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We’ve all probably heard that a vice presidential candidate in the forthcoming 2022 elections is advocating for mandatory military service, or conscription, in the Philippines. While most of us are split on whether or not we should adopt such a system, we all have a right to know what it is and what it means for our society.

What is mandatory military service?
Also known as military conscription, it is when the state requires individuals in a nation to serve in the military for a certain amount of time. It is a tactic used by nations to easily call on their citizens in times of war.

This is merely a means to have a considerable amount of troops or cannon fodder. It is also used as a last resort by most nations who implement this.

Photo from Korea Defense Blog, 1/17/2020, https://www.facebook.com/ROKArmedForces/photos/pcb.4628524083912609/4628440920587592/

History

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A good example of pre-modern conscription was in Ancient Greece. The Hoplites were Greek citizens who equipped themselves with weapons when they were called to fight for their respective city-states.

Specifically, in Athens, males who were around 18-20 years old were required to complete 2 years of mandatory military service and training. This was so that in times of war, men up to the age of 60 could be called up to fight.

Simple History. (2019, Sep 9). Hoplite – Citizen soldier (Ancient Greece). Retrieved from:

During the period of the French Revolution (1789-1799), the Revolutionary government called upon the people of France to take up arms and fight for their nation. According to the 1789 Jourdan Law, “Any Frenchman is a soldier and owes himself to the nation.” This form of mass militarization towards citizens is what would later be familiar as universal conscription in this day and age.

A French general by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte would make use of mass conscription to raise up his massive army known as La Grande Armeé. This would later prove to be a great success in his conquest across Europe.

(Balfour, Maj-Gen. (1867, Jun). Journal of the statistical society of London [PDF]. www.jstor.org)

When the Vietnam War started, mass conscription was used by the US to secure their interests in Southeast Asia. From 1964 to 1973, there were about 2.2 million men drafted into service by the United States military.

Anti-war sentiment grew during the later stages of the war, and many activists saw the draft as immoral and the government’s only source of fresh soldiers. The anti-war movement grew so large that in January 1973, President Richard Nixon ended the draft in the US.

(The University of Michigan. (Date N/A). The military draft during the Vietnam war. https://michiganintheworld.history.lsa.umich.edu/antivietnamwar/exhibits/show/exhibit/draft_protests/the-military-draft-during-the-#:~:text=During%20the%20Vietnam%20War%20era,eligible%20pool%20of%2027%20million.&text=Antiwar%20activists%20viewed%20the%20draft,the%20war%20with%20fresh%20soldiers)

History in the Philippines

The conscription of Filipinos began during the Spanish colonial period. Filipinos were used as auxiliary forces by the Spanish empire in both local peacekeeping and security and in their foreign endeavors. The Spaniards commended the Filipinos to be excellent soldiers.

Nearing the end of Spanish occupation (late 1800s), more than 17,000 native Filipino troops were in the service of the Spanish forces. 60% of these Filipinos were employed in the Guardia Civil.

(Mallari, Perry Gil S. (August 9, 2011). Military service of Filipinos under Spain. https://fmapulse.com/fma-corner/fma-corner-military-service-filipinos-under-spain/)

In 1935, the Philippine Commonwealth introduced conscription with an enlistment period of 5 and a half months. Commonwealth Act No. 1 was implemented when President Quezon issued Executive Order No. 207 in 1939. This made ROTC obligatory for all colleges and universities across the nation. It was done to fill the reserve forces of the Philippines at the time of 400,000 men.

But when President Quezon visited Tokyo in 1939, he stated that the Filipinos could not defend their homeland to the greatest effect because of the Japanese military’s superiority.

(Budge, Kent G. (Date N/A). The pacific war online encyclopedia: conscription. http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/C/o/Conscription.htm)

(Morton, Louis. (Date N/A) The fall of the Philippines. https://history.army.mil/html/books/005/5-2-1/CMH_Pub_5-2-1.pdf)

When Marcos declared Martial Law in September of 1972, he issued two Presidential Decrees with terms of conscripting trainees into emergency military service. The first was in 1973, with a period of 12 months. The second was in 1974, with a period of 18 months.

