MANILA, Philippines – The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) called on the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to withdraw its directives that allow colleges and universities to prevent unvaccinated students from attending face-to-face classes.
In a press briefing on Monday, August 22, PAO chief Persida Acosta said she had sent a letter to CHED Chairperson Prospero de Vera III, asking if the agency could instead adopt the same policy as the Department of Education’s, which allows all students, regardless of vaccination status, to attend in-person classes.
Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte in July 2022 set no preconditions for the opening of classes for basic education in the Philippines, saying that there “should be no segregation, no discrimination for the unvaccinated learners because vaccination is not mandatory.”
“The said letter was an action taken by PAO in response to the requests for legal assistance from a number of parents and students who are about to enroll, are enrolling, and are currently in their third, fourth, or fifth year in their studies,” Acosta said, adding that her office was yet to receive a reply from CHED.
“These students, with their parents, called and wrote the PAO to seek help regarding their fate of ever starting or finishing their courses, considering their COVID-19 vaccination status,” she added.
PAO is targeting CHED Memorandum Order No. 1, dated March 18, 2022, which states that “only fully vaccinated teaching, non-teaching personnel, and students shall be allowed in the premises, while unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students shall continue under flexible learning modalities.”
This memorandum supported the joint memorandum circular by CHED and the Department of Health issued in December 2021, which says that “only fully vaccinated students of [higher educational insitutitions] located in areas under Aler Level 1, 2, and 3 shall be allowed to join limited face-to-face classes.”
Acosta argued that these directives violate the “basic human right” of students, as well as “tramples on their dignity as human persons.”
This is not the first time Acosta has figured in vaccination controversies. She was notorious for her fight against the Dengvaxia vaccine despite the lack of scientific research that linked the vaccine to deaths. This issue is often cited as one of the main reasons behind vaccine hesitancy in the Philippines.
In February 2022, Acosta signed a petition that two parents filed with the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, questioning the then-planned COVID-19 vaccination rollout for children.
Then-president Rodrigo Duterte himself urged her to keep her belief to herself, after she confessed in a January 17, 2022, ANC Headstart interview that she still had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 due to health issues and her age.
Then-senator Franklin Drilon also said that Acosta should not be allowed to report to work if she refused vaccine shots, adding that her stand could promote vaccine hesitancy in the country. – Rappler.com