars or repressive endeavors of the State.”

Civic duty is best fulfilled “not through such draconian measures but through promotion of human and people’s rights,” Palabay said.


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