Random student drug testing?

Random student drug testing?

The order of PGMA to launch nationwide random drug testing to students in both secondary and tertiary levels, occasioned as it was by the Alabang Boys’ controversy in recent memory – ought to have been carefully studied first since its implications are not few.

It was the Chairman of the Drugs Dangerous Board, former Senator Sotto who made this recommendation to the president apparently but it is easy enough to doubt if this move could have been founded on some empirical data such that the drug menace has already crawled in every school environment. But existing data tell us that random drug testing done in the past only yielded a negligible occurrence at even less than !% of those randomly drug-tested.

In the US military, drug testing was resorted to and yielded a drop from 30% to 2% and in the US workforce, from 18% to 4%. This ought to be the kind of historical backdrop against which a random drug testing must be proposed. Theoretically, it is an exercise in futility and graphically even absurd if not stupid to have to reduce a possible incidence of less than 1% to an even much lesser rate since it tells us offhand, that the drug menace so-called is a myth. Which part of the equation would we have to change here, pray tell?

Offhand, the order is therefore barking up on the wrong tree and Chairman Sotto should not have as much as moved to go into this kind of approach since it throws suspicion wholesale – that in every school, there is an x population of drug users to drug pushers which could be rendered false by a more scientific survey.

The Commission on Human Rights simply thinks it is violative of human rights and when it did think so, this positional view alone should have made it impossible for the proposal to gain any headway. The CHR chair cited specific provisions in the Constitution as well as that of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that would be violated by this executive order. No less than a former UP Law Dean thinks there is no legal basis for a random drug testing and the President of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila shared the same view. How then that we have always thought that the right against self incrimination and the right to privacy are our inviolable rights as citizens of this country?

We then find two institutions not wanting to heed the stand of the Commission on Human Rights on the matter, not wanting to know what the former UP Law Dean and the PLM President have to say. Why would Department of Education have to respond to this order come March 2009? What compelling reason, if any, had the Dangerous Drugs Board have as would justify such a proposal which incidentally, got the president’s approval?

Our problem with knee jerk reactions of this nature is that in the end, it achieves nothing – it will not prove to be preventive, deterrent, nor reductive. At the very least, what existing surveys would validate that students’ substance use has already surfaced as the number 1 concern? Did DDB Chair point to a specific study that validates his proposal?

Absent that, it would have been best that a more thorough preliminary work should have first been undertaken so that better approaches, except this random drug testing, could be tried. What reasons had Sotto for him to believe that students in all schools across the land are into drug abuse or trafficking as the case maybe? Certainly, the case of the Alabang Boys could not have given him the indubitable basis for such a proposal, could it?

Executive Orders, while the sole prerogative of the President should first be studied very carefully and even more so with proposals being submitted especially where there are clear areas of concern that have to be addressed. In that sense, Chairman Sotto failed to provide reliable data that would sustain what he has proposed. Any number of paradoxes can be called to mind. Isn’t it the case that the COMELEC cannot even as much as compel candidates for elective positions to undergo drug testing?

Even when drug testing has been introduced to the American public, a strategy for the last 20 years, to the extent that then President Bush has to spend $15 million to subsidize the program, still major studies show that random drug testing to check student substance use has no deterrent effect. Clearly, this official pronouncement has no two legs to stand on and that it will be a waste of funds in the end since it becomes a whole guessing game.

With a student population at all levels being what it is today, what positive results could we find even if the order would be implemented when everyone can always plan ahead in any case? In fact, the case of the US Supreme Court’s upholding as constitutional drug test to athletes and students involved in competitive extracurricular activities should also be sufficient to tell our leaders that we should not apply random drug testing as a shotgun approach since it will not work.

Certainly, we doubt that this order will be recalled especially so that we now have an overzealous Department of Education as well as a Department of Health and Commission on Higher Education reacting patronizingly. As far as we know, similar drug testings being required for other such purposes have become a profitable cottage industry – driver’s licence, firearms license, whatever.

PRIMER C. PAGUNURAN
UP Diliman, Quezon City Email: nielsky_2003@yahoo.com