Pupils as young as 10 to be drug-tested in the Philippines

Former director of the ASEAN Training Center for Preventive Drug Education Penano-Ho suggests the government to help teachers to develop more skills in being aware of what the indicators of drug use were. (JAY DIRECTO/AFP)
Updated 22 June 2018

Pupils as young as 10 to be drug-tested in the Philippines

  • Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino said it would push for drug tests in schools, which will cover teachers and pupils from Grade 4 upward.
  • The PDEA chief came out with the proposal following the recent arrest of a 10-year-old Grade 4 pupil allegedly using drugs, and of three teachers for committing drug-related offenses. 

MANILA: Critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s methods in his war on drugs now include the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), which on Thursday rejected a proposal to subject pupils as young as 10 to mandatory drug testing.

“We should not permit this to happen. Schools are no playground for 'tokhang,' said Raymond Basilio, ACT Philippines Secretary-General. 

“Tokhang” means to knock and plead, and it has been associated with Duterte’s allegedly “bloody drug war,” where policemen knock at the homes of known drug personalities and persuade them to surrender and stop their illegal activities.

Basilio made the statement after Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino said it would push for drug tests in schools. This will cover teachers and pupils from Grade 4 upward.

Aquino, however, said that the plan was still at “the study level,” adding that it also had to coordinate with the Department of Education (DepEd) and other government agencies.

The PDEA chief came out with the proposal following the recent arrest of a 10-year-old Grade 4 pupil allegedly using drugs, and of three teachers for committing drug-related offenses. 

PDEA’s proposal was met with criticisms from different groups.

In an email sent by ACT to Arab News, Basilio said that drug-testing would sow terror in schools, disturb the students and destroy the sanctity of schools as safe places for learning. Mandatory drug testing was also a violation of the rights of children and teachers, he said.

According to Basilio the government’s line of thinking is “very dangerous,” as apart from the drug test of nine- or ten-year-olds, a bill to decrease the age of criminal liability to the same level is pending in Congress.

“The state, which has the responsibility to protect our youth, apparently wants to make criminals out of them,” said Basilio. He said that the PDEA chief’s proposal was also an insult to teachers.

“This government should disabuse itself of its belief that we are a nation of drug addicts. What we are is a nation deep in economic crisis. It is where they should focus,” Basilio said.

Basilio said that the government will be wasting people’s money to test 20 million pupils and 700,000 teachers for drug use. “It should be dedicated instead to uplifting the quality of education and upgrading teachers’ salaries,” Basilio said.

Dr. Leticia Penano-Ho, a clinical psychologist and former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Education, also opposed the idea, saying it would be traumatic for children subjected to drug testing at a  young age.

Instead of suggesting drug tests for pupils, Penano-Ho told Arab News that the government should instead strengthen awareness and prevention in schools.

“They can do it in other ways instead of drug testing, which could be very traumatic for a child, aside from being unconstitutional. For employment purposes it’s OK but not for elementary pupils. Maybe for high school students, they can do it,” said Penano-Ho, former director of the ASEAN Training Center for Preventive Drug Education.

“There are ways by which teachers can identify (those using drugs). That’s why what PDEA should do with DDB really, is intensify drug awareness and drug prevention programs,” Penano-Ho said.

“They will be fearful, they will be suspicious. They don’t understand it, and they will not understand. How old is grade 4, 8 or 9? It’s going to be traumatic.”

She said that it could also affect children’s self-esteem because at an early age they were being suspected of committing a crime.

What the government could do, Penano-Ho said, is help teachers to develop more skills in being aware of what the indicators of drug use were. 

“So what we should do is do drug prevention in elementary schools instead of doing drug testing.”

“This government, they’re doing so much on the killing of the addicts. They’re not doing anything to prevent the young ones from becoming addicts. It’s what they should be doing,” Penano-Ho said.

Decoder

What is Tokhang?

