DepEd allots P39-M for drug testing

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THE Department of Education (DepEd) has allotted P39 million to fund a drug testing program for public school students and teachers that will be implemented by the Department of Health (DoH).

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On the tertiary level, the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) recently approved Memorandum Order 64, Series of 2017, which allows higher education institutions to conduct mandatory drug testing of students as well as student applicants starting next school year.

“We have the funds for it but we don’t have the capacity to do it,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones told reporters in a press briefing on Thursday afternoon. “I think that would be enough because we will only pay the medicines and laboratory services.”

On Friday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government’s mandatory drug testing program will seriously threaten students’ safety and right to education.

“We announced that last year, and we’re already finalizing it. The DoH will do it, so it will start anytime. And for high school, we agreed on a sampling scheme, and I think it’s very important,” Briones said.

HRW noted that “the plan is a dangerous outgrowth of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs. The order permits local governments, the police and other law enforcement agencies to carry out any drug-related operation within school premises with the approval of school administrators. This will place students at grave risk.”

“Imposing mandatory drug testing of students when Philippine police are committing rampant summary killings of alleged drug users puts countless children in danger for failing a drug test,” Phelim Kine, HRW-Deputy Asia director, said in a statement. Education officials should be protecting students, not putting them in harm’s way through the mandatory drug tests.”

Since President Rodrigo Duterte launched his war on drugs on June 30, 2016, more than 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed by Philippine National Police officers or unknown gunmen.

HRW said the CHEd order does not require, but “strongly encourages,” schools of higher education to impose random mandatory drug testing of students and applicants. It follows the DepEd’s announcement in May that it will launch random drug tests of primary, elementary, and high school students later this year.

Sanctions imposed on students could make them more vulnerable to police abuse, HRW said. Although the order requires school authorities to keep the results confidential, those who test positive for drug use, schools are empowered to impose sanctions on those students or school applicants, including expulsion or admission denial. The order also allows schools to penalize students or applicants who refuse drug tests “subject to the relevant sanctions as provided in the [higher education]student handbook,” without elaborating.

The mandatory testing of children for drug use raises human rights concerns, HRW said. Taking a child’s bodily fluids, whether blood or urine, without their consent, may violate the right to bodily integrity and constitute arbitrary interference with their privacy and dignity. Depending on the manner in which such testing occurs, it could also constitute degrading treatment, and may deter children from attending school or college for reasons unrelated to any potential drug use, depriving them of their right to an education. In many situations, excluding a student from studies due to a positive drug test may also be a disproportionate limitation on a child’s right to education.

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