Sunday, March 4, 2012

Social Justice Society v. Dangerous Drugs Board, G.R. No. 157870 (and other consolidated petitions), November 3, 2008


D E C I S I O N
(En Banc)

VELASCO, J.:

I.      THE FACTS

These consolidated petitions challenge the constitutionality of Sec. 36 of R.A. 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, insofar as it requires mandatory drug testing of (1) candidates for public office; (2) students of secondary and tertiary schools; (3) officers and employees of public and private offices; and (4) persons charged before the prosecutor’s office of a crime with an imposable penalty of imprisonment of not less than 6 years and 1 day.

The challenged section reads:

SEC. 36. Authorized Drug Testing. Authorized drug testing shall be done by any government forensic laboratories or by any of the drug testing laboratories accredited and monitored by the DOH to safeguard the quality of the test results.  x x x The drug testing shall employ, among others, two (2) testing methods, the screening test which will determine the positive result as well as the type of drug used and the confirmatory test which will confirm a positive screening test.  x x x The following shall be subjected to undergo drug testing:

            xxx                   xxx                   xxx

(c) Students of secondary and tertiary schools. Students of secondary and tertiary schools shall, pursuant to the related rules and regulations as contained in the school's student handbook and with notice to the parents, undergo a random drug testing x x x;

(d) Officers and employees of public and private offices. Officers and employees of public and private offices, whether domestic or overseas, shall be subjected to undergo a random drug test as contained in the company's work rules and regulations, x x x for purposes of reducing the risk in the workplace.  Any officer or employee found positive for use of dangerous drugs shall be dealt with administratively which shall be a ground for suspension or termination, subject to the provisions of Article 282 of the Labor Code and pertinent provisions of the Civil Service Law;

xxx                   xxx                   xxx

(f) All persons charged before the prosecutor's office with a criminal offense having an imposable penalty of imprisonment of not less than six (6) years and one (1) day shall undergo a mandatory drug test;

(g) All candidates for public office whether appointed or elected both in the national or local government shall undergo a mandatory drug test.

Sec. 36(g) is implemented by COMELEC Resolution No. 6486.

II.    THE ISSUES

1.    Do Sec. 36(g) of RA 9165 and COMELEC Resolution No. 6486 impose an additional qualification for candidates for senator? Corollarily, can Congress enact a law prescribing qualifications for candidates for senator in addition to those laid down by the Constitution?

2.    Are paragraphs (c), (d), and (f) of Sec. 36, RA 9165 unconstitutional?


III.   THE RULING

[The Court GRANTED the petition in G.R. No. 161658 and declared Sec. 36(g) of RA 9165 and COMELEC Resolution No. 6486 as UNCONSTITUTIONAL. It also PARTIALLY GRANTED the petition in G.R. Nos. 157870 and 158633 by declaring Sec. 36(c) and (d) of RA 9165 CONSTITUTIONAL, but declaring its Sec. 36(f) UNCONSTITUTIONAL. The Court thus permanently enjoined all the concerned agencies from implementing Sec. 36(f) and (g) of RA 9165.]

1.    YES, Sec. 36(g) of RA 9165 and COMELEC Resolution No. 6486 impose an additional qualification for candidates for senator; NO, Congress CANNOT enact a law prescribing qualifications for candidates for senator in addition to those laid down by the Constitution.

In essence, Pimentel claims that Sec. 36(g) of RA 9165 and COMELEC Resolution No. 6486 illegally impose an additional qualification on candidates for senator. He points out that, subject to the provisions on nuisance candidates, a candidate for senator needs only to meet the qualifications laid down in Sec. 3, Art. VI of the Constitution, to wit: (1) citizenship, (2) voter registration, (3) literacy, (4) age, and (5) residency.  Beyond these stated qualification requirements, candidates for senator need not possess any other qualification to run for senator and be voted upon and elected as member of the Senate. The Congress cannot validly amend or otherwise modify these qualification standards, as it cannot disregard, evade, or weaken the force of a constitutional mandate, or alter or enlarge the Constitution.

