UNDERSECRETARY EDGAR C. GALVANTE
Executive Director, Dangerous Drugs Board
NIA Road, East Triangle
Diliman, Quezon City
Dear Usec. Galvante:
Once again, the Commission on Human Rights would like to express thanks to your institution for giving due cognizance to our views on the implementation of this mechanism of random drug testing on children.
At the onset, it is to be emphasized that the comments hereunder supplement and enhance the January 15th statement of the CHR on the said topic. Pursuant to our commitment given at the conclusion of the January 16th meeting in DDB, the CHR presents the following additional comments:
1. CHR urges the Government to be more circumspect about its decision to implement post haste the random drug testing and invites it strongly to postpone its implementation this February 2009 in order to study it within the whole template of the entire Government program on the drug menace;
2. The need for further study is justified because there has not yet been an impact assessment and evaluation on the 2003-2005 random drug testing conducted on the students. While it is true that the DOH presented in the January 16 DDB meeting the methodology undertaken, findings of drug use and recommendations on further implementation of the test, conspicuously absent is the presentation of how the random drug testing results influenced the adoption of a more strategic
policy direction on the part of the government in addressing the drug menace. Also, there was no presentation on how the government tracked, monitored, rehabilitated and reintegrated the drug users that were elicited in the test. This bodes unfavorably on the program as it means that the mechanism's effectivity and avowed objective, also reiterated by the Supreme Court in the Laserna case, of “stamp[ing] out illegal drug and safeguard[ing] in the process 'the well-being of [the] citizenry, particularly the youth, from the harmful effects of dangerous drugs'” was not shown to have been met.
3. The CHR feels strongly that more time is needed for further study of the mechanism as an integral component in the preventive program of the Government. As mentioned above, there is yet no justification nor basis that the random drug test earlier conducted effectively contributed to the suppression of the drug problem. The CHR encourages the adoption of a more consultative stance on the part of the DDB to engage the cooperation of the parents and dialogue with the concerned sectors and representation of the youth/student sector. Let us not lose sight of the fact that students generally are not adults and thus parental consent is an imperative to any activity that infringes on the child's right to privacy.
4. Neither are children full-fledged employees who are also self-actualized adults that have deeper understanding of the parameters of their rights and more capable of defending any infringes thereto. Most importantly, minors should not be likened to government employees or officials as employment in the government is a privilege. Minor-students, on the other hand, have the right to invoke and demand the fulfillment of their right to education obliging the Government to respect the child's right to education as a CONSTITUENT (as distinguished from “ministrant”) function. Thus, a further study is required in order to measure how much the random drug testing can affect the exercise of the child's right to education. For instance, the danger could be that students who are users will not attend schools nor enroll simply to avoid being part of the sampling universe. Does this not make random drug testing counter-productive for do we not aspire for our children to remain in school instead of being impelled to be out of it?
5. Breathing room to think, cogitate and analyze is highly important given that the random drug test is cost-intensive. Indeed, look no further than the expense of conducting the activity from 2003-2005 pegged by DOH as Ph3,698,466.00 for a mere 9,000 samples that only elicited .8% of the sampled population as drug users. This raises the simple but practical question: is the high cost of random drug testing worthwhile? Would not the money to be spent on random drug test be more useful in strengthening education campaigns in schools or enhance support systems for drug users in communities or implement instead other more child-friendly programmes? Verily, in a resource-strapped government, all programs must be strategic and sustainable. It is timely to ask, is the government ready to undertake an expensive random drug testing program without sacrificing perhaps even more important components of the anti-drug campaign such as rehabilitation, reintegration and education?
6. Another need for further analysis is how we can include the out-of-school youths in the preventive program of the Government as they are more vulnerable to the lures of the social menace.
7. Rationalizing the strategies in addressing any issues affecting the children and youth should always include child participation from the formulation of guidelines, implementation and assessment thereto.
8. Include in the process of drafting the primary coordinating agency of the government involving children's issues in general: the Council for the Welfare of Children. It is also wise to include, among others, the National Youth Commission, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the National Anti-Poverty Commission and youth leaders affiliated with youth federations.
9. In this regard, perhaps the available money of the government can be used to organize an anti-drug youth summit that should be designed to elicit recommendations from the youth on how to prevent and address the drug problems. These recommendations will thereafter be endorsed to pertinent branches of government for consideration. This will indubitably showcase the willingness of this government to include the children in governance.
10. Explore the possibility of assessing the current status of drug use among the youths through other modalities like the conduct of confidential key-informant interviews instead of the more contentious and expensive random drug-testing. Indeed, even the DOH presentation on the conduct of random drug testing also relied on an independent study that used interviewing as the methodology.
11. The need to re-examine Board Regulation Number 6 Series of 2003 or the General Guidelines for the Conduct of Random Drug Testing Among Secondary and Tertiary Students is important and the CHR congratulates the DDB in its recognition of the same. It is hoped that the revision will be allotted more time in order for meaningful amendments be put in place and adopted accordingly. For instance, the CHR is problematic over the fact that there is no provision allowing for the child's parents to say no to a random drug test. The CHR feels that a clear provision should be in place that recognizes this possibility and an assurance that no punitive action should be declared against the child.
12. The CHR is also concerned about letter “H” of the said Guidelines or the provision entitled Enforcement of Compliance which states, thus: “Students who refuse to undergo random drug testing shall be dealt with in accordance with rules and regulations of the schools..” This provision is highly problematic as it is arbitrary and therefore open to different interpretations of the schools. Clearer standards should be in the guidelines on how a particular student will be dealt with and the only way to flesh out these guidelines is through a thorough, exhaustive and meaningful consultations amongst government stakeholders, school administrators, parents and the children themselves.
13. Another gray area is exactly how the government will protect the integrity of a confidential random drug testing, if the same is to be conducted by private schools. Implications abound necessitating standards to be strategized, validated and adopted.
14. The CHR encourages the DDB to explore the possibility of instead prioritizing the popularization of the modality of voluntary submission of a drug dependent instead of the weeding out and more expensive random drug testing process.
15. In this connection, the DDB is invited to also first plot out the effects and implications, if any, of RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act on RA 9165.
16. Consequentially, the CHR invites the DDB to request for a dialogue with existing institutional mechanisms such as the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council that can provide insights for a more holistic approach in the government's efforts to address the drug menace. The civil society can also be engaged by the DDB in a more sustained and rational manner. For instance, the DDB, with its very high profile leadership, can tap the corporate social responsibility of the private sector to strengthen the education drive for the youth sector.
In conclusion, the CHR feels very strongly that, all things considered, the Government should be more cautious and thoughtful in adopting a very rigorous position in favor of random drug testing the student population. Considerations of efficacy, effectivity, cost and applicability should play into the recommendations to be propounded to the President. Our obligations to the children of this country engenders not only a gung-ho attitude on the part of stakeholders but rather an acceptance of the need for strategic and well-thought out plans of action, policies and programmes that must be rights-based, participatory and empowering to the vulnerable sector at hand, the children.
Thank you for your institution's interest in our views and trust that we remain steadfast in our partnership of affording a better future for our children.
Very truly yours,
ATTY. LEILA M. DE LIMA