Military training is a part of the Philippines' educational system
by Isko Pineda, 9 May 2005

High School: CAT (Citizens Army Training)

There is no compulsory military service, or draft, in the Philippines. In a country where 80% of the population lives in poverty and where even university graduates can hardly find a decent job, there is no shortage of people lining up for work in the military. As they say, you have a chance of coming out alive in a battlefield but not with hunger. There is also a general perception among the people that joining the military is the quickest way to get rich. Corruption is a way of life in the Philippine military but that might be the rule with other military system everywhere.

If there is no compulsory military service, there is however compulsory military education. Introduction to the military comes early in the life of most Filipinos’ formal education. It starts once you enter fourth year high school.  If you count boy and girl scouting, then it starts early in grade school. Boy and girl scouting is an extra-curricular activity in schools until third year high school – from eight to fiftheen years old.

CAT (Citizen Army Training) is a course that is part of the fourth year high school curriculum. As with any course, the students receive marks for their performance. Like the academic requirements, they can either fail or pass. It is compulsory for all fourth year students, girls as well as boys. Those with visible physical disabilities and those recommended by medical doctors as unfit for the training for health reasons are exempted from the physical training, but not from the course. They are assigned administrative and household tasks to perform, i.e. checking of attendance, cleaning, etc.

You cannot seek exemption from military training at school on the grounds that you are gay nor for religious reasons. Matter of fact, those who are openly gay attending the training are made the objects of jokes and pranks and treated like fools. The rich can always use their money and influence to get their kids out of military training. The rich, however, would more often enrol their kids in exclusive Catholic schools where the kids do not have a choice but to undertake the training.

For four hours each week for the whole school year, the students, aged 15-16, undergo rigorous training. Students in military uniforms doing military drills and exercises are a normal sight on campuses. The students are also given lectures on the operations of the Philippine military system. The whole set-up is organized and functions like a military unit . You have the battalion which is composed of several companies and the companies composed of several platoons. Each unit has a student officer. Decisions are made through a chain of command under the supervision of the commandant. In big schools, the commandants are usually military personnel but in small schools the task is usually assigned to a male teacher.  Because of the power and prestige that goes with being an officer, there is no lack of fourth year students who are willing to give up their school break to train for four hours each day from Monday to Friday for two months to prepare them for the job.

The training is no different to training given to actual soldiers. In large schools, they are even taught to handle real guns. It is wooden guns for smaller schools. The trainees are ranked by their performance. The student who performs the best based on the judgment of the trainers, often military personnel, are assigned the highest post (Corp Commander). Girls who go through the training do not of course make it to the top no matter how good they are.

Army training is much more rigorous in government schools than in private schools. This is because government schools have to compete with each other in what they call the tactical inspection. For private schools the tactical inspection is optional.

The tactical inspection judge the schools according to how well their students know the Philippines military organization. This is determined by the students’ performance in the:

        a. individual interviews conducted by representatives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP);

        b. written examinations prepared by the AFP itself;

        c. participation of the school in community activities; and military drills and exercise.

Schools consider it a big prestige to make it to the top of the tactical inspection competition. This is akin to being adjudged a school of academic excellence.

In spite of its claim to help instil among the students positive values of citizenship, like self-discipline, leadership, positive competition, community service, etc., a closer look at the CAT reveals its true agenda. It is actually a military recruitment machine designed to lure the best students to decide for a military career. Fourth year high school is the most crucial time in every Filipino student’s education. This is the time when they have to decide which career path to pursue. Give the students a taste of the military, its power and its prestige, then bombard them with propaganda about a military in the service of democracy, and you have a recruit.

College/University: CMT (Citizen Military Training)

The CMT is the college counterpart of the CAT and is organized in exactly the same way or even more sophisticated. It used to be called the ROTC (Reserved Officers Training Corp) patterned after the US ROTC. Like the CAT, the CMT is a required course for every college curriculum but limited this time only to male students. The course is given one day each weekend for the first two years in the university. Students wearing the required combat shoes, fatigue uniform complete with badges and insignia, cap, and carrying wooden rifles, undergo a whole day of rigorous training from seven o’clock in the morning until five o’clock in the afternoon under the intense heat of the sun. As in high school, training is mainly on military drill and exercises.

No student can graduate unless he completes the required four units of military training. Many students who have completed the academic requirements of their chosen subject fail to get their degree/diploma because they have not finished the required military training units.

Many students consider becoming an officer in order to enjoy discounts in their tuition fees.  First year students aspiring to become officers have to undergo two months preparatory training during the school break, so that as they enter their second year, they are already officers. Those who do not want to become officers don’t need to undergo the preparatory training but they still have to complete the required four units.

From my own experience, CMT is the most unpopular activity at the university. In all my university days, I never came across anyone who spoke well of it. Many tried to find ways to totally avoid it. Many faked illness by submitting fake medical certificates, but because that does not totally excuse someone from the training course, others resorted to bribing student officers to get out. The officers just keep on checking their attendance without them physically being there. Since most of the officers are themselves paying for their subsistence during their time at the university, they are almost willing accomplices. Those who cannot afford to pay the bribe or who do not have the connections to secure medical certificates have no choice but to go through the entire training course.

Supervision of the CMT is directly under the military. Depending on the agreement with the university, CMT may be supervised by either the Air Force, the Marines, or the Navy.

Similar to the CAT, colleges and universities compete at the end of the school year in the tactical competition. The competition, however, is much more sophisticated at this level, as it often includes mock combat drills. Again, the university which comes top in the set criteria wins the competition.

CMT is an attempt of the military to bring in those who are against the military.
Judging from the way it is received by the students, however, it is not working. Except for those taking up criminology courses leading them to a police career, most other people try to get away from it as much as possible.

There is a citizens’ movement that wants the military completely out of the schools and their numbers are growing. Consider it a step towards a society where the military is irrelevant.