DepEd on student drug testing: SC says it’s constitutional

Mara Cepeda

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DepEd on student drug testing: SC says it’s constitutional
'This matter has already been decided by the Supreme Court,' Education Assistant Secretary Nepomuceno Malaluan says in response to criticism against random drug testing on students

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Education cited the legal basis of its plan to carry out random drug tests on about 20,000 junior and senior high school students as it again defended the scheme from criticism.

Parents, lawmakers, and human rights groups have opposed the procedure, which the DepEd said would help them determine the prevalence of drug use among students. (READ: Drug testing of students ‘preventive, not punitive’ – Briones)

“That’s based on the law, in terms of what is required by the law….This matter has already been decided by the Supreme Court (SC),” Education Assistant Secretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said in defense of the plan.

He was referring to Section 36 of Republic Act (RA) Number 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which 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.”  

The law also says drug testing expenses, whether in public or private schools, shall be “borne by the government.”

RA 9165 was challenged before the SC in 2008 for mandating the random drug testing of students, among other issues.

But the High Court found this provision under RA 9165 as constitutional, guided by the United States SC’s separate rulings on two cases – Vernonia School District 47J versus Acton and Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County, et al versus Earls, et al.

“The Court is of the view and so holds that the provisions of RA 9165 requiring mandatory, random, and suspicionless drug testing of students are constitutional,” the SC said in its ruling.

The High Court said it can take “judicial notice” of the proliferation of drugs that threatens the well-being of students “who usually end up as victims.” 

“Accordingly, and until a more effective method is conceptualized and put in motion, a random drug testing of students in secondary and tertiary schools is not only acceptable but may even be necessary if the safety and interest of the student population, doubtless a legitimate concern of the government, are to be promoted and protected,” the SC said.


Malaluan said DepEd is consulting with statisticians if factoring in parents’ consent in their sampling method would still yield a 95% statistical confidence level for the random drug test. 

“With that ultimately, I think, that’s why we’re being cautious or careful because the way we will do the orientation will spell the difference whether this will be supported strongly both by our students  and their parents,” said Malaluan.

He emphasized that the department will keep the drug test results under wraps to ensure students’ safety. 

“That’s why the guidelines are very clear, that the confidentiality is going to be very strictly followed and under no circumstance will a positive result be used against the student – whether in the context of the school or outside of the school,” said Malaluan.

“That is different if the students are caught in the context of, let’s say, a law enforcement operation. And so we hope that the exercise can be appreciated in that context,” he added.

With the spate of drug-related killings, critics argued the random drug test would make students vulnerable to President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war against drugs. 

One main contention is the provision in DepEd Order Number 4, series of 2017 when it comes to parental consent – or the lack thereof.  

While the order mandates that the school orient parents about the drug testing procedure both in person and in writing, they cannot refuse, should their child be chosen for the drug test. 

A written notice will be given to the parents before the drug test, but the failure to return the acknowledgement 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.”

DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones previously said in a House hearing on her department’s proposed 2018 budget that she is open to other suggestions on how best to determine drug prevalence among students.  

She plans to consult Cabinet officials about the procedure in their next meeting in October. – 

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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 or tweet @maracepeda.