President Rodrigo Duterte's office said the national government would wait for Congress to pass a law allowing the state to arrest persons refusing COVID-19 vaccination.
The clarification, made by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday, June 22 during a press conference, comes a day after Duterte said he would order such arrests to ramp up vaccination rates.
Asked for the government's next steps to implement Duterte's order, Roque said, "Wala pa po. Para matupad 'yan, kinakailangan po ng batas (None yet. For that to be implemented, a law is needed)."
"It's clear that in the jurisprudence of the Philippines and America, compulsory vaccination may be implemented. But there must be a legal basis. We need an ordinance or a law that will impose a penalty on those who don't want to get vaccinated," said Roque in Filipino.
Malacañang is confident that Congress will supply the executive branch with the necessary law.
"Madali naman pong i-request 'yan sa Kongreso dahil alam naman ng Kongreso rin ang importansya ng pagbabakuna," said Roque.
(It's easy to request that from Congress because Congress knows the importance of vaccination.)
Asked if exemptions would be made for people with "legitimate" reasons to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine, like certain health concerns, Roque said he was sure lawmakers would consider that when crafting the law.
To support his assertion that laws provide basis for compulsory vaccination, he cited the Supreme Court decision on the case "People of the Philippines vs Jose Abad Santos" which affirmed that "the right of the state to compel compulsory vaccination is well-established."
The case was about a father who did not present his children for vaccination against small pox, flouting the Administrative Code, which imposed a fine of P10 for the failure.
The decision also referred to a US court decision on Jacobson vs Massachusetts which asserted that the liberties of an individual may be restrained "at times under pressures of great danger" through "reasonable regulations" if the safety of the public so demands.
However, the Philippine case dealt specifically with the penalty of a fine, not arrests.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, persons who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 also face fines.
Roque, meanwhile, said arresting such persons are within the police powers of the state. Asked if the policy violates the rights of persons to decide what goes into their bodies, the Duterte spokesperson said sacrificing this right is justified by the dangers of the pandemic.
"'When you say police power, there will really be rights that will be violated, but those rights are stepped on for the greater interest and that is public health and safety," said Roque.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra had a different understanding of Duterte's remarks. He believes the arrest threat was just an expression of frustration and that Duterte, as a lawyer, "knows that not getting vaccinated is a legal choice."
He also said no law criminalizes the refusal to get vaccinated.
Only 3 out of 10 Filipinos are willing to get vaccinated, according to a Social Weather Stations survey conducted in late April to early May.
Vaccine hesitancy poses a big challenge to the government's goal of vaccinating 50 million to 70 million adult Filipinos by the end of 2021. Only around 2% of the population have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.