Drug abuse among PUV drivers worries officials

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Monday, April 9, 2012


ONE way to prevent illegal drug users from driving public utility vehicles (PUV) is to stop mandatory drug tests, an official said.

“Mandatory drug testing must be scrapped and should be replaced with random drug testing, which is very effective as shown in the latest act of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) 7,” said lawyer Clarence Paul Oaminal, a former vice chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board.

As of Black Saturday, 21 out of 165 PUV drivers randomly tested by the LTO showed traces of illegal drugs in their system. Their licenses were suspended.

The LTO 7 yesterday also said that because the number of PUV drivers who failed random roadside tests is alarming, the criminal justice system should play a stronger role in preventing drug abuse among their ranks.

LTO 7 Director Raul Aguilos said their agency can only revoke the licenses of the errant PUV drivers, but have no power to get them rehabilitated or to prosecute them.

Both the LTO and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) can’t say yet how many PUV drivers are believed to be on illegal drugs.

But two officials, interviewed separately, named four areas in Cebu City where illegal drugs are easily available: Pasil, Duljo-Fatima, Ermita and A. Lopez in Labangon.

Oaminal recalled that in 2002, there were 2.9 million drivers who underwent drug tests and 11 percent were found positive of using illegal drugs.

However, when mandatory testing was implemented as part of the Dangerous Drugs Act, there were no longer any reports of applicants failing the drug test.

Because drivers’ licenses are good for three years, Aguilos said that some drivers simply cut back on drugs when they’re about to apply for renewal.

Random tests, he and Oaminal believe, would catch more junkies among drivers.

In a phone interview, Director Levi Ortiz of the PDEA 7 said some of the PUV drivers rely on runners who procure shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) for them for as low as P150, enough to keep them awake and working late at night.

P150

He said illegal drugs are prevalent in the barangays of Pasil, Duljo-Fatima, Ermita and A. Lopez, Labangon in Cebu City. Oaminal mentioned the same areas in a separate interview.

“Parehas ra na kon asa ang lami nga pagkaon adto sila magtapok nga karenderiya (For some drivers, it’s just like converging at an eatery where the food is good),” said Ortiz.

Ortiz said the PDEA 7 and LTO 7 are conducting random drug tests to protect commuters, because they suspect there’s a link between drug abuse and road accidents.

Aside from drug tests, Ortiz said they are conducting buy-bust operations and raids against suspected personalities in the narcotic trade.

“The LTO will continue to sustain random roadside drug tests and we hope that appropriate funding could be provided by the government,” said Aguilos. “All sectors must help and cooperate with each other not only in the transport sector, but the entire community.”

Teaching

The 21 whose licenses were suspended last week may lose them if a test in Manila confirms the drug test results. They can apply for another license only if they can show a certificate of drug rehabilitation from a government-accredited center.

Last March 29, the LTO 7 also conducted random roadside drug tests, and four out of the 51 drivers tested were found positive of using illegal drugs.

Oaminal added that government authorities tasked to combat illegal drugs must integrate drug awareness in the process of applying for a driver’s license.

“Education is an indispensable pillar for a drug-free society,” Oaminal said.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 09, 2012.

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