MOST PHILIPPINE senators favor a proposal to revive mandatory military training for college students to strengthen the country’s military force, according to a senator.

“We have reached a level of support where the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program will be revived,” Senate Majority Leader Francis N. Tolentino said in a statement on Monday. “I’m confident.”

“The primary goal of the ROTC bill is to encourage and develop a deep sense of nationalism among our youth,” he added.

Mr. Tolentino said the priority bill is not meant to prepare the country for war, but it is crucial to “national interest with or without the conflict in the West Philippine Sea.”

Tensions between the Philippines and China have worsened in the past year as Beijing continues to block resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, where Manila grounded a World War II-era ship in 1999 to bolster its sea claim.

Philippine military chief Romeo S. Brawner, Jr. said last week bolo-wielding Chinese Coast Guard men, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy and maritime militia banded together to stop the delivery of food and supplies on June 17.

A Filipino sailor lost his thumb, and vessels were damaged during the encounter, he said.

Mr. Tolentino said the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council would tackle the measure at its meeting on Tuesday.

In April, Senator and former national police chief Ronald M. dela Rosa, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said most senators were in favor of the ROTC bill.

Seven of 10 Filipinos support the measure based on an April Pulse Research, Inc. poll commissioned by former Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri.

The House of Representatives in December 2022 passed a similar bill in which students who complete a two-year training program would become part of the country’s reserve force.

Congress passed a bill in 2001 making ROTC optional after the death of Mark Welson Chua, a sophomore college student from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) who died in the hands of his senior officers.

He had exposed corruption in the ROTC program to the UST college newspaper. His body, wrapped in a carpet, was found decomposing in the Pasig River.

Human Rights groups have opposed the proposal, saying it could expose students to abuse and promote violence and militarism in schools.

The College Editors Guild of The Philippines has said the ROTC had promoted killing, hazing, harassment, red-tagging and all other violence on young Filipinos in the past, calling mandatory student military training “fake nationalism.”

Opposition Senator Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros-Baraquel has said the government should boost funding for military modernization especially of the Philippine Navy instead of reviving the ROTC program.

Under the Senate bill approved by several committees, students with disabilities, those whose religion bars the use of firearms and convicts are exempted from military training.

ROTC grievance boards will be set up in schools to probe complaints of abuse, corruption and violence committed during military training. — John Victor D. Ordoñez