MANILA, Philippines — Government plans for mandatory drug tests on college students “threatens their safety and right to education” and “puts them in the crosshairs of (President Rodrigo) Duterte’s abusive drug war,” Human Rights Watch said Friday.
A week ago, the Commission on Higher Education announced the approval of Memorandum Order No. 64 making the drug tests, scheduled for implementation from the next school year, a requirement for admission or retention of students.
Youth groups immediately raised a howl against the tests and Kabataan party-list Representative Sarah Elago said the move would “further legitimate Tokhang-style executions and arrests” as well as “give license to militarization and police invasion in schools.”
To date, various estimates place the number of lives lost to the war on drugs waged by President Rodrigo Duterte at well over 12,000 and increasing daily since he assumed office last year.
Referencing this, HRW joined its voice to those opposing the college drug tests, with its deputy Asia director Phelim Kine saying the move could create “a school-to-cemetery track for students testing positive for drugs.”
Kine noted that aside from the tests, “the order permits local governments, the police and other law enforcement agenc(ies) to /carry out any drug-related operation within the school premises’ with the approval of school administrators,” allowing police “to extend their ‘anti-drug’ operations to college and university campuses, placing students at grave risk.”
“Imposing mandatory drug testing of students when Philippine police are committing rampant summary killings of alleged drug users puts countless children in danger for failing a drug test,” Kine said, referring to the group’s research that found, among others, that “police have routinely committed extrajudicial executions of drug suspects and then covered up their crimes by planting drugs and guns at the scene.”
Instead of exposing students to this danger, “education officials should be protecting students, not putting them in harm’s way through mandatory drug tests,” he added.
While noting that the CHEd order “does not require, but ‘strongly encourages’ schools of higher education to impose random mandatory drug testing of students and applicants,” HRW said it “follows the Department of Education’s announcement in May that it will launch random drug tests of primary, elementary, and high school students later this year.”
HRW also took exception to a provision in the CHEd order allowing schools to impose sanctions, including expulsion or denial of admission, on those who test positive or refuse to be tested.
HRW also warned that mandatory drug tests could have grave legal implications.
“Taking a child’s bodily fluids, whether blood or urine, without their consent, may violate the right to bodily integrity and constitute arbitrary interference with their privacy and dignity,” it said. “Depending on the manner in which such testing occurs, it could also constitute degrading treatment, and may deter children from attending school or college for reasons unrelated to any potential drug use, depriving them of their right to an education. In many situations, excluding a student from studies due to a positive drug test may also be a disproportionate limitation on a child’s right to education.”