Sotto: Students can refuse drugs tests
MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) Students can refuse to submit themselves to the random drug testing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered conducted in all schools, the chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) said on Monday.
When a student refuses to be tested, school officials can simply pick another one at random, Vicente Sotto III said in a phone interview.
He also gave assurances that no sanctions would be imposed on those who refuse to be tested, as he sought to allay fears raised by the Commission on Human Rights and other groups that the tests could lead to abuse.
“This is not a law enforcement issue. This is a health issue. It’s about awareness,” Sotto said.
Arroyo, who appointed herself anti-drug czar after the so-called “Alabang Boys” bribery scandal that embroiled the Department of Justice and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), ordered the random drug tests last week.
She also ordered a review of the rules of engagement in counter-narcotics operations.
The tests will cover over 100,000 students or 10 from each secondary, tertiary, and vocational-level school in the country, Sotto said.
He said the government would need P10 million to purchase the P100 testing kits as soon as Arroyo approves the guidelines he will be submitting on Tuesday.
The tests will be administered by the Department of Health (DoH), the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (Ched), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
The police and the PDEA will not be involved.
A student who tests positive will not be arrested but will be submitted for counseling, Sotto said. It is up to the student’s parents to admit him or her to a rehabilitation center.
The DDB chairman assured that “there will be 100 percent confidentiality” in administering the tests.
Over the last two years Sotto said no student has refused to be tested, nor has a complaint been raised over the leakage of the identities of those tested.
Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said the random drug tests would begin in February.
“The tests would start in February so that we’ll have two months before graduation. The procedure is already laid out in the guidelines and we will coordinate with the Department of Health on this,” he said.
“The overall response from parents and schools has been positive. We are also starting in February because we’re already getting requests from parents and schools to conduct the tests,” he added.
He said the DepEd is experienced in conducting random drug tests on students, having undertaken a similar activity in 2004-2005 involving 9,000 students from more than 300 schools.
“That was conducted successfully, and look, we did not even hear much about it then,” Lapus said.
He described the tests as stringent, with another round of confirmatory tests given those who turn out positive during the initial test.
During the 2004-2005 tests, around 1.1 percent initially turned up positive, but this figure decreased to .77 percent after the confirmatory tests conducted by centers accredited by the DoH.
He also said the various stakeholders in schools are represented in the selection boards that help oversee the tests.
“You have representatives from the parents-teachers association, students, and faculty in there and it is the computer that will randomly choose who should take the test,” Lapus said.
He said DepEd would just be complying with the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 which states that students in the secondary and tertiary-levels should be tested for illegal drugs.
“The guidelines are detailed. There should be a selection board and each school should have a testing coordinator. Confidentiality and integrity will be observed and we will be coordinating with the Department of Health,” he added.
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