MANILA — Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV defended the Department of Education’s (DepEd) plan to conduct random drug tests among high school students, saying it would benefit not only the department and the students, but also legislators who could use the data that DepEd would gather.
During DepEd’s turn in the Senate Plenary Debates for the 2018 Budget on Wednesday evening, Senator Risa Hontiveros said drug testing among students does not seem to be ideal.
However, she clarified that she was not trying to remove any amount in DepEd’s budget “but maybe in time, (I suggest) DepEd to realign its budget to other health-related matters.”
It may be recalled that DepEd has issued a memorandum for the conduct of random drug testing among high school students and teachers of public and private schools.
The department has set the test for September to October but has yet to carry it out.
DepEd told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) that it still targets October to begin the drug tests.
During the session, Hontiveros questioned the effectiveness of drug testing in deterring drug use, citing that based on research, this has shown no significant effect, and thus, does not stop one from using drugs.
“We just want to know how prevalent the problem is,” said Aquino, assuring that no action would be taken against students who would test positive for prohibited drugs.
DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones earlier said that the department has been receiving “really large calls” for drug testing.
“We hear stories. We need to determine the prevalence of drug use in schools,” Briones said, adding that they also think about the welfare of teachers and staff.
There is only one way to find out the answer, and that is through drug tests, she said.
Reiterating that the drug test does not aim to shame the students, the education chief said the records would be kept secret and would not be made a basis to kick out a student from school.
Hontiveros also raised concerns that drug testing may not be cost-effective, saying that “resources can be better allotted to education materials that promote drug prevention”.
She also said that the experience can traumatize students.
“In my office, there is an intern who shared that some of them are afraid, even if they don’t take drugs. Nakakakaba pa rin daw pag false result (They are nervous – what if the result is false),” she said.
On the costs of the drug test, Aquino said about PHP 15 million would be allotted for the procurement of drug testing kits and the testing itself.
The tests and analysis, he said, would be done by the Department of Health, while all costs would be covered by DepEd.
Aquino also noted that “there are strict confidentiality measures in the law”.
“Results should go to the parents and not to law enforcement agencies,” he said, adding that confirmatory tests would be done if a student tests positive, especially in cases where a child is taking maintenance medicines and those that treat a variety of mental health problems.
“Most likely, parents will know if their kids are taking medicines,” he added.
Aquino also emphasized that in the absence of parental consent, DepEd would just look for other students whose parents are willing to let them undergo the drug test.
Describing the process, Aquino said a notification would be sent to parents and a general assembly would be held for parents and teachers.
The schools would then be selected and the test would be done.
Another meeting with parents whose children would test positive would be convened, to be followed by the confirmatory test.
“Possible intervention can also take place,” he said.
Aquino remarked that many of the students who were killed recently were DepEd students.
The drug test results would indicate that Filipino students are not drug addicts, he said. Ma. Cristina Arayata/NA – northboundasia.com