SC: Mandatory drug tests for candidates unconstitutional

By MARIETON PACHECO, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 05 2008 09:54 PM | Updated as of Nov 06 2008 08:21 AM

The Supreme Court (SC) has struck down as unconstitutional the provisions of the country's anti-drug abuse laws requiring mandatory drug testing of candidates for elective positions and persons accused of crimes.

In a 23-page decision, the high court ruling on suits challenging provisions of the Republic Act 9165 otherwise known as the Comprehensive Drugs Act of 2002, however, upheld provisions on authorized "random" and "suspicion-less" drug testing on minor students and employees of public and private offices.

The decision, written by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, is a consolidation of three suits filed separately by the Social Justice Society (SJS) private lawyer Manuel Laserna and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. Named respondents in the suit were the law's implementing agencies, Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The petitioners challenged provisions of Sec. 36 of RA 9165 on authorized and mandatory drug testing for students, employees, candidates and those charged for crimes.

Additional qualification

In striking down paragraph "g" of Sec. 36, which requires all candidates for public office, whether appointed or elected, both in the national or local government, to first undergo drug testing , the SC explained that the same is "unconstitutional in that they impose a qualification for candidates for senators in addition to those already provided for in the 1987 Constitution."

The Court sided with Pimentel's argument that the only requirement provided for candidates including senators are those provided in the Constitution’s Sec. 3 of Art. VI which provides that "No person shall be a senator unless he is a natural born citizen of the Philippines, and, on the day of the election, is at least thirty-five years of age, able to read and write, a registered voter, and a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years immediately preceding the day of the election."

According to Pimentel, the Constitution only prescribes this maximum of five qualifications for one to be a candidate or to be elected to and be a member of the Senate. He said that both Congress and Comelec, by requiring a senatorial aspirant, among other candidates, to undergo a mandatory drug test, creates an additional qualification that all candidates for senator must first be certified as drug-free.

Not authorized to expand qualification

Pimentel also pointed out that there is no provision in the Constitution authorizing Congress or Comelec to expand the qualification requirements of candidates for senator.

Agreeing with his position, the SC explained that "the Congress cannot validly amend or otherwise modify these qualification standards, as it cannot disregard, evade, or weaken the force of a constitutional mandate, or alter or enlarge the Constitution." It said that "in the discharge of their defined functions, the three departments of government have no choice but to yield obedience to the commands of the Constitution. Whatever limits it imposes must be observed."

"In the same vein, the Comelec cannot, in the guise of enforcing and administering election laws or promulgating rules and regulations to implement RA 9165 validly impose qualifications on candidates for senator in addition to what the constitution provides," said the SC, as it struck down Comelec Resolution No. 6486 which implemented the drug testing.

Tool for criminal persecution

The SC likewise said paragraph "f" of the law which required mandatory drug tests on all persons charged before the prosecutor's office with a criminal offense carrying an imposable penalty of imprisonment of not less than six years and one day, is also unconstitutional.

The high court said there is "no valid justification for mandatory drug testing for persons accused of crimes" and that "to impose mandatory drug testing on the accused is a blatant attempt to harness a medical test as a tool for criminal prosecution."

Drug testing, in this case, the SC said "would violate a persons' right to privacy guaranteed under the Constitution. Worse still, the accused persons are veritably forced to incriminate themselves."

Tests for students, employees upheld

On the other hand, the high court upheld the validity of RA 9165's provisions on drug testing in secondary and tertiary schools and for employees.

Citing American case law, the SC said random drug testing policy for students is "a kind of search in which a reasonable parent might need to engage" and that "minor students have contextually fewer rights than an adult, and are subject to the custody and supervision of their parents, guardians and schools."

The court added that "schools have a duty to safeguard the health and well-being of their students and may adopt such measures as may reasonably be necessary to discharge such duty" and that "schools have the right to impose conditions on applicants for admissions that are fair, just and non-discriminatory."

Drug testing for employees was likewise upheld, subject to the provisions of labor laws for private employees and civil service laws for government employees.