Manila: The top official of a body regulating Catholic schools in the Philippines has backed proposals to submit students as young as 10 years old to mandatory testing for drug use.

“I do not see any problem with screening young students for drug use. You can see how big the country’s problem on drug is,” Bishop Roberto Mallari, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (ECCCE-CBCP) said in a radio interview late on Saturday.

He said illicit substances were now even being mixed in candies to make them accessible to children.

“I think it is very important that we prevent drugs from reaching the kids,” the church official said.

Fears over the use of drugs by children have grown after the arrest of three schoolteachers for peddling drugs.

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

Bishop Mallari said he favoured a plan by Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director Aaron Aquino to subject all high school as well as elementary school pupils, from ten years of age (Grade 4) to drug screening.

Aquino has said that in most cases where minors have been exposed to drug use or are already drug addicts, the parents themselves are substance abusers.

Earlier, Education Secretary Leonor Briones expressed opposition to subjecting 10-year-olds to drug testing, saying that such actions involving minors could violate their rights as children.

But Bishop Mallari, in an interview by the Catholic-run “Veritas 486” radio station, said 10 years was not too young an age to screen pupils for drug use.

He said it was around this age that some children would start to become more inquisitive and open to experimentation.

“I think it is important that we try to as much as possible to cooperate to the government because they also want what is good for our children,” he said.

He said the burden of preventing a child from getting in contact with drugs fell with the parents as well as teachers.

He added it was important that youths be prevented from being involved in drugs and other illegal activities that could ruin the individual and society in general.

Outside of state schools, Catholic educational institutions comprise the majority of learning establishments in the country.

Catholic-run schools are grouped under the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP).

CEAP, has more than 1,484 member-schools located in the 17 regions of the country.