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Mandatory drug testing on students

/ 05:05 AM July 15, 2019

College students will undergo mandatory drug testing at the start of classes this year, under a directive made in line with the government’s war on drugs. The flaws and perils of the ongoing bloody drug campaign lurk dangerously behind this directive.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) issued on Oct. 26, 2018, an order (CHEd Memorandum Order No. 18, Series of 2018) directing colleges and universities to implement a mandatory random drug testing on their students beginning this year. The CHEd additionally exhorts these institutions of higher learning to implement the mandatory drug testing of students as part of the schools’ admission and retention policies.

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Pursuant to CMO 18, tertiary schools are required to make a record of the students’ names and their drug test results and to transmit all the data to the CHEd regional offices, and then the latter will turn over the records to the CHEd head office.

Prevention of drug abuse among students is undoubtedly a commendable objective. But as we’ve seen from the ruling administration’s war on drugs, thousands of killings are happening under the mantle of good intentions.

The issuance of CMO 18 may be laden with public interest aspirations, but its legal and utilitarian flaws can dangerously bring the pernicious practices of “Operation Tokhang,” causing hell on earth in the ranks of students. Worse, it obligates the 2,300 colleges and universities all over the country to provide the government with “drug-dependent lists” of students, similar to the “drug watch lists” that barangay officials are being required to provide to the Philippine National Police.

There are too many names in barangay drug watch lists that end up as victims in vigilante killings, debunking any claim of mere coincidence. As a result, the forcible creation of thousands of watch lists for the students’ sector engender fear and foreboding.

It’s true that CMO 18 specifically declares that the information gathered on misbehaving students will not be used in criminal proceedings. But that gives no comfort at all. Individuals labeled as drug personalities never get their day in court because the rendition of judgment comes from the barrel of a gun. A “drug watch list” is a virtual “kill list” under the prevailing political atmosphere.

By issuing CMO 18, the CHEd has usurped both the authority of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) to formulate policy and strategy in antidrug campaigns, and the powers of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as the implementing arm of the DDB, under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (Republic Act No. 9165).

The CHEd has also imposed on tertiary schools the obligation to manage the mandatory random drug testing of their students, including record-keeping duties, even if RA 9165 does not require such responsibilities from the schools. The CHEd further obligates students to pay for the cost of the drug test even though RA 9165 clearly provides that the cost shall be borne by the government.

The imposition on schools of the obligation to create a drug-user list among their students, comes at a time when the government’s drug treatment and rehabilitation facilities are bursting at the seams because of the hundreds of thousands of alleged drug dependents forced by the government to surrender. Because of inadequate facilities and logistics, government personnel have been constrained to resort to superficial intervention programs like Zumba dancing and mass assembly lectures. If it wants a useful role in the campaign against drug use, the CHEd should tap its educational expertise and extensive facilities in order to supplement intervention efforts.

The CHEd should demonstrate that its questioned issuance is not an eager-beaver scheme meant to win favors from the ruling dispensation. Otherwise, as suspected by my friend, lawyer Gigo Alampay who called my attention to the issue, CMO 18 will be viewed as a Trojan horse meant to imbed “Operation Tokhang” inside school grounds.

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TAGS: CHEd, college students, Flea Market of Ideas, Joel Butuyan, mandatory drug testing
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