Pimentel’s contention is well-taken.  Accordingly, Sec. 36(g) of RA 9165 should be, as it is hereby declared as, unconstitutional.

Sec. 36(g) of RA 9165, as sought to be implemented by the assailed COMELEC resolution, effectively enlarges the qualification requirements enumerated in the Sec. 3, Art. VI of the Constitution.  As couched, said Sec. 36(g) unmistakably requires a candidate for senator to be certified illegal-drug clean, obviously as a pre-condition to the validity of a certificate of candidacy for senator or, with like effect, a condition sine qua non to be voted upon and, if proper, be proclaimed as senator-elect. The COMELEC resolution completes the chain with the proviso that “[n]o person elected to any public office shall enter upon the duties of his office until he has undergone mandatory drug test.”  Viewed, therefore, in its proper context, Sec. 36(g) of RA 9165 and the implementing COMELEC Resolution add another qualification layer to what the 1987 Constitution, at the minimum, requires for membership in the Senate. Whether or not the drug-free bar set up under the challenged provision is to be hurdled before or after election is really of no moment, as getting elected would be of little value if one cannot assume office for non-compliance with the drug-testing requirement.

2. NO, paragraphs (c) and (d) of Sec. 36, RA 9165 are NOT UNCONSTITUTIONAL; YES, paragraphs (f) thereof is UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

As to paragraph (c), covering students of secondary and tertiary schools

Citing the U.S. cases of Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton and Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County, et al. v. Earls, et al., the Court deduced and applied the following principles: (1) schools and their administrators stand in loco parentis with respect to their students; (2) minor students have contextually fewer rights than an adult, and are subject to the custody and supervision of their parents, guardians, and schools; (3) schools, acting in loco parentis, have a duty to safeguard the health and well-being of their students and may adopt such measures as may reasonably be necessary to discharge such duty; and (4) schools have the right to impose conditions on applicants for admission that are fair, just, and non-discriminatory.

Guided by Vernonia, supra, and Board of Education, supra, the Court is of the view and so holds that the provisions of RA 9165 requiring mandatory, random, and suspicionless drug testing of students are constitutional. Indeed, it is within the prerogative of educational institutions to require, as a condition for admission, compliance with reasonable school rules and regulations and policies.  To be sure, the right to enrol is not absolute; it is subject to fair, reasonable, and equitable requirements.

As to paragraph (d), covering officers and employees of public and private offices

As the warrantless clause of Sec. 2, Art III of the Constitution is couched and as has been held, “reasonableness” is the touchstone of the validity of a government search or intrusion. And whether a search at issue hews to the reasonableness standard is judged by the balancing of the government-mandated intrusion on the individual's privacy interest against the promotion of some compelling state interest. In the criminal context, reasonableness requires showing of probable cause to be personally determined by a judge. Given that the drug-testing policy for employees—and students for that matter—under RA 9165 is in the nature of administrative search needing what was referred to in Vernonia as “swift and informal disciplinary procedures,” the probable-cause standard is not required or even practicable. Be that as it may, the review should focus on the reasonableness of the challenged administrative search in question.

The first factor to consider in the matter of reasonableness is the nature of the privacy interest upon which the drug testing, which effects a search within the meaning of Sec. 2, Art. III of the Constitution, intrudes. In this case, the office or workplace serves as the backdrop for the analysis of the privacy expectation of the employees and the reasonableness of drug testing requirement. The employees' privacy interest in an office is to a large extent circumscribed by the company's work policies, the collective bargaining agreement, if any, entered into by management and the bargaining unit, and the inherent right of the employer to maintain discipline and efficiency in the workplace. Their privacy expectation in a regulated office environment is, in fine, reduced; and a degree of impingement upon such privacy has been upheld.

Just as defining as the first factor is the character of the intrusion authorized by the challenged law. Reduced to a question form, is the scope of the search or intrusion clearly set forth, or, as formulated in Ople v. Torres, is the enabling law authorizing a search "narrowly drawn" or "narrowly focused"?

