CHR not in favor of testing students for drug use

Published by rudy Date posted on January 16, 2009

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday cautioned the government that the random drug testing of the youth recently ordered by President Gloria Arroyo may violate the human rights of a child.

The President’s order covered high school and college students in public and private schools. It came simultaneously with President Arroyo naming herself as anti-drug czar.

Commission Chairman Leila de Lima, said the basic human rights of the child against self-incrimination; the right of the child to be protected in his person, effects and correspondence; and the right of the child against unlawful searches and seizures are immediately compromised by carrying out a random drug-testing campaign.

Vicente Sotto 3rd, the chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board, defended the implementation of President Arroyo’s order by pointing out that the testing would be random, not mandatory.

During the No-Holds Barred media forum, Sotto also on Thursday said that random drug testing is constitutional as ruled by the Supreme Court itself.

Legal luminaries clashed on the issue during another media forum, Serye News.

Former University of the Philippines’ College of Law Dean Pacifico Agabin said the President’s order has no legal basis at all. A drug test, he added, is considered as a form of “search” as ruled by the Supreme Court.

“Search” can only be done, Agabin explained, if there is probable cause against an accused and it cannot be translated into drug testing.

Lawyer Adel Tamano, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila president and United Opposition spokesman, agreed.

Drug testing “violates one’s right to privacy,’ he said.

Rep. Matias Defensor of Quezon City, also the chairman of the House Committee on Justice, saw wisdom in Mrs. Arroyo’s order.

According to him, drug testing is a contractual obligation and it can be imposed even on candidates in elections to determine if they are fit and mentally competent.

GMA’s call

Ombudsman Maria Merceditas Gutierrez said that she leaves it to the President to resolve whether the order was in keeping with the law.

“If it is in her view that it would be the best [way to eradicate illegal drugs], it is her decision,” she added.

Sotto insisted that drug testing is a “plus factor for all government agencies and schools. If the drug test results would turn out negative, these agencies and schools can proclaim that they are drug-free institutions and if some of them yield positive results, they can address the problem and eventually become a drug-free community.”

He said that hotlines of the drugs board are receiving reports that drug pushers are targeting schools, making students “easy prey” for the deviants.

The random drug testing, Sotto added, would help eliminate drugs in schools, where surveys by the board found the number of drug users “very alarming.” He noted that International School has been conducting random drug tests among its students on a daily basis and no one has complained about it.

A million drug users

The surveys, according to Sotto, put the number of frequent drug users in schools at nearly one million.

Guidelines and procedures on drug testing in secondary and tertiary, vocational and technical schools are being prepared by the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and are expected to be ready by today.

In urging caution, Chairman de Lima stressed that the random drug testing could make the Filipino child feel insecure, which she said is completely antithetical to the ideals and protective stance of a United Nations protocol that the government is duty-bound to implement.

Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honor and reputation.”

De Lima said that the commission fears that in the absence of guidelines formulated in a democratic, consultative manner, the random drug testing on the youth “especially in the hands of overzealous law-enforcement officers can potentially put the child’s human rights in danger of being violated.”

The commission said that the government should address the endemic drug problem of the country by focusing on “the institutional roots of the problem, not on the potential and most vulnerable victim of the drug menace—the Filipino child.”

It urged the government to conduct dialogues and consultations with the community, particularly the children, not only with government agencies.

De Lima said that they are hoping that the government would continue making children’s issues a priority in the face of danger brought about by the use, sale, production and distribution of illegal drugs in the country.

She also urged the government to infuse more funding and resources to local communities engaged in promoting more child-friendly spaces and child-friendly programs.
–Ira Karen Apanay, Ruben D. Manahan 4th, Jomar Canlas And James Konstantin Galvez, Manila Times

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