MANILA - Can random drug tests stop drug addiction among students? Some parents say so. But others think it would expose their children to an even bigger menace.
As the Department of Education (DepEd) prepares to resume random drug-testing in hundreds of public schools nationwide this year, Susan Regalado, a mother of eight, will tell anyone who asks that she's all for it.
Regalado's family lives in Caloocan's Barangay 176, where nearly seventy drug-related deaths have been recorded by ABS-CBN's Investigative and Research Group since the Duterte administration's war on drugs began two years ago.
Two of Regalado's children are in high school. Her eldest child, Ronnel, 22, was killed in a police operation in July 2017. He used drugs for recreation, she said, but he was shot in the head, stomach, and foot after a woman accused him of staging a hold-up.
Regalado now watches her children like a hawk.
"Dapat malaman ng mga nanay kung napapasama na sa bisyo yung anak nya. Kung sa drug test malalaman ko, halimbawa, na ang anak ko positibo, ako na mismo ang mag-papa-rehab sa kanya."
(Mothers should know if their children are getting hooked on vices. Through the drug test, I will know, for example if my child tests positive, I myself will send my child to rehabilitation.)
Over 14,000 public high school students will be chosen at random, or via computerized selection, between now and December 2018 for the drug tests. More than six thousand random drug tests were conducted in secondary public schools last year.
All private high schools are also mandated to conduct random drug tests.
The tests can spot the use of marijuana and shabu but cannot detect the use of party drugs and other amphetamines.
Mandated through DepEd Order No. 40 in 2017, the random drug tests are meant to determine the prevalence of drug use among students; assess the effectivity of school prevention programs; deter the illegal use of drugs, and facilitate the rehabilitation of drug users and dependents.
55 STUDENTS PER SCHOOL
On the day of the drug test, 55 students selected per school will be given an orientation on the process and their rights.
They must declare any medication taken in the last five days.
"All of the students and parents should be properly oriented beforehand that it's a matter of chance that you will be included in the drug tests," DepEd Assistant Secretary Nepo Malaluan said.
The Health Department will collect and test the specimen.
Results are supposedly confidential but will be transmitted to the Office of the DepEd secretary, the school's drug testing coordinator, the concerned student, his or her parents, and a doctor and counselor accredited by the Department of Health.
But the Children's Legal Rights and Development Center has raised the alarm, fearing that the results may lead to discrimination or endanger the children.
"Malalaman at malalaman sa school kung sino ang positive," said the group's Executive Director Rowena Legazpi.
(It will be known in the school who tested positive.)
"Magtataka 'yung mga kaklase kung bakit nawawala 'yung estudyante after the drug test. Sasabihin nila, 'kasi itong si ano is going on an intervention program.' They would conclude that their schoolmate tested positive."
(Students will wonder why their classmate was absent after the drug test. They might say 'because so and so is going on an intervention program.')
Legazpi said that once the students start talking, so will their mothers, until the information reaches barangay officials. Here is where the real danger lies, said Legazpi, because barangay officials are the ones who draw up the drug watchlist which is passed on to the Philippine National Police.
"In our experience in working with the community, the barangay knows all the stories, kahit na sabihin mo, 'ops bata 'yan, bakit 'nyo pinag-uusapan 'yung kuwento tungkol sa kaso?' Sa barangay kilala yung users. "
(Even if you say wait, that's a minor, why are you talking about the case? In the barangay, they know who the users are.)
END VS. MEANS
Malaluan conceded that the intervention stage is a potential source of leakage but said the DepEd is beefing up its capacity to reduce to a minimum those who would be privy to the test results.
"The DepEd, the secretary, is taking responsibility for this exercise and taking all the necessary precautions. We consulted the National Privacy Commission about the standards for privacy. "
He said results of random drug tests conducted last year have not been opened and those who tested positive have not been informed pending the release of intervention guidelines by the end of June.
Training for those who will be tasked with interventions will also be completed by the end of the month.
Malaluan said random drug tests in itself are not meant to deter substance abuse. It is only a part of the broader drug prevention program, he said, adding there is a need to strengthen the curriculum and life skills of students.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Aaron Aquino agreed.
"Nakita namin 'yung tinuturo ng DepEd, hindi naman lahat, but they are focusing on marijuana only. There's a lot of psychotropic and psychoactive drugs circulating in the country and yet wala 'yun dun sa kanilang tinuturo," he said.
(We saw what the DepEd has been teaching, not all, but they are focusing on marijuana only. There's a lot of psychotropic and psychoactive drugs circulating in the country and yet that's not part of what they teach.)
In addition to the curriculum, the DepEd is looking for ways to improve learning materials, promote drug prevention in extracurricular activities, and retrain teachers, who are now faced with many questions from students about the administration's drug war.
There is no overnight solution, officials said.
In the meantime, schools that are faced with the problem of illegal drug use must find creative solutions to deal with it.
In 2017, some weeks after the killing of 17-year old Kian delos Santos made headlines, two students were caught smoking weed at the toilet of Caloocan High School.
"We believe hindi naman sila (they are not) drug addicts, they just tried it out of curiosity," said Guidance Teacher MaryAnn Talag.
The school turned over the students to YAKAP, a facility run by the Department of Social Welfare and Development for Children in Conflict with the Law. They spent a few nights there before being turned over to their parents.
The school also took matters into its own hands to try to prevent the recurrence of a similar incident.
Since late last year, more hours were devoted to anti-drug education in the classroom. A pledge denouncing drug use and other vices was written, to be recited by students at the start of each class, six times a day. Drug prevention themes were also included in the art and drama club.
It may be a small step, but the school still hopes it would bring about the desired results.