By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
While supporting the mandatory random drug testing of students in higher education institutions (HEIs), Senate President Vicente Sotto III expressed misgivings about the police’s plan to conduct anti-illegal drugs operations inside universities, saying that it may go beyond the purpose of the country’s current laws.
Speaking at the regular Kapihan sa Manila Bay in Manila on Wednesday, the Senate chief said the Philippine National Police (PNP) should leave it to school authorities to conduct drug abuse prevention activities within HEIs.
He said this was according to the Republic Act 9615, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, in which he was a principal author.
“The mandate that we have in the law, in Republic Act 9165 is for the school authorities to do it. Not the PNP. [It should be the] school authorities, not the PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency), not the DDB (Dangerous Drugs Board), not the PNP,” Sotto told reporters.
Sotto said that anti-drug agencies, particularly the DDB, have a “policy” to only encourage school authorities to initiate programs and avert students from using illegal drugs.
The lawmaker once led the DDB during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“If I remember it right, it’s the DDB’s policy for them to encourage the establishments, the school authorities to conduct their random drug testing. No, not police operations,” he stressed.
The PNP expressed plan to conduct anti-drug operations within HEIs after the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) authorized such, through a memorandum ordering the conduct of mandatory drug testing in all HEIs in the country.
“In keeping with the dangerous drugs abuse prevention program of the government, the Local Government Units (LGUs), the Philippine National Police (PNP), or any authorized law enforcement agency may carry out any legitimate drug-related operation within the school premises, provided that the same shall be coordinated to the concerned HEIs prior to the conduct thereof,” read part of the CHEd’s recently-released Memorandum Order No. 18.
But Sotto, despite being a staunch anti-illegal drug advocate, said police operations within school premises might yield “undesirable” effects to both the HEIs and the PNP.
“We will go beyond what we want. It will go beyond the spirit of the law,” he warned.
The Senate leader also supported CHED’s move to require tertiary students to undergo random drug testing.
“There is nothing wrong, as long as it’s random drug testing,” Sotto said.
Sotto addressed critics as he explained that drug testing is only part of prevention and is not meant to prosecute students.
“Part of prevention is drug testing…It is being tested because illegal drugs is destructive, that’s why you should not use it. It’s part of the awareness and prevention program,” he said.
“It’s not really a witch hunt,” he added.
He also noted that drug testing is “not conclusive” and yielding positive would not mean one’s dependence on illegal drugs.
“There should be a confirmatory test,” he maintained.