DepEd, solons oppose drug tests on grade schoolers
A proposal by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to conduct mandatory drug tests on teachers and pupils Grade 4 and up, which is yet to be firmed up, has met resistance from the Department of Education (DepEd), teachers groups and several lawmakers.
Such a plan would be against the dangerous drugs law, which currently authorizes random drug testing only for secondary and college students, and would cost a large amount, the DepEd said in a statement.
Spending P200 for testing each of at least 14 million Grade 4 to Grade 12 students will cost the government P2.8 billion, in addition to “considerable related costs for capacity building and mobilization for the conduct of the drug testing,” the DepEd said.
PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino made the proposal on Thursday, noting that they have rescued a child as young as 10 years old from illegal drugs.
On Friday, he told reporters that his recommendation still had to be studied and “workshopped” with other government agencies, especially the DepEd.
“We won’t just implement this willy-nilly for everyone,” Aquino said. “It depends on what will happen with the discussions. If by the end of the workshop, it is seen as unnecessary, then so be it.”
Aquino said they would “bow” to the DepEd or the social welfare department on “what we should do for the sake of our youth.”
He maintained, however, that random drug tests had “not been effective” and also caused “stigma” on those tested.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones said President Duterte’s directive was to enhance the curriculum on preventive drug education for children.
Last school year, the DepEd implemented random drug testing among secondary level students and teachers in public and private schools. At least 21,000 students and 10,000 teachers were tested. She did not disclose the results.
The DepEd noted that drug testing was only one component of a “much broader preventive drug education program.”
“The primary mandate of DepEd is still the integration of preventive drug education in curriculum and instruction,” it said, adding that Briones had ordered the review of the sufficiency and responsiveness of the present curriculum.
Members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) wore black shirts on Friday to protest against the PDEA’s proposal and to renew calls for the pay hike for teachers.
Raymond Basilio, ACT secretary general, said the PDEA was “capitalizing on a handful of information about drug use among pupils and teachers to force a blanket mandatory drug test in schools.”
He said the drug tests would have a “chilling effect” on the schoolchildren.
“Schools are supposed to be areas that our students will feel safe, study well and fear nothing. If this proposal continues, it will violate a DepEd policy that ensures that all schools are child-friendly,” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he would support the mandatory tests if it were part of preventive education to steer students away from drugs, but only for older students—Grade 6 and up.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, however, believes the government should instead focus on the sources of drugs and the big drug lords.
He noted that the government has not yet identified and arrested those behind the May 2017 smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth).
ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro agreed.
“PDEA reasons out that their proposal is based on the series of arrests involving students and teachers. However, even if it is true, targeting alleged small-time users and runners would never address the roots of the drug menace. Why don’t they go after big-time drug lords instead?” she said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JAYMEE T. GAMIL, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND JEROME ANING
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