By Chito Chavez
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) insisted on the urgency of enforcing the mandatory drug testing for students and teachers in all public and private schools in the country citing some of these personalities now involved in the illegal drug trade.
From July 1, 2016 to June 15, 2018, PDEA operatives have arrested 21 elementary and high school teachers for drug-related offenses nationwide which yielded the confiscation of 1,208.67 grams of methamphetamine hydrochloride, or shabu, worth P8,300,651.70.
The agency also noted that minors have been used by drug lords in illegal drug activities over the years.
From 2011 to June 15, 2018, there are already 2,111 minors rescued for violating the anti-drug law, 1,155 of which were rescued at the onset of the drug war.
Out of the rescued minors, 277 are users, 959 are pushers, and 725 are possessors, while the rest are either visitors, employees and maintainers of a drug den, cultivators, traffickers, runners and cohorts.
The purposes behind PDEA’s call to conduct mandatory drug testing in schools are: to determine the extent of drug users among students, or those having drug problems, teachers, and even school personnel; and to deter drug use, both for the purpose of reformation and rehabilitation. The move is also expected to deter peer-pressure or peer-influence that leads to the initiation of drug use.
PDEA Director General Aaron N. Aquino said the agency is proposing for the expansion of the authorized drug testing done randomly to mandatory in schools, to include elementary pupils, starting from Grade 4.
“Since the start of the government’s war on drugs, PDEA has rescued four kids aged 10 and 11 years’ old who became users and sellers of illegal drugs. The recorded youngest pusher arrested is aged six years old. This goes to show that drug offenders are increasingly getting younger,” Aquino said.
“Studies revealed that curiosity, boredom and peer-pressure are among the predominant influences in the initial drug use in children and in the early teenage years. After satisfying their curiosity, they may decide to stop using them, or end up abusing illegal drugs,” he added.
PDEA is eyeing for the amendment of Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) Regulation No. 6 Series of 2003 which sets forth the guidelines for the random drug testing of students in public and private secondary, tertiary/higher education institutions and postsecondary technical vocational schools.
Under Section 36 (c) of Republic Act 9165, or “The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002”, only students of secondary and tertiary schools, and with notice to the parents, are mandated to undergo a random drug testing.
“The students, when they are aware of the possibility of undergoing drug testing anytime, may cause them to stop or refuse offers from peers to use illegal drugs. PDEA is leaning towards compulsory drug testing because random drug testing may trigger even more stigma to those chosen, hence setting them apart from the rest,” Aquino said, adding that random drug testing covers a representative sample of the whole student population and may not give a clear picture of the problem.
The Department of Education (DepEd) said the proposal would entail huge costs to be borne by the government.
It added the student population of Grade 4 to Grade 12 has reached at least 14 million citing the budget stands at P2.8 billion if every one of them undergoes drug testing.
“I am convinced that financial cost is a necessary burden. What is of paramount importance is the health and welfare of the people, especially the youth, above all other considerations,” Aquino said.
PDEA has repeatedly sought a dialogue with DepEd officials and other concerned government agencies with the participation of parents and students, to iron out kinks in the implementation of the required drug test.
Some sectors have slammed the idea, saying that mandatory drug testing of children raises human rights concerns and may constitute infringement on their privacy and dignity.
“While it is never PDEA’s intention to threaten the students’ safety and their right to education, we have the moral duty to save them from the evils of drug use, most especially now with the emergence of new psychoactive and party drugs targeting the youth,” Aquino said.
He stressed that a strengthened preventive drug education complemented by mandatory drug testing will bring positive results in eliminating illegal drugs in schools.
The PDEA chief said teachers must also be subjected to drug testing because they serve as role models and mentors for their students.
“We have to involve teachers because they play a vital role in developing positive ways to deal and resist drug abuse among students,” he said.
Aquino said the common modus operandi of drug syndicates nowadays is to employ young recruits and give them the means to enroll in schools and universities not to study, but to entice and peddle illegal drugs to students.
Drug syndicates have learned to take advantage of Republic Act 9344, or Section 6 of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which exempts minors or children 15 years old and below from criminal liability, and instead turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to undergo counseling and intervention.
“PDEA is leaving no stone unturned. We are promoting a holistic approach in dealing with the country’s drug problem by being proactive and responsive with every concerns arising along the way. Illegal drugs are finding their way in schools. We have to stop it before it is too late,” Aquino concluded.