High school drug tests: DepEd reviews procedure amid concerns

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Department of Education (DepEd) is reviewing the procedure it plans to use for the mandatory random drug testing of high school students slated for September.

Assistant Secretary GH Ambat told Rappler the sampling method is “under review,” but later clarified the sampling method remains, but certain "protocols" are being refined. She said this was after several lawmakers raised concerns on how DepEd would be able to keep the test results confidential. 

On social media, there have been calls from academics for the education department to reveal the sampling method it intends to use. It has refused to do so.

Parents and human rights advocates have also expressed concern that, given reports of people getting killed by cops and gun men based on drug lists brandished by the government, the DepEd policy will expose young people to risk. 

DepEd officials faced the House appropriations committee anew for a pre-plenary hearing on its proposed P612.117 billion 2018 budget on Wednesday, August 30.

Undersecretray Alberto Muyot, a member of the special committee formed to oversee the drug testing, also refused to elaborate on the chosen sampling method for now since they will re-study it. 

DepEd is scheduled to begin the random drug testing of students in September through DepEd Order Number 40, series of 2017. DepEd also ordered the random drug testing of teachers and the mandatory drug testing of all DepEd employees.

But Ambat said the random drug testing schedule will likely be adjusted until after the DepEd is done with the review.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones previously promised strict confidentiality in the conduct of the random drug testing, which she said would helped them determine the prevalence of drug use among high school students. (READ: Drug testing of students ‘preventive, not punitive’ – Briones

The initiative comes amid conflicting figures about the number of drug users in the Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte has insisted on a higher number to justify his war on drugs – 4 million "drug addicts" in the country. He fired the chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board in May when the latter cited survey results that there are only 1.8 million drug users. 

“We have developed a sampling scheme with our statistical experts so we will be able to capture the picture of the situation among our learners and teachers [in terms of prevalence of drug use],” said Briones in a press conference on August 15.

She said the DepEd had consulted with statisticians outside the department as well.  

Briones emphasized students who will yield positive results in both the initial drug test and confirmatory test will not be subjected to punishment by the school. Instead, he or she will undergo rehabilitation from doctors and medical facilities accredited by the Department of Health.  

The personal details of the students who will be chosen for the test as well as their school names will not be publicized either. 

Lawmakers already slammed the Commission on Higher Education for allowing colleges and universities to implement mandatory drug testing among students and student applicants. (READ: Mandatory drug tests could lead to ‘tokhang’ in schools, warns students’ union

But Briones said the DepEd will make sure parents of students who will be chosen for the random drug test will be informed about the guidelines for the drug test. However, with or without the parent’s consent, a student chosen for the random drug test would have to go through with the procedure. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.