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President Duterte envisions drug-free higher education in the Philippines

Catholic students gesture while holding placards denouncing the numerous killings under President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs during a protest in front of the St. Scholastica's college in Metro Manila, Philippines July 18, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Having granted free tuition at all public colleges and universities, the government of firebrand Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte wants them to be “drug-free” as well.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) last week approved an order to allow all higher education institutions (HEIs) the ability to impose mandatory drug testing from 2018 in a bid to make all campuses in the Philippines “drug-free.”

The decision follows on from the Philippine Department of Education’s announcement in May it would be conducting random drug tests on school students of all ages from later this year.

“All HEIs are enjoined to adopt a strong policy on drug prevention on campus and among the youth,” read CHED’s order as quoted by CNN Philippines. Universities will be “strongly encouraged” to implement drug tests as part of their admission and retention requirements for students.

Duterte gestures as he delivers his speech during the 116th Police Service Anniversary inside the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines, on Aug 9, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

The announcement has come under criticism from opposition lawmakers and rights groups, however. Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the order a “dangerous outgrowth” of the Duterte administration’s notorious, “abusive ‘war on drugs.’”

Antonio Tinio, a parliamentarian from the opposition, said “blood is on the hands” of CHED if it follows through with pushing for criminalising students for drugs.

“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,” HRW deputy Asia director Phelim Kine.

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

Earlier this month, Duterte signed a bill which will grant fully subsidised education at all state universities and colleges, which is anticipated to cost US$2 billion and will form a “pillar” of the president’s social development policy.

Economists have warned free university would not benefit the poor because only 12 percent of students in public higher education institutions come from low-income families.

The Asia Pacific Report reported in June that drug dealers at Filipino universities were confident that their business would be unscathed by Duterte’s war on drugs.

“Duterte’s focus is on shabu and party drugs. I’m only using marijuana and cocaine,” said one dealer at a private university. Dealers said that they “feel protected” by a culture of corruption among police.

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