THIS government needs another ill-conceived law enforcement program like a hole in the head, but the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency seems eager to provide the bullet, with its proposal to conduct mandatory drug testing on students Grade 4 and above.
The basis for the PDEA suggestion is flimsy at best. Its director-general, Aaron Aquino, says that some students and teachers were among those caught up in a series of arrests his agency made—and the youngest among them was 10 years old.
Eager to get the ball rolling, Aquino says he has already coordinated with the Dangerous Drugs Board and the Department of Education on the proposal.
In proposing a major change in national policy, Mr. Aquino provides us with no statistics. Instead of giving us hard figures, he says "some students and teachers" were arrested, and among those was one boy, 10 years old.
Hardly a sound basis for proposal that will affect millions of people.
The impetus, it seems, were the arrests of two teachers from Butuan City and another from Maguindanao for peddling drugs. But PDEA offers no credible assessment as to whether these arrests were part of a larger pattern, or just a few isolated instances of bad eggs in the school system. In either case, testing the children does not solve the problem.
Nor does Mr. Aquino offer any idea of how much his novel suggestion to test 14-million schoolchildren would cost the taxpayer—estimated by the Education Department to be P2.8 billion—and where we are to find this extra funding.
The Department of Education, to its credit, has been cool to the idea.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones observes that drug testing at that level would be illegal, as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 authorizes testing only for secondary and tertiary students.
She adds that extreme caution must be taken when dealing with children so young, as any misstep could scar them for life.
A number of senators from both sides of the political fence have also spoken out against the proposal, with one calling it "pointless."
But the policy-making Dangerous Drugs Board seems to be on board, with its head, Catalino Cuy, saying his office will study the proposal to strengthen the drug prevention campaign in schools and issue a policy to ensure its proper implementation, if needed.
Consultations with schools, parents and other members of the board, which include the DepEd, will be done to ensure rights of students are protected and their safety is guaranteed, the board said.
But, given the lack of forethought that has gone into the PDEA proposal, such assurances hardly build confi- dence.