MANILA — Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said the agency wants unvaccinated beneficiaries of the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) program “dis-incentivized” if they continue to resist getting vaccinated against COVID-19. 

After receiving reports from local chief executives of beneficiaries continuing to hold out against getting jabbed, Malaya confirmed that DILG Sec. Eduardo Año proposed to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) a “no vaccine, no subsidy” policy. 

“If they refuse to get vaccinated, they cannot get any subsidy,” Malaya told dzBB.

In a report by The Philippine Star, Malaya said the government is also considering a COVID-19 vaccination day for workers not allowed by their employers to go on leave or to bring vaccines to remote areas.

He said several mayors are also offering incentives such as cash and rice to convince constituents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, noting Bicol and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region are among regions with low vaccination rates. 

The flagship anti-poverty alleviation program started during the Macapagal-Arroyo administration while late President Benigno Aquino III increased the beneficiaries from about 700,000 in 2020 to 4.4 million toward the end of his term. 

Inhumane and against the law

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, one of the authors of Republic Act number 11310 that institutionalized the 4Ps, has labelled DILG’s proposal as “absolutely unacceptable, inhuman and callous” and noted that vaccination is not part of the conditions beneficiaries must fulfill to receive assistance. 

“It pains me to see a government that has shown nothing but a total callous disregard for the vulnerable sector of our society,” Drilon said in a statement released on November 7. 

“It only shows that the DILG is detached from reality and unaware of the real plight of the poor,” he added, urging the DILG to scrap the proposal.

“We cannot assume that they are not vaccinated because they refused vaccines. They are not vaccinated because they have limited access to vaccines especially in the countryside or the roll-out remains slow or the vaccines available are not what the people prefer,” he said.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, in a separate statement, reiterated that the aim of the 4Ps is “to help the poor by giving them some funds while also requiring them to do certain acts like having their children checked regularly at health centers”

Pimentel added that the proposal is illegal and if enforced, the law must be amended first.

“Adding incentives would work better in convincing beneficiaries to have themselves vaccinated, assuming there is enough supply of vaccines,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, on the other hand, is urging concerned agencies to work together with parent leaders to promote health and wellness by urging 4Ps beneficiaries to get vaccinated than making it a conditionality. 

Hontiveros also pointed out that the “conditions under RA 11310 are fixed and conditionalities may be suspended because we’re still under state of calamity until September 2022.”

Legal challenges

In a report by GMA News, Department of Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra told reporters on November 8, there are legal challenges and adverse political repercussions over a “no vaccine, no subsidy” policy for unvaccinated beneficiaries of 4Ps. 

Menardo noted that beneficiaries are “legally entitled” to the conditional cash transfer benefits “as long as they are complying with the law’s conditions for entitlement for the subsidy.”

“The 4Ps beneficiaries are the most marginalized families in our country. to remove their current benefits may give rise not only to legal challenges but more so to adverse political repercussions,” Guevarra said, noting that under the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, vaccination cards must not be a requirement for government transactions.

“Hence, non-vaccination against COVID-19 cannot be a ground for suspension or termination of conditional cash transfer benefits if the beneficiary household has already qualified, and continues to qualify, under the 4Ps act,” he added.

Malaya, meanwhile, believes the proposal has basis as the country is dealing with a public health emergency but admits there could be legal issues. 

“It’s precisely why 4Ps are called ‘conditional transfer’ – there are conditions before you get your regular subsidy from the government,” Malaya.