By Genalyn Kabiling
Malacañang is opposed to the proposed mandatory drug testing of Grade 4 students since it is against the country’s anti-drug law.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roquestressed this, saying the Palace agreed with Education Secretary Leonor Briones who argued that the country’s anti-drug law authorizes random drug testing for high school and college students only.
“We concur with Secretary Briones that the Dangerous Drugs Act limits possible drug testing to high school, and not to grade school students,”Roque said during a press conference in Cagayan de Oro City.
“We take the side of Secretary Briones invoking that in the United States, what has been upheld as constitutional was only random testing for high school,” he added.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of the opposition Liberal Party (LP), said authorities should instead go after the drug lords to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the country and not pester the children, particularly those 10 years old or those in Grade 4, by subjecting them to expensive, mandatory drug tests.
Pangilinan, a lawyer, said a law is needed to implement the government’s proposed mandatory drug test for children as young as 10 years old or those in Grade 4.
“This proposal is an admission that the brutal government war on drugs is ineffective,” he said.
“We propose that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) shelve this slapdash and panicky plan trained on little children, and instead go after the big drug lords to stop the flow of illegal drugs,” he stressed.
The PDEA had earlier proposed requiring teachers and students from Grade 4 and up to undergo drug testing as part of the government’s campaign against illegal drugs. The proposal was made following the rescue of children from drug dens during anti-illegal drug operations.
The Department of Education (DepEd), however, said PDEA’s proposal was against Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which mandates random testing for secondary and tertiary level students. Such proposal would also require an amendment of the law and cost P2.8 billion in government funds, it added.
Some lawmakers have also opposed PDEA’s proposal, saying they were too young to undergo such drug test.
Pangilinan said the DepEd correctly pointed out that such drug testing would violate the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
“With regard to the cost, this would be another source of corruption. Given a population of at least 14 million students from Grade 4 to Grade 12 alone, the testing fee could amount to P2.8 billion. Who will earn from this expensive program?” he asked.
The DepEd said it already has an ongoing drug testing program and a comprehensive drug prevention education program.
“Such an amount, wherever the government plans to source it, would be better used to augment the school feeding program, so that children would be nourished and not be swayed to use illegal drugs,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan said the budget could also get them textbooks or schools supplies, or even build additional classrooms.
“It could also help fund the additional salary public school teachers have been demanding for a long time,” he added.
The PDEA maintained that its proposal to conduct mandatory drug testing to Grade-4 pupils who are mostly 10 years old is meant to save the children from the illegal drug menace.
PDEA Director-General Aaron Aquino issued the statement to quash “unfounded claims” that the mandatory drug testing was proposed to harass the students and not save them from being involved in the drug trade.
But Aquino conceded that it would be more logical if a law could be passed since R.A. 9165 or the “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002” needs to be amended to allow mandatory drug tests. (With reports from Mario Casayuran and Chito Chavez)