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Drug tests not for kids—HRW

President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” may soon place thousands of primary school children in harm’s way, according to Phelim Kine, deputy director in Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division.

Kine’s statement followed the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency announcement on Friday it was seeking the authority from the Dangerous Drugs Board to impose annual surprise drug screening tests on teachers and school children starting from the fourth grade. 

PDEA has justified the move as an attempt to identify 10-year-old potential drug users so they “can get intervention while they are still young.”

But Malacañang advised PDEA to first consult with the Department of Education over the proposed plan to have elementary students undergo mandatory drug testing.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque feared that such proposal might trigger fury among parents and human rights advocates.

“Consult with the Department of Education because that is the agency with primary jurisdiction, especially so since the majority of our students are in public schools...” Roque said.

Kine worked as a journalist for more than a decade in China, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Taiwan prior to joining Human Rights Watch in April 2007. 

He has written extensively on human rights issues including military impunity, transitional justice, corruption, child sex tourism, religious intolerance, and illegal land confiscation. 

PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino said the proposal covered not only Grade 4 students and up, but also teachers and other school employees. 

He explained it would help ensure a more effective campaign against illegal drugs.

PDEA has justified the move as an attempt to identify 10-year-old potential drug users so they “can get intervention while they are still young.”

But to make it happen, Aquino said, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 must be amended.

But Kine observed Filipino students who might fail mandatory drug tests might have a deadly consequence.

In his report, Kine slammed Duterte’s war on drugs which he said might soon place thousands of primary school children in harm’s way.

“But this proposal, the latest dangerous outgrowth of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign which has already claimed the lives of dozens of children, will place school children at grave risk,” he said.

Kine said: “It marks a drastic extension of mandatory drug testing already in place for all college students and applicants, and will effectively allow the police to extend their “anti-drug” operations to primary school classrooms. 

“Imposing mandatory drug testing on schoolchildren when Philippine police are committing rampant summary killings of alleged drug users puts countless children in danger for failing a drug test.”

But PDEA insisted  drug test results would be confidential and the Dangerous Drugs Board announced it would negotiate guidelines for the mandatory testing program “to ensure rights of students are protected and their safety is guaranteed.”

Kine, however, noticed the deaths of dozens of children in “drug war” killings by police and unidentified gunmen as “collateral damage” suggested children’s safety would not be a top priority.

He said: “The mandatory testing of children for drug use raises other human rights concerns as well. “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 how 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.”

Kine added the government should provide children with accurate information about the potential risks of drug use, not put them in the crosshairs of a summary killing campaign that had claimed the lives of more than 12,000 Filipinos.

In the Senate, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said the country must have a nationwide education and awareness program on illegal drugs which remain the serious concern of the government under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Angara made the call after the DepEd opposed the proposal of PDEA to have mandatory drug testing for grade school students.

The DepEd explained the plan of PDEA would be against the dangerous drugs law, which currently authorizes random drug testing only for high school and college students, and it would cost a large amount.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones stressed that President Duterte’s directive was to enhance the curriculum on preventive drug education for children.

Angara filed Senate Bill 311 seeking a nationwide education and awareness program on illegal drugs, which will either be included in the K-to-12 curriculum or instituted as a regular and frequent co-curricular activity or event done in all public elementary and high schools in the country.

The bill also mandates the establishment of a national helpline for drug abuse which would refer drug users to rehabilitation centers, or in emergency cases, provide immediate paramedic response.

He said: “Aside from jailing the pusher, the anti-drug campaign should also have a ‘save the user’ component. 

“We should help addicts turn over a new leaf. They need help. Without intervention, there’s a strong chance they’ll backslide to their old ways. If that happens, then we’re back to square one.”

Angara said drug prevention funds could even extend to providing Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) training to vulnerable youth.

“For young drug users who have dropped out of school and who are in rehabilitation centers, we should offer them Alternative Learning System programs,” he added.

PDEA officials admitted the drug problem would continue unless the present administration get rid of government officials, including barangay officials, and law enforcers directly involved in drug dealing or protecting syndicates.

The drug syndicates, according to PDEA, are operating in the country in cahoots with national and local government officials, and community leaders. 

Shabu, marijuana and party drug ecstasy are the top three narcotics distributed in the streets and these prohibited substances are manufactured by Chinese, Taiwanese and Mexican drug syndicates.

The PDEA said the country’s drug problem could now be classified as a national security threat. 

The authorities vowed that the government’s crackdown on drug dealing in the country will continue with the goal of catching protectors and financiers of the illegal drug trade.

Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , war on drugs , Phelim Kine , Human Rights Watch , Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency
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