Palace reverses course, backs mandatory drug testing for grades 4 and above

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Majority of Filipinos believe children of about 10 years of age and above should undergo mandatory drug tests, according to a recent national survey. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 8) — Malacañang expressed support for the drug enforcement agency's proposal for mandatory drug tests among students ten years of age and above, contrary to their initial stand against the measure.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said a mandatory drug test for grade 4 students and above would ensure the safety of children against the influence of illegal drugs, adding that all parents would welcome the proposal.

"I think that is a good idea because at least the parents would know whether or not their children are addicted or being used in the drug industry," he told the press Thursday.

Panelo added that there is no need to amend the law to enact the provision allowing the tests.

"I don't think there is a need for that [amendment], that is for the benefit of the family. I think all parents would welcome that. I would welcome that as a parent," He argued.

This contradicts the Palace's initial statement that backed the Department of Education's (DepEd) stand saying the law should be changed for the tests to push through.

"We concur with Secretary (Leonor) Briones that the Dangerous Drug Act limits possible drug testing to high school and not to grade school students," former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in June.

The DepEd earlier rallied against the proposal, saying an amendment to The Comprehensive Dangerous Drug Act of 2002 — which only authorizes drug testing for secondary and tertiary level students — is needed to enact the tests.

READ: Briones: Law should be changed before PDEA can implement mandatory drug tests

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency earlier floated the idea of requiring schools to conduct mandatory drug tests among Grade 4 students and above in June this year. The proposal met criticism from a human rights watchdog, saying it may violate the students' dignity.

"Taking a child's bodily fluids, whether blood or urine, without their consent may violate the right to bodily integrity and constitute arbitrary interference with their privacy and dignity," Human Rights Watch said.

Philippine National Police Chief Dir. Gen. Oscar Albayalde also disagreed with the measure, contending that ten years old is much too young to be subjected to drug tests. 

"For me... I'll [say] probably masyado siyang bata. Personal opinion ko lang," he said in June.

[Translation: For me…I'll [say] that's probably too young. That's my personal opinion.]

READ: PNP Chief on drug test for grade schoolers: 'Masyadong bata'


Majority supports drug tests

Panelo's statement was in response to the latest national survey results showing a majority of Filipinos agreed to the mandatory drugs tests among students about 10 years of age and above.

Results from a Social Weather Stations survey on September showed 51 percent of respondents agreed to the mandatory drugs tests in schools for students on the fourth grade level and above. The results posted on Wednesday yielded a net agreement of +15, classified under the "very strong" category in agreement with the measure.

Positive responses were particularly strong in Visayas with a net agreement of +47 (very strong), followed by Mindanao at +25 (moderately strong), Metro Manila at +17 (moderately strong) and Balance Luzon at a neutral -6.

The survey also found that 76 percent of respondents were satisfied by the President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug campaign, while only 12 percent were dissatisfied leading to a +64 net satisfaction rating (very good).

Agreement with the proposal soared among those satisfied by Duterte's performance with a +20 (moderately strong) net agreement.

Meanwhile, 36 percent disagreed and 13 percent were undecided on the matter.

Panelo lauded the results saying the drug problem in the country and the government's mandate to protect the youth, is basis enough to push for the tests.

"There is a drug menace in this country, that would be the basis, parens patriae doctrine is another that the state is responsible for the safety of the citizens in the country, " he said.

In legal terms, parens patriae refers to the power of the state to act as the parent of a minor who needs protection.