The poser should be answered in the affirmative. For one, Sec. 36 of RA 9165 and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR), as couched, contain provisions specifically directed towards preventing a situation that would unduly embarrass the employees or place them under a humiliating experience. While every officer and employee in a private establishment is under the law deemed forewarned that he or she may be a possible subject of a drug test, nobody is really singled out in advance for drug testing. The goal is to discourage drug use by not telling in advance anyone when and who is to be tested. And as may be observed, Sec. 36(d) of RA 9165 itself prescribes what, in Ople, is a narrowing ingredient by providing that the employees concerned shall be subjected to “random drug test as contained in the company’s work rules and regulations x x x for purposes of reducing the risk in the work place.”

For another, the random drug testing shall be undertaken under conditions calculated to protect as much as possible the employee's privacy and dignity. As to the mechanics of the test, the law specifies that the procedure shall employ two testing methods, i.e., the screening test and the confirmatory test, doubtless to ensure as much as possible the trustworthiness of the results. But the more important consideration lies in the fact that the test shall be conducted by trained professionals in access-controlled laboratories monitored by the Department of Health (DOH) to safeguard against results tampering and to ensure an accurate chain of custody. In addition, the IRR issued by the DOH provides that access to the drug results shall be on the “need to know” basis; that the “drug test result and the records shall be [kept] confidential subject to the usual accepted practices to protect the confidentiality of the test results.”  Notably, RA 9165 does not oblige the employer concerned to report to the prosecuting agencies any information or evidence relating to the violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act received as a result of the operation of the drug testing. All told, therefore, the intrusion into the employees’ privacy, under RA 9165, is accompanied by proper safeguards, particularly against embarrassing leakages of test results, and is relatively minimal.

Taking into account the foregoing factors, i.e., the reduced expectation of privacy on the part of the employees, the compelling state concern likely to be met by the search, and the well-defined limits set forth in the law to properly guide authorities in the conduct of the random testing, we hold that the challenged drug test requirement is, under the limited context of the case, reasonable and, ergo, constitutional.

Like their counterparts in the private sector, government officials and employees also labor under reasonable supervision and restrictions imposed by the Civil Service law and other laws on public officers, all enacted to promote a high standard of ethics in the public service.  And if RA 9165 passes the norm of reasonableness for private employees, the more reason that it should pass the test for civil servants, who, by constitutional command, are required to be accountable at all times to the people and to serve them with utmost responsibility and efficiency.

As to paragraph (f), covering persons charged before the prosecutor’s office with a crime with an imposable penalty of imprisonment of not less than 6 years and 1 day

Unlike the situation covered by Sec. 36(c) and (d) of RA 9165, the Court finds no valid justification for mandatory drug testing for persons accused of crimes. In the case of students, the constitutional viability of the mandatory, random, and suspicionless drug testing for students emanates primarily from the waiver by the students of their right to privacy when they seek entry to the school, and from their voluntarily submitting their persons to the parental authority of school authorities. In the case of private and public employees, the constitutional soundness of the mandatory, random, and suspicionless drug testing proceeds from the reasonableness of the drug test policy and requirement.

We find the situation entirely different in the case of persons charged before the public prosecutor's office with criminal offenses punishable with 6 years and 1 day imprisonment.  The operative concepts in the mandatory drug testing are “randomness” and “suspicionless.”  In the case of persons charged with a crime before the prosecutor's office, a mandatory drug testing can never be random or suspicionless.  The ideas of randomness and being suspicionless are antithetical to their being made defendants in a criminal complaint.  They are not randomly picked; neither are they beyond suspicion.  When persons suspected of committing a crime are charged, they are singled out and are impleaded against their will.  The persons thus charged, by the bare fact of being haled before the prosecutor’s office and peaceably submitting themselves to drug testing, if that be the case, do not necessarily consent to the procedure, let alone waive their right to privacy.  To impose mandatory drug testing on the accused is a blatant attempt to harness a medical test as a tool for criminal prosecution, contrary to the stated objectives of RA 9165.  Drug testing in this case would violate a person’s right to privacy guaranteed under Sec. 2, Art. III of the Constitution. Worse still, the accused persons are veritably forced to incriminate themselves.

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