Philippine authorities are planning to have children as young as 10 years old undergo drug testing in schools. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
A recent proposal by Philippine anti-narcotics officials to test children as young as 10 years old for illegal drugs has rung alarm bells in many circles across the country.
A 15-year-old girl named Ruffa said she worries about friends who might be into drugs amid reports that up to 22,000 suspected drug users and peddlers have been killed in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs
"I don't worry about myself because I know I am not into illegal drugs but I worry about my friends and classmates. What will happen to them?" she asked.
Education officials said they are studying a proposal submitted by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency last month.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones said she will clarify the aim of the proposed random drug testing of children, especially in state-run elementary schools.
"Do they want to know the prevalence [of drug use] so that they can provide interventions ... and for health reasons, so proper treatment can be provided?" she asked.
Monsignor Ramon Aguilos of Palo Archdiocese said he is "extremely concerned" about the proposed move.
"Will the authorities treat [children] with utmost care and respect as human beings? Will their dignity as human beings be of primary concern?" said the priest who supervises church-run schools.
"Recent off-the-cuff remarks by [Duterte] challenging police to kill at least 32 people every day are very disturbing and chilling."
While drug testing can be an important activity in schools "under normal circumstances," its outcome with regard to Duterte's anti-narcotics campaign could very well be different, Monsignor Aguilos said.
"With our present political situation where extrajudicial killings are rampant, how can we be sure that our students will be safe?" he added.
Father Virgilio Canete warned that mandatory testing, even among children, shows the country is "turning into a garrison state."
"Such testing may not reveal who are addicts," he said.
School chaplain Father Roy Cimagala of Cebu said the government should ensure that drug testing is only conducted if school officials permit it. "Otherwise, the government can just do anything with us, trampling on our rights and dignity," he said.
Student groups are also opposing the plan, saying it makes young people, especially activists, vulnerable to attacks from state agents.
"This drug war in schools is a way for the government to directly attack students," said J.P. Rosos, spokesman of the League of Filipino Students.
Authorities assured that the results of random drug testing would not be used as grounds for a student's expulsion, disciplinary action or criminal prosecution.
Education Secretary Briones said only about 60,000 children will undergo drug testing so that authorities can get an idea of the prevalence of illegal drug use among children.
Drug enforcement agent Liza Baoy said if it was not for the fact that testing can be costly, it would have been better if testing was performed on all students.
"The public has nothing to fear at all," she said, adding that the results will be confidential.