In a determined bid to curb the spread of the virus, resuscitate the battered economy and bring back some normalcy to the lives of millions of Filipinos, President Duterte is threatening to order the police to arrest countless individuals who refuse to get vaccinated against Covid19.
During a late-night public address in Malacanang last week, Mr. Duterte said he would be forced into this drastic course of action amid the debilitating health crisis that has relegated the Philippines to “laggard in Asia” status in terms of economic activity, pandemic response and the vaccine rollout.
“There is a national emergency,” he said. “Mamili kayo, magpabakuna kayo o ipakulong ko kayo.”
(Translation: “Choose, get vaccinated or get arrested.”)
Government health experts had previously said that while they are urging the public to receive the vaccine, such an event is purely voluntary.
It also remained unclear where those who would be arrested will be detained, and what crime they would face, because Congress still has not passed a law that would outlaw declining to get a vaccination.
The latest data trackers indicate that the Philippines is reeling from one of the worst Covid outbreaks in the Far East with over 1.3 million confirmed cases and more than 23,000 deaths.
Duterte reasoned that everyone is a potential carrier of the virus, thus it is vital to get jabbed right away to protect the wellbeing of others.
“Kung ayaw n’yo magpabakuna, umalis kayo sa Pilipinas. Go to India or America, but as long as you are here, magpabakuna ka,” he said in his taped message.
“Don’t force my hand into it…I have a strong arm for that. But if you won’t get vaccinated, leave the Philippines,” Duterte was quoted as saying in the Inquirer.
And to show he is serious, Duterte said he would direct the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to order the barangay captains to make a list of residents who don’t want to get vaccinated.
“These are the stupid people, and they are really the carriers (of Covid),” he said.
The government’s anti-Covid19 vaccination campaign had early on experienced numerous road bumps when it insisted in administering the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine which had a rated efficacy of only 51 percent, or barely above the minimum acceptable level set by the World Health Organization (WHO), shunning Western brands like Pfizer, Moderna, Janssen and AstraZeneca whose efficacy ratings exceeded 90 percent.
And it didn’t help any when health authorities in Davao City (which is the hometown of President Duterte) announced on ANC News television that they were acquiring Pfizer vaccines for their residents.
The vaccination program started in March 2021, and the latest figures show that so far only some 2.09 million people have been fully vaccinated, while around 8 million have gotten their first shots.
Inter-Agency Covid19 Task Force (IATF) officials are hoping to inoculate between 50 to 60 percent of the 110-million population by the yearend to attain herd immunity and give Filipinos a “better Christmas.”
(Department Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra was quoted in reports as saying it will be next to impossible enforcing the President’s arrest order as there is no existing law which requires a person to get vaccinated. He said he believes Mr. Duterte was merely resorting to strong language to emphasize the gravity of the situation.)