By William Casis | FilAm Star Correspondent
The proposal to have 10-year-old students undergo mandatory drug testing would be illegal, said the Department of Education (DepEd).
Reacting to the proposal from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), 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 Sec. Leonor Briones said.
Briones added that she would seek a meeting with PDEA Director Gen. Aaron Aquino to discuss their objectives.
In its statement, the DepEd said it has an on-going 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 PHP 2.8 billion. “The population of students from Grade 4 (10-year-old students) to Grade 12 total at least 14 million.
“At PHP 200 per student for the testing fee alone, the budget could easily soar to PHP 2.8 billion,” DepEd 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.”
PDEA proposed drug testing for students grade four and up in public and private schools nationwide. Their proposal came out of one PDEA case where the youngest drug user captured was 10 years old.
PDEA also suggested a mandatory drug testing for all teachers and school employees because they recently caught two teachers from Butuan City and one from Maguindanao selling drugs.
Senators opposed mandatory testing for Grade 4 students.
Sen. 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. What will they charge the person who tests positive?”
Senator JV Ejercito said, “That will cost billions. 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.
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.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, meanwhile, pushed for the passage of a bill to create a nationwide education and awareness program on illegal drugs.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, on the other hand, objected to the proposal to extend mandatory drug testing to Grade 4 students, noting that enough programs are in place at the Department of Education.
“Subjecting elementary students to random drug tests would create an atmosphere of confusion, discomfort, and fear that would stunt their emotional and psychological development,” he said.
He also said that the PDEA has not provided enough evidence to justify mandatory drug testing for elementary students and teachers