The rushed National Citizens’ Training Service (NCTS) legislation is nothing different from the National Service Training Program (NSTP) passed in 2001 as a response to the death of Mark Chua, a University of Santo Tomas (UST) student.

Chua was murdered for exposing corruption in the university’s Reserved Officers’ Training Course (ROTC), a mandatory military training program for male college-level students.

As a result, lawmakers expanded the ROTC program to include civic welfare and literacy service under the NSTP course. Many students avoiding military training went to literacy and civic welfare services.

In 2022, the lower house of Congress passed a measure restoring ROTC in universities and colleges under the National Citizens’ Training Service (NCTS).

But it appears the legislation approved by the House of Representatives was nothing new because the new program will not be focused solely on military training but also on disaster response and management, survival and safety techniques, and civic duty.

All students who will complete the two-year NCTS will be given an option to complete another two years of military training under the ROTC. But this provision was available in the past, even before the passage of NSTP law in 2001.

College-level students can take advanced ROTC, which is a four-year training program. Advanced ROTC graduates are technically given a rank of sergeant in the armed forces.

All other graduates of the regular ROTC program have a rank of private in the reserved force.

When the NSTP was passed in 2001, students who had completed the program had an option not to join the military’s reserve force. Only those who finished the ROTC program were made part of the reserved force.

Perhaps, some of the few changes in the 2022 NCTS legislation were intended to incorporate all students under the military’s reserved force, including females who are now covered by the law.

Another new provision included in the NCTS measure will cover all post-secondary education students who are taking up vocational courses and other TESDA programs.

But the NCTS program was far different from what Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio had in mind when she proposed a mandatory ROTC program during the 2022 election campaign, which some lawmakers in Congress supported.

They wanted a program similar to what Israel, Singapore, and South Korea had — mandatory military service for all males at 18 years old. In South Korea, even show business celebrities, like members of the K-pop group BTS, did not escape military service.

But South Korea has a unique situation. It has been technically at war with its northern neighbor since 1950 when the Communist north tried to invade the democratic south.

An armistice has kept a volatile peace since 1953 when Pyongyang’s aggression was halted by actions taken by the United Nations, which had stationed a peacekeeping force at the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.

Israel is in the same boat as some Arab and Muslim non-state actors and a few states vowed to destroy the Jewish state after it was established at the end of Second World War.

Israel has been on constant alert and needs to train all young men and women for the defense of the country in the Middle East.

Another small country worried about its own security is Singapore, which requires all males who finished secondary school to undergo military service, delaying their entry into universities for two years.

Singapore may have a small standing and reserved army but it has the most sophisticated and modern air and naval equipment in Southeast Asia, operating with submarines, multi-role fighters, and advanced airborne early warning aircraft.

The Philippines is not at war with any country. It has conflicting claims with five other countries in the South China Sea but it has a lower risk level of aggression even from China.

Its security alliance with the United states has been an effective deterrent against external aggression. The increasing interests of several Western states in the Indo-Pacific region has added protection to the Philippines, particularly in checking China’s ambitions to expand its sphere of influence in the region.

The NSTP law should not have been replaced by the NCTS measure. A simple amendment to the 20 year-old legislation was enough to strengthen and update it with the evolving security environment.

Congress wasted time, energy and money refining the NSTP law with the NCTS, which is almost the same legislation. It only showed how subservient these lower house lawmakers to national leaders, like the president and the vice president.

It’s almost the same law — the same dog with a different collar.