Parents to DepEd: Protect grade-schoolers from proposed drug test

MANILA, Philippines – Parents belonging to Akbayan held a protest on Thursday, July 5, urging the Department of Education (DepEd) to protect children from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) proposal to conduct mandatory drug tests for elementary students.

"Kung sinasabi ng DepEd na hindi [naaayon] sa batas 'yun, panindigan nila 'yun. Hindi dapat [sila pumayag] dahil doon din kami nakasandal sa mga ahensyang ito," said Vives Moreno, mother of a 10-year-old student and political officer of Akbayan in Quezon City.

(If the DepEd is saying that the proposal goes against the law, they should stand by that. They should not allow drug tests for children because we depend on agencies like them.)

Parents trooped to the President Corazon C. Aquino Elementary School along Batasan Road, and 7 other schools in Quezon City, Pasig City, Caloocan City, and Manila.

"Kung talagang tutol sila sa pagkakaroon ng mandatory drug testing ay panindigan nila.... Samahan nila 'yung mga kabataan, samahan nila ang mga kananayan, 'yung mga magulang na hindi sumasang-ayon sa mandatory [drug testing] na 'to," Moreno said.

(If they're really against the mandatory drug testing, they should stand by that. They should express solidarity with the children, the mothers, the parents who do not support mandatory drug testing.)

PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino earlier said the agency wants to expand mandatory drug testing to include elementary students, as they have found children as young as 10 years old using drugs.

But the DepEd said PDEA's proposal violates the law. The education department also warned that it would cost some P2.8 billion to implement mandatory drug testing for 14 million elementary students aged 10 years old and above nationwide.

The DepEd added that it already has a program focused on preventive drug education, supported by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Like the DepEd, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said there can be no mandatory drug testing for children in elementary school. (READ: Malacañang sides with DepEd: Drug tests for grade schoolers illegal)

PROTECT CHILDREN. Parents protesting outside the Geronimo Santiago Elementary School urge the government to protect children against the proposed mandatory drug test. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

PROTECT CHILDREN. Parents protesting outside the Geronimo Santiago Elementary School urge the government to protect children against the proposed mandatory drug test.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Chilling effect

During the protest, parents said PDEA's proposal has stirred fear among students and may hinder them from attending school.

"Nakakabahala na kapag itinuloy ng PDEA ang mandatory drug test na ito, ay magkakaroon ng pagkatakot 'yung mga bata. Parang ang mangyayari ay baka hindi na kami papasok kasi nasa loob na ng eskuwelahan 'yung mga mahuhuli," Moreno said.

(It's worrisome if PDEA will push through with mandatory drug tests, and students will become afraid. What might happen is students would no longer attend school because arrests could be made there.)

Schools would no longer be safe, added Moreno.

"Alam namin na kapag nandoon sila sa loob ng paaralan ay safe sila, na walang mangyayari sa kanila.... [Ngayon], parang wala nang kaligtasan ang bawat community, lalo na sa aming mahihirap, dahil ang sa dulo lagi, ang mga biktima naman talaga nito ang mahihirap na katulad namin," she said.

(Parents know that when children are in school, they're supposed to be safe, nothing bad will happen to them.... Now, it's like communities will no longer be safe, especially for the poor, because in the end those who become victims are the poor like us.)

Moreno shared that her 10-year-old son became worried after he heard about the possibility of mandatory drug testing.

He used to go school alone, but now asks his mother to walk with him so that she could at least see him safely to the school's gates. 

"Ang anak ko mismo ay nagsabi na nakakatakot na pumasok. Lalo na ang pasukan ng mga bata ay madaling araw, aalis na 'yan ng bahay ng alas-singko ng madaling araw.... Nasasabi niya, 'Nay, samahan mo ako paghatid hanggang gate lang o hanggang doon lang sa tulay,'" Moreno said.

(My son himself said he's scared to go to school. Especially since kids go to school early, they leave the house at 5 am.... He says, "Ma, go with me until the gate or until the bridge.")

As the DepEd and PDEA are set to meet on the proposed drug test, Moreno said she and other parents would continue to make their voices heard.

"Ito 'yung ginagawa namin para magkaroon lang ng reaksyon sa sinabi ng PDEA na hindi kami pumapayag," Moreno said. (We're doing this to tell PDEA that we won't allow drug tests for our children.) – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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