Interior Secretary Eduardo Año INQUIRER FILE PHOTO
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) urged local government units (LGUs) in other parts of the country to copy what the National Capital Region (NCR) did and also implement policies to restrict the movement of unvaccinated persons.
In a statement on Thursday, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año supported the call of the League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP) and the regional pandemic task forces in encouraging LGUs to implement similar policies.
"Let us all move in one pace so that we can collectively surmount the threat of Omicron," he said, referring to the coronavirus variant that is being blamed for the current surge in COVID-19 cases.
During a Laging Handa public briefing on Jan. 15, LPP national president and Marinduque Gov. Presbitero Velasco Jr. said local chief executives instructed their city and municipal councils to impose restrictions on their unvaccinated constituents.
Velasco, a former Supreme Court associate justice, explained that while Filipinos have the constitutional right to travel or freedom of movement, there were exceptions to uphold public health or public safety.
"What the local chief executives should also really pursue is to properly explain the benefits of being vaccinated," he said.
Among the first provincial governments to issue a restriction ordinance was Cavite. On Jan. 10, the Cavite provincial board banned unvaccinated individuals from public transportation unless they needed access to essential goods or services. The policy covers non-Cavite residents who are working or traveling to the province.
Violators of movement restrictions in Metro Manila face fines of P500 to P5,000 or seven to 30 days in jail.
According to Año, such ordinances would give more teeth to the DILG directive to officials of each of the country's 42,046 barangays to compile a list of all unvaccinated individuals and submit them to the department. There are around 53 million, or 49 percent of the country's more than 110 million population, who are not vaccinated.
The DILG chief said his directive was "neither unconstitutional nor violative of a person's right to privacy because the data of unvaccinated persons is being collected for a legitimate purpose and that is to address the latest wave of COVID-19 infection."
Año assured the Commission on Human Rights that the list would not be published or made public.
He said the information "is needed by the State to properly implement quarantine protocols needed to protect the unvaccinated as well as to protect the health system from being overwhelmed."
There is still no law making mandatory vaccination enforceable.Republic Act No. 11525, or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act, states that vaccination shall not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for educational or employment purposes or conducting transactions with government.
Critics cry coercion
Critics say that the policies of the national government and LGUs coerce people to get inoculated and create conditions to force them to get jabbed.
One of them, vendor Gemma Parina, said in an interview with Radyo Inquirer, that she did not want to get vaccinated because of her heart condition and diabetes. She also does not believe COVID-19 exists.
She was enraged when she was forced to walk from her house to the Paco Market in Manila because of the government's "no vaccine, no ride" policy.
But according to the Department of Health, people with comorbidities like Parina are those with high risk of getting severe COVID-19 and vaccines now available in the country are allowed for this vulnerable sector of the population.
'Not their fault'
Health reform advocate Dr. Tony Leachon said vaccine hesitancy was due to ignorance and lack of education.
"It's not their fault (that they are not informed about the importance of vaccines). It's because there is no proper vehicle," he told the Inquirer.
To address this, the former adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19 suggested that the topic of vaccines must be integrated into the curriculum of the Department of Education (DepEd).
Infomercials and materials from the DOH must be handed out to DepEd so that teachers could pass them on to their students, he said.
"It would be easy to teach it so [if that happens], it will be a way of life," Leachon added. "So, education is the key."
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former justice secretary, also supported government restrictions on the mobility of unvaccinated individuals and this could be justified as an exercise of the inherent police power of the State to protect public health.
He also defended the power of local governments to impose local laws to restrict the movement and access to services of unvaccinated citizens, as local governments in general may assert that it is part of their duty to protect the health of their constituents.
Drilon also continued his rebuke of Public Attorney's Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta, who has openly criticized the government's "no vaccination, no ride" policy as unconstitutional."
While there is no mandatory vaccination, I think it is the duty of the Acostas of this world, especially PAO chief Acosta being in government office, to follow government policy," Drilon said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JANE BAUTISTA AND MELVIN GASCON
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