World

Duterte's war on drugs could put Philippines youths in harm's way, critics say

High school students in the Philippines will be subject to random drug tests starting in September, raising safety concerns as President Rodrigo Duterte intensifies his war on drugs.

Drug tests will be randomly administered at secondary schools, both private and public, with the aim of preventing drug use and rehabilitating those already consuming them, Department of Education guidelines say.

"Random drug testing for students is considered by the government as entirely a 'health' issue and aims to provide appropriate interventions to those who will be tested positive for dangerous drug use, which will help the student stop further use and/or abuse of the substance," a government statement said.

Any student testing positive for drug use will be sent for counseling and intervention by social workers, the guidelines state.

The move to test younger school students follows a previous government order for mandatory drug testing among students at universities and colleges.

But the plans have drawn sharp criticism from multiple human rights groups, which claim the government cannot be trusted to ensure that students who test positive for drug use won’t become targets in Duterte's war on drugs, which has led to some 12,500 killings since the president took office in June 2016.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director Phelim Kine slammed the policy, saying the government is putting the students in “harm’s way.”

“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,” he said.

"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.”

- Phelim Kine, director, Huan Rights Watch Asia

“Education officials should be protecting students, not putting them in harm’s way through mandatory drug tests.”

Education Secretary Leonor Briones assured the critics that positive test results will not be used against students. She added that test results cannot be grounds for expulsion or disciplinary action, PTV reported.

The timing of the policy remains unfortunate as the country is in nationwide condemnation of Duterte’s bloody war, following the slaying of a 17-year-old schoolboy, the Telegraph reported.

Kian Delos Santos was reportedly shot by undercover police officers after they dragged him to a dirty alleyway and asked him to run with a gun – only to shoot when he did.

The police claim the teenager shot first and was a drug runner – but witnesses and video footage have contradicted the allegation.