“Tokhang” means to knock and plead, and it has been associated with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s allegedly “bloody drug war,” where policemen knock at the homes of known drug users and persuade them to surrender and stop their illegal activities.


US officials push to revive Afghan peace talks

Updated 22 October 2019

US officials push to revive Afghan peace talks

  • High-level delegations in Kabul meet government, Taliban

KABUL: Top US officials including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi are pushing for the revival of Afghan peace talks, despite President Donald Trump abruptly declaring the peace process dead.

Esper, who was making his first visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary, met President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

“The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, that’s the best way forward,” Esper told reporters who were traveling with him.

Multiple rounds of talks to end the fighting have been held between the Taliban and diplomats in a process led by US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, with the Afghan government excluded at the insurgents’ insistence.

Pelosi, after meetings with Ghani and Abullah that were also attended by diplomats and the top US military commander in Afghanistan, said she had discussed the issue of peace talks with the Taliban.

“Our delegation received briefings from (US) Ambassador John Bass and other top diplomats on reconciliation efforts with the Taliban … We underscored that the women of Afghanistan must be at the table for reconciliation talks.”

Ghani discussed the Sept. 28 presidential election, bilateral matters and the peace process with Esper and Pelosi, his office said. 

“Peace is a priority for us, a peace which is led and owned by Afghans and the values of the constitution and women are protected in it,” a presidential palace statement cited him as saying.

Abdullah said he was backing the revival of talks and was ready to make a sacrifice for “real peace.”

“During a fruitful meeting with Pelosi, we exchanged views on the credibility of Afghan elections, credibility requisites, prospects for peace/political settlement. Peace is one of the priorities of the Afghan people and we are supporting these efforts and I am ready for any kind of sacrifice for gaining real peace and for the cessation of war.”

He, unlike Ghani, did not emphasize the need for the peace talks to be owned and led by Afghanistan, but stressed on keeping the gains made since the Taliban was removed from power.

Trump tasked Khalilzad with finding a peaceful solution to the war and the eventual withdrawal of US troops from the country. However the process was thrown into chaos when the president tweeted last month that he was canceling peace talks with Taliban leaders at Camp David after the group claimed responsibility for a Kabul attack that killed a US soldier and 11 other people.

Khalilzad made a surprise stopover in Pakistan earlier this month at the same time that Taliban delegates were on a visit to the country and, according to foreign media reports, discussed the revival of peace talks with the group which the US had toppled from power more than 18 years ago.

Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst who knows the Taliban’s leaders, said the US had already established contact with the group and was keen to sign a deal but was concerned about a potential political crisis between rivals Ghani and Abdullah who are the main candidates in the presidential poll.

The vote was twice delayed, while the initial results of the ballot have not yet been disclosed due to technical issues.

“Now everything has to wait for the result of the election … it seems the Americans are concerned that if it signs the deal with the Taliban now and a crisis begins due to the election, then it will make America’s position weak,” he told Arab News.

“Through these trips, American officials are trying to persuade both sides (Abdullah and Ghani) to respect the result of the election so that when the time of intra-Afghan dialogue starts with the arrival of a new government, the Taliban does not argue that there is a crisis with the government.”

He said Esper’s comments about troop withdrawal was part of the deal Khalilzad had discussed with the Taliban before Trump’s interjection. 

“Americans are confounded since Trump has come to power. First he pushed for the talks, then he canceled the talks and now wants them to be resumed,” he said.

Zubair Shafiqi, another analyst, said troop drawdown was a Trump goal that was aimed at his domestic audience and his re-election campaign next year.

He said Washington had come to the conclusion that the presidential election in Afghanistan would go to a second round, and that the visits by top US officials in recent weeks was aimed at telling leaders in Kabul that they had to brace for the formation of a broad-based interim set-up which should involve the Taliban too.

“I think Americans think that with the low turnout based on (last month’s) election, there will be no strong government in Afghanistan, so it is trying to convince the key sides that they have create a government in understanding with the Taliban,” he told Arab News.