POSTSCRIPT / June 26, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Drug-test officials before school kids

BEFORE subjecting grade school children to drug tests, the government better conduct first mandatory drug screening of ranking officials in all branches — from Malacañang, the judiciary, the Congress, the military and the police, etc., down to the mayors.

Elective and appointive officials should lead by example instead of looking down and proposing that school children from Grade 4 and above pass the tests as proof that they are not into narcotics. If youngsters could be suspected of drug abuse, why not their elders?

It was a good thing Education Secretary Leonor Briones argued against the planned mandatory drug testing of students and suggested that any screening be random. She said tests should hew to existing laws, including the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The original plan of mandatory testing at P200 per student would have cost the government reportedly around P2.8 billion, an amount that could be put to better use under a well-thought-out priority plan.

Based on its own computation, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers said the mandatory drug testing for about 20 million students and over 700,000 teachers nationwide would cost the government as much as P4 billion.

The DepEd already initiated last year discreet drug-testing of some 1,300 officials and personnel at its central office, 3,800 in the regions, 26,000 in the divisions, as well as 10,000 teachers and 21,000 high school students, to determine the effectiveness of prevention programs.

The drug-testing of all ranking officials now being suggested by some sectors before that of young students could be conducted by a composite group led by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency under the supervision of the Office of the President.

Drug-free officials should have no fear of a testing that is as transparent as a Red Cross blood donation. If some officials demur for legal, medical, religious or whatever reason, the public can make their own conclusion.

As a preliminary feeling out, private media could possibly help gauge the attitude of affected officials by asking them individually a Yes-or-No question if they are willing to undergo a drug test. Reporters can insert that one quick question in their interviews.

The responses can then be collated, tallied and published for the record – a la survey results – as they come in. The officials may choose to explain, but what counts is their Yes or No answer.

Those who should declare if they are willing to take a drug test must include the President, the Vice President, Cabinet members, SC/CA justices, RTC judges, senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, AFP/PNP generals/colonels, officers and board members of government-controlled firms, the Bilibid prisons director, jail wardens, and PDEA officers.

Even without being interviewed, officials are encouraged to issue statements saying whether or not they are willing and ready to take a drug test. An explanation is optional.

• Priests should not arm themselves

PRIESTS who have applied for, or have obtained, licenses to possess and permits to carry firearms should reconsider. Their superiors should order them to return quickly the licenses and properly dispose of the deadly weapons.

Those who fear for their lives in these violent times should be reminded that a gun, which is designed to main or kill, does not befit a man of God. Pistol-packing priests are the antithesis of their fellows who would embrace martyrdom for their faith.

Christ himself, while being arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, admonished Peter (when he drew his sword, swung and cut the ear of the servant of the high priest leading the posse) to put away the sword. The weapon was totally unnecessary.

Years of handling firearms and seeing them used in various situations have convinced me that a sidearm will not save a person — be he a priest or a president — from a determined assassin who has the means, the motive and the opportunity to kill.

Senior Supt. William Señoron, chief of the PNP Civil Security Group, reported last week that some priests have either applied for a gun permit or are renewing their licenses. At least 246 requests for licenses from prelates have reportedly been filed.

With everybody arming themselves against unknown or imagined assailants, we would end up with a sort of arms race that nobody wins except those who want precisely to sow fear and take advantage of the ensuing confusion.

This reflex reaction recalls recent suggestions for the arming of teachers on some US campuses scared by the spate of mass shootings in schools. Pistol-packing teachers are not the proper response to that type of madness – in the same way that gun-toting padres will not deter paid assassins.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle has asked the faithful to pray for priests and others “whose lives have been taken by persons without conscience.” He also asked for prayers for government officials for them to look after the welfare and safety of the citizens.

The cardinal said: “We pray for all the people in our beloved country – that we may all be courageous in our faith, steadfast in our belief and resolute in the face of evil threats. Lock the lips and restrain the arms of those who shatter peace and foment hatred that lead to violence.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 26, 2018)

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