MANILA: Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to invoke police powers of arrest against members of the public refusing to receive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination jabs.
The leader’s warning came ahead of the government’s announcement on Tuesday that from October the Philippines would be stepping up its inoculation program to include the general public and children aged between 12 and 17 in a bid to achieve herd immunity and a gradual return to normal life.
The southeast Asian country of 110 million people has recorded one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Asia, prompting authorities to impose strict anti-virus measures in the worst-affected areas and relax curbs in other parts to spur economic activity.
However, vaccination measures have been slow, with only 20.3 million or 26 percent of the population fully vaccinated and 23.6 million receiving their first dose since March when the government launched its vaccination drive for priority groups including health workers, senior citizens, those with more than one medical condition, economic frontliners, and the needy.
In a recorded address aired on Monday night, Duterte urged the public to get immunized, specifically Filipinos residing in areas with plentiful supplies of COVID-19 vaccine.
He said: “Government has no power to compel any religion, faith, or church. We can only cooperate. But the police power of the state can be invoked if you pose a threat to others ... (because) then you are already a danger to society.”
Once the Philippines had achieved herd immunity through mass immunization, it would be “safe to gradually ease restrictions,” he added. “I now encourage you — those who have yet to receive the vaccines — to get inoculated. We are almost pleading on our knees.”
During a press conference on Tuesday, Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said: “The good news is, the president has approved the vaccination of the general population beginning October. We will also start inoculating children (between 12 to 17 years of age) in October. This has also been approved by the president.”
Roque also urged parents to register their children for vaccination.
Malacanang’s announcement came a day after Duterte’s threat to invoke police power of the state on those who refused to get vaccinated. The president also warned government employees to leave their office if they refused vaccination, especially those on the frontline or tasked with interacting with people.
Citing a report from the Food and Drug Administration, he said that unvaccinated people who got infected with COVID-19 were likely to get hospitalized with more severe or critical conditions compared to those who were already inoculated.
National Union of People’s Lawyers Secretary-General Edre Olalia on Tuesday told Arab News that it was a “tricky, debatable, and complicated” matter as to whether the president could implement police powers against those choosing not to receive a jab.
He said: “As a general rule, the state can invoke police power for the protection of life, public health, and for the public interest. But there are loose ends that need to be tied up. These include questions of liberty, necessity, privacy, proportionality, coverage, parameters, and even sanctions of specific measures to make it compulsory or mandatory.
“Yet resorting to the use of police power under the circumstances in the country dodges or ignores questions on availability and access to the vaccines as well as to the who, when, and where,” he added.
Meanwhile, in his report to the president, National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer secretary, Carlito Galvez Jr., said that the Philippines was expecting the delivery of COVID-19 jabs to reach 100 million by the end of October.
He added that economic centers such as Metro Manila, and the cities of Baguio, Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao had surpassed the 50 percent vaccination targets in their areas.
On the government’s announcement, Mariel San Diego, a fully vaccinated government employee based in Luzon island’s Pampanga province, said it would be better for the president to allow local government units to act on the matter. “If he really wants to do it, maybe he should start in his home city, Davao.”
Virginia Pasalo, a resident of Pangasinan province, said: “The virus does not come from the unvaccinated. Both vaccinated, and unvaccinated can be carriers or transmitters. My choice of not getting the vaccine is from my family’s history of allergic reactions. I could die with just a shot.”