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.