Wednesday, January 14, 2009


The spate of publicity recently generated by the so-called Alabang boys case, which involves allegations of bribery of anti-drug enforcement agents and Justice Department prosecutors, has impelled the government to carry out a plan of action to curb the growing menace of dangerous drugs in the country.

One thing we are thankful of controversies is that government shifts into gears, albeit fleetingly in most cases, to address problems which have been begging attention for some time already.

In what appears to be a sweeping move to address the worsening drug problem, Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared herself as the country’s anti-drug czar and bared plans to institute a nation-wide mandatory random drug testing of students in secondary and tertiary education.

As in most other governmental moves affecting individual liberty, this plan has elicited not a few objections, not least of which are those coming from our esteemed lawmakers – who by the way crafted the law that provides for this type of testing.

Drug testing not only of students, but also of employees, public officials, candidates for public office and criminal suspects, is required by Section 36 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (R.A. 9165).

As early as 2004, the legality of this particular provision of law had already been questioned before the Supreme Court in the consolidated cases of Social Justice Society v. Dangerous Drugs Board & Phil. Drug Enforcement Agency (G.R. No. 157870), Atty. Manuel J. Laserna, Jr. v. Dangerous Drugs Board & Phil. Drug Enforcement Agency (G.R. No. 158633), and Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. v. COMELEC (G.R. No. 161658) – the decision in all said cases being promulgated only on November 3, 2008.

Petitioners in Social Justice Society and Laserna, Jr. chiefly argued that mandatory drug testing of students constitutes unwarranted intrusion into their privacy and violates their right against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Constitution.

The Supreme Court disagreed with these claims by ruling that schools and their administrators stand in loco parentis over their students, students have reduced expectation of privacy in school, and the testing is reasonable.

Citing two U.S. cases, the Supreme Court said that schools and their administrators have substitute parental authority and responsibility over their students, with the common interest to promote the health and well-being of these students by adopting reasonable measures.

The Court cited the deleterious effects to the young of dangerous drugs and how it may affect not only users, but other members of the academe. It found the presence of a compelling need to address the grave problems of drug addiction as a justification for intrusion into the privacy of students, which the Court pointed out as subject to limitations.

By entering schools, students have reduced expectation of privacy. Their rights to privacy are circumscribed by the school policies and regulations governing student conduct on campus; students in effect submit to the substitute parental authority of schools and their administrators and waive their privacy rights by enrolling in schools.

Aside from finding the mandatory drug testing as a justified form of intrusion into students’ privacy, the Court also found its reasonableness in the manner it is to be carried out by being a “suspicionless” and “random” arrangement. It is not to be carried out in the context of a criminal suspicion and not directed against any particular individual.

Unlike in the mandated drug testing of criminal suspects, which the Supreme Court found as unlawful in Laserna, Jr., the testing of students is not intended to criminally prosecute them, but to stamp out illegal drugs and in the process safeguard students’ health and well-being from the harmful effects of dangerous drugs.

The Court noted that if any student is found positive for the use of dangerous drugs this will not necessarily result in criminal prosecution, because Sections 54 and 55 of the law provide for voluntary submission to a treatment or rehabilitation facility for drug dependency and concomitant exemption from criminal liability.

Finally, the law was found to provide sufficient safeguards against arbitrary and abusive testing by requiring the test to be conducted by government-accredited facilities, maintaining confidentiality and ensuring proper chain of custody of test results, among other things.

As the Supreme Court had already ruled on the legality of mandatory drug testing for students in secondary and tertiary education, what is left now is the proper implementation of the testing itself. Parents, school authorities and students must become vigilant to ensure that any testing is carried out in accordance with the strict requirements of the law to prevent the system from becoming a tool for abuse and wrongdoing.

No comments:

Post a Comment