MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government’s plan for mandatory drug testing for all college students and applicants seriously threatens their safety and right to education, Human Rights Watch said today. On August 2, 2017, the official Commission on Higher Education, which produces “plans, policies and strategies” for higher education under the office of the president, approved a memorandum order to be implemented at the start of school next year.
The college drug testing plan is a dangerous outgrowth of the Duterte administration’s abusive “war on drugs.” The order permits local governments, the police and other law enforcement agency to “carry out any drug-related operation within the school premises” with the approval of school administrators. This will effectively allow the police to extend their “anti-drug” operations to college and university campuses, placing students at grave risk.
“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,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “Education officials should be protecting students, not putting them in harm’s way through mandatory drug tests.”
Since President Rodrigo Duterte launched his abusive “war on drugs” on June 30, 2016, more than 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed by Philippine National Police officers or unknown gunmen. Human Rights Watch research found that the police have routinely committed extrajudicial executions of drug suspects and then covered up their crimes by planting drugs and guns at the scene. The police often target individuals whose names appeared on neighborhood “drug watch lists” drawn up by local officials in collusion with the police.
The higher education commission order does not require, but “strongly encourages,” schools of higher education to impose random mandatory drug testing of students and applicants. It follows the Department of Education’s announcement in May that it will launch random drug tests of primary, elementary, and high school students later this year.
Sanctions imposed on students could make them more vulnerable to police abuse. Although the order requires that educational authorities keep confidential the results of students who test positive for drug use, schools are empowered to impose sanctions on those students or school applicants, including expulsion or admission denial. The order also allows schools to penalize students or applicants who refuse drug tests “subject to the relevant sanctions as provided in the [higher education]student handbook,” without elaborating.
The order justifies mandatory drug tests as a means to identify drug users for the purpose of rehabilitation. However, Philippine drug rehabilitation programs are overwhelmingly coercive and detention-oriented, contrary to international standards. Human Rights Watch has long called on the Philippine government and its multilateral donors to ensure that its drug-dependence treatment programs are voluntary, community-based, and comport with international standards and human rights principles.
The mandatory testing of children for drug use raises human rights concerns. Taking a child’s bodily fluids, whether blood or urine, without their consent, may violate the right to bodily integrity and constitute arbitrary interference with their privacy and dignity. Depending on the manner in which such testing occurs, it could also constitute degrading treatment, and may deter children from attending school or college for reasons unrelated to any potential drug use, depriving them of their right to an education. In many situations, excluding a student from studies due to a positive drug test may also be a disproportionate limitation on a child’s right to education.
“Mandatory drug testing of students puts them in the crosshairs of Duterte’s abusive drug war, risking the creation of a school-to-cemetery track for students testing positive for drugs,” Kine said. “The Philippine government should educate students about the health hazards of illegal drugs—not make them targets for unlawful killings by police and their agents.”