Duterte OKs random drug testing of HS students – Briones

Mara Cepeda
Education Secretary Leonor Briones says the President wanted DepEd to look at drug abuse as a health problem and to treat the random drug test as a preventive measure

GO SIGNAL. President Rodrigo Duterte during the 19th Cabinet meeting at the Malacañang Palace on October 4. Photo by Karl Norman Alonzo/Presidential Photo

MANILA, Philippines – Education Secretary Leonor Briones said President Rodrigo Duterte and other Cabinet officials approved the plan to subject high school students to random drug testing this school year. 

Briones said on Friday, October 6, she had presented the Department of Education’s (DepEd) guidelines for the random drug testing during the Cabinet meeting last Wednesday. 

According to Briones, Duterte gave his nod to the random drug testing plan after she gave him the assurance that the procedure is designed to be a preventive measure against drug abuse among the youth. 

“The President’s only question was, ‘Are you looking at it as a health problem?’ I said yes. [He also asked], ‘Are you undertaking the test as a preventive measure?’ I also said yes. Then he said, ‘In that case, you can go and have the test because you’re thinking about it as a health problem,’” Briones said in a phone interview. 

She added the other Cabinet officials had “no negative reactions” to the drug testing guidelines after she explained its legal basis. 

“No one said, ‘Don’t do it.’ They saw it was necessary,” said Briones.

DepEd officials have been referring to Section 36 of Republic Act (RA) Number 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 to defend the random drug testing of high school students.

The said law mandates that random drug testing be conducted among secondary and tertiary students “pursuant to the related rules and regulations as contained in the school’s student handbook and with notice to the parents.”

RA 9165 was challenged before the SC in 2008 for mandating the random drug testing of students, among other issues. But the High Court ruled the procedure is constitutional.  

Drug testing procedure

Briones said around 20,000 junior and high school students will be subjected to random drug testing to determine drug use prevalence.

The procedure will be conducted within school year 2017 to 2018, but Briones said DepEd will not be disclosing the exact date of the testing period to help protect the privacy of the students who will be chosen. 

Each chosen student will be assigned a codename to help conceal his or her identity. Those who will test positive for drug use will be subjected to an intervention program by the Department of Health. 

Parents will first be informed about the guidelines of the random drug testing through a regular or special general assembly or a parent-teacher conference. The students and their parents will also be notified about the procedure in writing. 

But failure to return the acknowledgment slip of this notice “shall not be a bar to the conduct of the drug testing and of the said students’ inclusion in the sample” – one main contention of parents and groups against the procedure.  

Lawmakers, parents, and human rights groups alike have slammed the random drug testing, saying it would make students vulnerable to Duterte’s bloody drug war. (READ: Random drug testing of students will make minors ‘open targets’)

Briones, however, said the DepEd is closely working with the National Privacy Commission to keep the drug test results confidential.

“If there is going to be any leakage, it’s not going to be from DepEd,” she said. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.