On mandatory service, Sara’s got it right
Last week among the various programs laid out by candidates on the campaign trail, one proposal made by a young lady caught the most attention. Mayor Sara Duterte, running for the vice presidency, declared that if elected, she would push for mandatory military service for all Filipinos turning 18, saying it would inspire patriotism among the youth. Her proposal was in reply to a question about how she would use her office as a platform to draw young people into taking a more active part in nation-building.
While the devil is always in the details, the key word in her brief remarks was the modifier “mandatory.” As expected, the reactions from fellow candidates were mostly negative, quite possibly out of a sense of frustration that a feisty lady could upstage them with a strong stand on a male-dominated issue. As some would say, what do women know about these things?
In a statement issued in connection with Sara’s proposal, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana cited the “‘huge hurdles’ to the plan on top of which was that the Philippines was ‘not on a war footing.’” But if we waited until the country was on a war footing, it may be too late to carry out any form of military training as survival becomes the top priority. Secretary Lorenzana also cited the huge funding needed to implement such a program. But only last week, the Department of National Defense announced that it had issued a Notice of Award to BrahMos Aerospace Ltd. of India for the purchase of an anti-ship missile system costing $374 million. The Department of Budget and Management released initial funding of P2.8 billion for the weapons system. The BrahMos is the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile, flying at three times the speed of sound. The award covers delivery of three batteries, training for operators and maintainers, as well as the necessary integrated Logistics Support Package.
In the midst of a pandemic that continues to disrupt the economy, affecting the lives of so many of our people by the loss of jobs, restrictions on movement, and rising prices of essential commodities, can we afford to be shelling out P2 billion for supersonic cruise missiles that would likely be knocked out in the first 48 hours of conflict? Have we lost our minds? We have not yet fully recovered from Supertyphoons “Yolanda” and now, “Odette”; the rehabilitation of Marawi City is far from complete, and we are spending for supersonic cruise missiles. We do have the resources although limited, but we are not utilizing them wisely.
We must rethink our entire defense strategy. We cannot afford expensive, sophisticated weapons systems. We cannot rely too much on alliances. Even the best of friends have their own national interest to protect and prioritize. More important, we must develop self-reliance and strengthen the one weapons system that is dependent solely on how much we love our country. And it is the responsibility of our national leaders to create and nurture an environment that will foster and encourage the growth of patriotism, discipline, and sacrifice among our people. A citizen army will be our greatest defense against any enemy, and mandatory military service will provide a solid foundation for a strong, disciplined, and well-trained defense force able to respond not just to military emergencies but also to national disasters. Requiring mandatory military service will not come cheap but in the long run, we shall have an enduring weapons system for deterring aggression.
In 1967, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) introduced compulsory National Service for two years for all 18-year-old male citizens and permanent residents. In his book “From Third World to First—the Singapore Story: 1965-2000,” LKY discussed the difficulty of forming a people’s army: “We had to re-orientate people’s minds to accept the need for a people’s army, and overcome their traditional dislike for soldiering… “ As his Defense Minister Goh Keng Swee put it, “the Spartan approach to life does not come about naturally in a community that lives by buying and selling.” But an inspired leadership gave the people of Singapore, not what they wanted but what was needed for the nation to survive, to grow and to prosper.
Today this city state of “buyers and sellers” has one of the strongest defense establishments in the region and National Service remains the cornerstone of Singapore’s defense structure.
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