(Marcos, Ferdinand. (May 6, 1973). Presidential Decree No. 182. https://lawphil.net/statutes/presdecs/pd1973/pd_182_1973.html)

(Marcos, Ferdinand. (October 18, 1974). Presidential Decree No. 567. https://lawphil.net/statutes/presdecs/pd1974/pd_567_1974.html)

Today, it’s still a possibility to have mandatory military service. Section 4, Article 2 of the Constitution states: “The Government may call upon the people to defend the State and, in fulfillment thereof, all citizens may be required, under conditions provided by law, to render personal, military or civil service.”

Today, it’s still a possibility to have mandatory military service. Section 4, Article 2 of the Constitution states: “The Government may call upon the people to defend the State and, in fulfillment thereof, all citizens may be required, under conditions provided by law, to render personal, military or civil service.”

The Constitution Of The Republic Of The Philippines. (February 11, 1987). https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/constitutions/1987-constitution/

Countries with Mandatory Military Service

To put into perspective mandatory military service in the modern era, let’s take a look at some of the countries that implement mandatory service today. I will only put 5 countries as examples since there are 85 countries in the world that have mandatory military service.

The first is, unsurprisingly, South Korea. Since the Korean War never formally ended, it means the North and the South is still technically at war. Because the North Koreans are terrifyingly unpredictable, the South always had their citizens prepared since 1957. Males between 18 and 28 are required to serve in the military for 18 months.

Another nation always on the brink of war is Israel, and yes, they do have mandatory military service. All citizens over the age of 18 are required to serve in the military. Men serve a minimum of 32 months, while women are required 24 months at least. Arab citizens are exempted from this if they wish.

Next up is Ukraine. If you’re updated with the latest world news, you know that the tension between Russia and Ukraine is high once again since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Ukraine’s military requires 12 months for their ground forces and air force, and 18 months for the naval forces. They conscript men over 18 and below 60. They started doing the same in December of last year due to Russia becoming more and more of a threat.

One of our neighbors, Thailand also implements mandatory military service on its citizens. It began in 1905, and according to their constitution, serving in the military is a national duty. Their methods of conscription are quite unique. The age of conscription is 21. Men must choose to either take a voluntary six-month to one-year service or go through a lottery system picking whether a card is black or red. If the card is black, you are exempted from service. If you get a red card, it’s getting 1-2 years of service.

Lastly, we have Iran. Given their situation, I think it’s pretty clear as to why they would have this. Men over the age of 18 serve for 24 months in the military, with two months of training. 22 months for those in destitute areas, and 20 months for regions near the border. Exemptions for this include An only son whose father is more than 70 years of age, Homosexuals and transgender individuals, Firefighters, Doctors, Nurses, Men who are mentally and/or physically disabled, etc.

Pros and Cons

Now that there’s a brief but in-depth summary of what mandatory military service actually is, let’s look at some pros and cons to it. Bear in mind, these pros and cons only apply to the Philippines.

Starting with the pros, it gives the Philippines a ready military in times when the state’s sovereignty is under attack. Another one is that according to older generations, it will teach the ones subjected to this some discipline, even if they haven’t experienced it, and probably never will. Lastly for the pros, assuming that we might start service at 18, provides real-world experiences.

On to the cons of mandatory military service. First, we do not have the means to supply a sudden influx of conscripts. We barely have enough to keep our nation afloat, and we then would have to deal with supplying hundreds of thousands of troops every year.

Second, we have other priorities, such as helping out 26.14 million impoverished Filipinos or equipping the LGUs better to fit the needs of the pandemic, or improving infrastructure.

Next, it could delay students’ career paths and possibly disrupt their entire education. It may not be beneficial to a growing number of students in the country to suddenly be backtracked in order to be conscripted. As more students enroll in schools and schooling systems across the country, it’s definitely better to stay this way to let education do its work.

Lastly, the growing number of intellectuals in the country is showing in recent years, giving people a more liberal perspective, thus becoming closer to the concept of a perfect democracy. Forcing military service may just hinder that and allow corrupt officials in the government to have more control over the country.

Conclusion

In 2022, to most of the world, the concept of mandatory military service is outdated and isn’t really much help anymore. Only nations with a clear and present danger to them really need a ready force of troops in case of war. It’s still a month before the elections, and we don’t know what course history will take. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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