Carlito Galvez Jr., officer-in-charge of the Defense department, claimed without basis that undergoing military training programs, specifically the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), can “cure” mental health problems.
Speaking at a Senate hearing in favor of the proposal to revive mandatory ROTC last Feb. 6, Galvez said:
“Nakikita ko po ‘yung ROTC program, the military training program, experiential po ang training niya; ‘yun ang pagkakaiba po ng tinatawag natin sa NSTP (National Service Training Program). Ang experience training is talaga pong naisasapuso niya po ang lahat ng ginagawa niya; ‘yung survival instinct nandoon. So ‘yung sinasabi natin ‘yung mental problem, it can be cured, kasi ‘yung frustration tolerance ng isang tao, tataas.”
(I can see that in the ROTC program, the military training program, the training is experiential; that’s how it differs from what we call NSTP. In experience training, everything one does is really taken to heart; the survival instinct is there. So, what we consider as mental problems, can be cured, because the frustration tolerance of a person increases.)
Source: Senate of the Philippines, Committee on Higher, Technical and Vocational Education (February 6, 2023), Feb. 6, 2023, watch from 2:02:15 to 02:02:39
No existing studies support the idea of ROTC programs as a “cure” for mental illness. Professionals in this field see this as a problematic claim that spreads disinformation, downplays the severity of mental health disorders, and “potentially promotes stigma” against people suffering from psychological issues.
In response to a VERA Files Fact Check’s query, registered psychologist and psychometrist Gutsdozer Tancio said mental illnesses are “managed by either psychopharmacological/through medicine or through psychotherapy, but ideally by both.”
Noting Galvez’s use of the term “cure,” Tancio said there is a difference between a “cure” and a “treatment.”
“I used the term ‘managed’ because at this point, some mental disorders, if not most, cannot be cured, especially the chronic ones like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder with psychosis and the like. However, they can be ‘treated,’ meaning their symptoms can be dealt with so the person can regain his/her function, but it does not take away the pathology per se,” he explained.
Psychiatrist Randy Dellosa noted the same nuances, saying “it is quite a grandiose yet simplistic statement to say that ROTC is such a cure.”
“The treatment of mental health problems requires identification of its root causes, aggravating factors, and triggers, all of which have to be specifically addressed and managed by medication, psychotherapy, stress management, and lifestyle revision,” Dellosa told VERA Files Fact Check.
He highlighted the role of “intense and prolonged psychological and physical stress” in aggravating mental health problems. He pointed out that military training is “physically taxing and psychologically grueling” and could actually trigger the development of mental illnesses.
“Secretary Galvez’s statements may be an honest, sincere and well-meaning opinion, but pushing for a mandatory ROTC program for its alleged psychological benefits must be backed by evidence from scientific research,” Dellosa added.
Tancio also debunked the claim that ROTC “increases” frustration tolerance or the ability to withstand the impact of stress.
“It is a good thing na mataas ang frustration tolerance ng tao. [It] does not mean though na hindi na magde-develop ng mental issues ‘yung tao dahil ang mental illness ay determined ng maraming factors like genes, environment, and marami pang variables,” he explained.
Dellosa added that the frustration tolerance that could be developed by ROTC is specifically applicable to the stresses of the program and not necessarily mental health problems.
“For instance, being able to successfully tolerate the stress of marching under the sun does not translate into effectively tolerating the stress of living in a dysfunctional family or being in a relationship with a gaslighting partner,” he explained.
In a press briefing on Feb. 7, Department of Health Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire weighed in on the issue and said mental health issues may not be the same for every person.
“Iba-iba po ang capacity ng isang tao to respond and to become resilient on their own. Iba-iba rin po ang kailangan ng bawat tao para sila po ay maging mentally healthy. It’s not going to be the same for each person,” she said.
(People have varying capacity to respond and to become resilient on their own. The needs of each person in order to be mentally healthy also vary. It’s not going to be the same for each person.)
“What we intended to convey during the hearing was that through our enhanced ROTC program, we would be able to build the strength of character and resilience of our trainees, qualities which positively foster mental health,” he said.
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Senate of the Philippines, Committee on Higher, Technical and Vocational Education (February 6, 2023), Feb. 6, 2023
Gutsdozer Tancio, Personal Communication, Feb. 8, 2023
Randy Dellosa, Personal Communication, Feb. 8, 2023
Department of Health, Media Forum, Feb. 7, 2023
Defense Secretary clarifies his statement on ROTC curing mental illness
- Manila Bulletin, Galvez clarifies ROTC will build resilience of trainees, not cure mental health issues, Feb. 7, 2023
- Inquirer.net, After drawing flak, Galvez clarifies remark on ROTC ‘curing’ mental health, Feb. 7, 2023
- CNN Philippines, Galvez clarifies ‘ROTC as cure for mental health’ statement, Feb. 7, 2023
(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)