The proposal to have 10-year-old students undergo mandatory drug testing would be illegal, the Department of Education said Thursday night.
Reacting to the proposal from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the DepEd said such a move would require amending the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which authorizes drug testing only for secondary and tertiary level students.
“We’re not yet convinced that [drug testing should begin at] 10 years old. We should be careful that the children’s identities are not exposed to public scrutiny,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones said in Filipino Thursday night.
Briones added that she would seek a meeting with with PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino to discuss their objectives.
In its statement, the DepEd said it has an ongoing drug testing program that started in school year 2017-2018, which will be completed in school year 2018-2019.
The program covers 1,300 officers and personnel at the central office, 3,800 in the regional offices, and 26,000 in school division offices. It also covers 10,000 teachers and 21,000 secondary students as a sample population that will yield a 95 percent statistical confidence level of the results.
The DepEd also warned that the PDEA proposal would cost P2.8 billion.
“The population of students from Grade 4 [the grade level of 10-year-old students] to Grade 12 total at least 14 million. At P200 per student for the testing fee alone, the budget will already amount to P2.8 billion,” it said.
DepEd said the program has the full support of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“DepEd is responding to the directive of the President for the department to enhance the curriculum on preventive drug education for the younger learners,” the statement read.
On Thursday morning, PDEA proposed drug testing for students grade four and up in public and private schools nationwide. Their proposal was based on one of PDEA’s cases where the youngest drug user captured was 10 years old.
PDEA also suggested a mandatory drug testing for all teachers and school employees as they recently caught two teachers from Butuan City and one from Maguindanao selling drugs.
Senators opposed mandatory testing for Grade 4 students.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III called it pointless and asked how many false positives such testing would produce.
“I’m interested to know who came up with such a ‘brilliant’ idea. If you make it mandatory, that will cost a lot,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English. “What will they charge the person who tests positive with?”
Senator JV Ejercito said 10 years old was too young, and said mandatory testing should be studied carefully because it is too costly.
“That will cost billions,” he said. “We have to study that further, and it won’t be easy… I don’t think we have that much to implement this proposal.”
Although he supported the move, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the tests would require the amendment of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, noting it would have to go through many “battles” before it could be implemented.
He described it as a “preventive” measure to defeat the drug menace in the country.
When asked how such a law would get support from the Senate, Sotto said it was “debatable.”
The Dangerous Drugs Board, meanwhile, said it would consult with school officials and other stakeholders on how the policy of surprise inspections of student bags and lockers can be done.
As a member agency, the DepEd would be included in these consultations, the board said.
Meanwhile, the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns slammed the administration as being “one of the most brutal to children.”
The group cited the death of 44 children in the government’s anti-drug war and the thousands who have been put at risk because of the Dengvaxia vaccination program. With PNA
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