Manila: Government agencies respectively concerned with drugs and education hold divergent views on plans to subject schoolchildren as young as 10 years old to mandatory testing for use of illegal substances.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino said they want elementary and high school pupils from as low as Grade 4 to undergo screening for drug use so that intervention can be carried out at a young age and keep them away from using illegal substances.

“Grade 4 or about 10 years old, would be a good age to subject them for drug testing,” he said, adding that based on their information, children as young as these are already hooked on drugs.

“Our assumption is partly based on the arrest of several schoolteachers caught peddling drugs in various parts of the country … You can just imagine to whom these teachers are selling drugs to, so most likely their own students,” Aquino said in a radio interview.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones however, said 10 years may be too young. She said subjecting such young pupils to drug testing may not only be detrimental to them psychologically, but could also violate their rights as a child.

“We should be careful not to expose the children’s identities,” she said.

Nevertheless, she said the case is different for high-school students.

Both Briones and Aquino nevertheless agree on subjecting high school students to mandatory screening for drug use.

Only recently, two teachers from Butuan City and another from Maguindanao were arrested by PDEA for peddling drugs and this prompted the agency to suggest to the Department of Education (DepEd) to perform mandatory drug testing for all teachers and school employees.

“DepEd is responding to the directive of the President for the department to enhance the curriculum on preventive drug education for the younger learners,” the DepEd said in a statement.

For his part, Dangerous Drugs Board Chairman, Secretary Catalino Cuy said the DDB) will issue a policy on the proposed conduct of surprise inspection of student bags and lockers in schools,

“We will study this proposal to determine its potential to strengthen the drug prevention campaign in schools and if necessary, we will issue a Board Regulation to ensure its proper implementation,” Cuy said in a statement.

“Drug prevention programmes in schools are already in place. These have proven to be effective in deterring drug use and instilling the importance of leading healthy and drug-free lifestyle among students,” Cuy stated.

The campaign against drugs had been among the focus of the current administration under President Rodrigo Duterte.