Assault on the future

Does anyone still believe that every government bureaucrat, or, for that matter, everyone in the private sector, or your average gossip-prone neighbor, can keep a secret — that they can keep in confidence information such as who has tested positive or has simply been tested for illegal drug use? Or that some, among them the clueless regime-paid trolls online whose solutions to everything including opposition to Neanderthal policies is assassination won’t take the opportunity offered by mandatory drug testing to get back at people they don’t like or violently hate for the most trivial reason?

Most Filipinos probably don’t think so, but apparently both the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) do.

These agencies charged with the supervision, sustainability, and enhancement of Philippine basic and tertiary education, respectively, are requiring mandatory drug testing in secondary schools and higher education institutions (HEIs).

The DepEd’s Department Order No. 40 issued Aug. 8 lays down the guidelines that high schools should follow in implementing the order to conduct random drug tests among their students. It declares that the result of drug tests should be confidential, but that if it turns out to be positive, only the parents, the student concerned and a Department of Health-accredited physician would be apprised of it for the purpose of holding a conference among themselves to discuss issues of drug use and possible addiction dependency.

Should a student who tested positive be drug-dependent, he or she will be referred to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), although the family can instead send the student to a private rehabilitation center if it wishes.

The guidelines make it clear that testing is mandatory: neither students nor their parents can refuse the tests. A student chosen for testing but who refuses to be tested will be reported to the committee in charge of the process DepEd will constitute for the school concerned. Any school that refuses to hold the tests will be reported to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB).

The same guidelines declare that positive drug test results cannot be grounds for expulsion or disciplinary action and should not be included in the student’s academic record. Neither should the positive result be used as evidence against the student in any court case.

But these seemingly liberal provisions are hardly at issue in the present context in which suspected, even merely rumored drug users are seldom brought to court or rehabilitated, but simply eliminated. The argument that high school students are legally children who shouldn’t be subjected to the by now standard police approach of State-sanctioned murder won’t matter much either. The entire country and the world by now know enough about the Davao Death Squad murder of, among others, children suspected of various crimes including drug use in Davao City to understand that being a child doesn’t protect anyone from being shot in the streets.

Not to be outdone, the Commission on Higher Education nevertheless issued on the same date Memorandum Order Number 64, which “allows” all higher education institutions, or colleges and universities, to conduct mandatory drug tests among their students as well as those applying for admission.

The memorandum declares that the drug tests should be confidential in addition to being approved by the school’s policy-making body, whether its board of trustees, directors, or regents. Only physicians and health facilities accredited by the Department of Health (DoH) may administer the tests. A positive result can lead to non-admission to the HEI of an applicant and the non-retention (expulsion) of an already enrolled student. A positive result requires the school to impose unspecified sanctions on, and/ or to “rehabilitate” the student.

Both issuances compel secondary and tertiary schools to hold the tests.

While the CHEd memo only “allows” HEIs to hold them, which school will not, its refusal being likely to be held against it as an indication that it has something to hide? While CHEd might not come to that conclusion itself, the police will most probably do so — and to focus their attention on the school concerned and its students. All schools are thus likely to administer the tests, the alternative being their being tagged as drug dens.

That should be disturbing enough. But what’s worse is the likelihood that the confidentiality urged by both documents will be so easily violated — and the chilling possibility that anyone who wants to get a student into trouble, even if his or her test result was negative, could spread rumors that his or her test results were otherwise. Information about someone’s being chosen for the random test could by itself also be spread as indicative of his or her being suspected of drug addiction — and that kind of suspicion in these perilous times could be a death sentence.

The result could be the branding of high school as well as expelled college students and college applicants refused admission for whatever reason as targets, in much the same way that rumors of this or that individual’s being a drug user in the communities have led to their being similarly tagged — and added to the lengthening list of drug-related extrajudicial killings (EJKs).

In a country in which even such secrets as to who was absent from his official duties for days because he underwent a dialysis and where he had it becomes the stuff of daily gossip in hotel lobbies and coffee shops, it’s not unlikely that the DepEd and CHEd order and memo will result in the names of high school as well as of college students and applicants’ ending up in the many flawed lists of drug users and pushers, and alleged local government drug lords, that the Duterte regime has a peculiar obsession for, inclusion in which, as the entire country and the world has been witnessing, has led to being killed in a hail of bullets for supposedly “fighting back” or “resisting arrest.”

As human rights defenders, youth groups and the progressive members of the House of Representatives have pointed out, the result could be even worse bloodletting à la “Operation Tokhang.” But what should be of even more concern is that if indeed that happens — with both students who are drug users as well as those who aren’t being targeted — it would be an assault not only on the youth of the land and their families but on the country’s very future as well.

The Marcos terror regime murdered thousands of young men and women, among them some of the best and brightest sons and daughters of the Filipino people, during its bloody reign. The same could happen today. The country could once again lose potential and actual poets, engineers, economists, doctors, lawyers and others who could have contributed their talents and their knowledge, their vision and their patriotism to the betterment of a country and society that so desperately need them.

Unfortunately (and oddly, considering their mandate), that hasn’t figured in the calculations of DepEd or CHEd, much less in the limited imagination of the Duterte regime of unreason and its murderous and corrupt police force focused on the brutal, non-accountable and mindless use of State violence as the cure-all for the many complex afflictions of these troubled isles.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Published in Business World
Aug. 18, 2017

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