Government officials as well as the general public are divided over the “no vax, no ride” policy for commuters in public utility vehicles that the Duterte administration began to enforce this week.

Under the new policy, unvaccinated persons are not allowed to use public transportation.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) said the move was necessary “to prevent a repeat of the public transport shut down, and safeguard those that are most at risk.”

The unvaccinated who do not own cars can “use other modes” instead, said the DOTr, with bicycles and motorcycles being the most common alternatives.

A transport advocacy group, however, said the Transport department’s “shotgun approach” would only inconvenience commuters and did not really address the ongoing COVID-19 omicron variant surge that is infecting tens of thousands daily.

The Move as One Coalition said the move “unduly burdens commuters and transport workers and fails to address more basic issues.”

Most affected are the daily paid or contractual workers who fall under the “no work, no pay” compensation scheme common in small retail and manufacturing businesses.
The Coalition said the spread of omicron is due to lack of ventilation in public transport and public spaces.

In a statement to local media, the Coalition said: “The policy will further burden weary commuters who already struggle to ride limited public transport and have no other way to travel. Excluding them from public transport would prevent them from going to work, earning a living, and feeding their families.”

It is not just commuters who are affected by the ban for the unvaccinated. The country’s airlines have also instituted a policy that passengers need to provide proof that they have been vaccinated before they can purchase tickets.

As of January 17, domestic flights will be closed to the unvaccinated, according to Philippine Airlines and AirAsia Philippines. In separate statements, they said only fully vaccinated individuals will be allowed to fly for as long as the national capital region is under Alert Level 3.

The country’s third airline, Cebu Pacific, said it would simply adhere to the government’s policy, but would allow passengers with paid tickets to move their flights to a later date.
President Rodrigo Duterte even threatened to have unvaccinated people who leave their residences arrested, although he was warned by law groups that such a move was not only illegal, but unconstitutional.

The highest-ranking government official to question the policy is Senate President Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto, an erstwhile close ally of the President but who is now running for vice-president against Duterte’s daughter Sara.

Sotto said the policy was “discriminating,” and would cause resentment among the unvaccinated poor. He urged the administration to employ more creative ways to address the problem.

The administration announced that it would field “mystery passengers” in public utility vehicles to make sure that the no vax, no ride policy would be followed by all public transport.

The mystery passengers will be authorized to assist traffic enforcers in enforcing the policy.
The Transport department insisted that the new policy was not meant to discriminate against the unvaccinated but rather to protect the general public, regardless of their vaccination status.

In a statement, the DOTr said: “On those saying that the no vaccination, no ride/entry policy in public transport is anti-poor, draconian or punitive, we believe that it is more anti-poor and anti-life if we will not impose interventions that will prevent loss of life due to non-vaccinations.”

The Transport department added that the policy is intended to keep the country from experiencing another transport shutdown as what happened during the Delta variant outbreak last year. Back then, the three major public rail transport systems – the MRT-3,

the LRT lines, and the PNR – stopped operations causing hundreds of thousands of commuters to scramble to find ways to head to and from their places of work.