Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon is bracing for a possible “court battle” over restrictions the unvaccinated claim curtails personal liberty.
Drilon noted that restricting the movement of unvaccinated individuals could be defended as an exercise of the inherent police power of the State to protect public health. But whether such is a reasonable exercise of its constitutional power is a matter for the courts to decide.
“This is a classic clash of interests. It’s a clash between personal liberty and the police power of the state,” said the former justice secretary.
He said both are constitutional rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
In Iloilo City, the city council recently unanimously approved an ordinance restricting the movement and access to services of unvaccinated people.
As the government’s “no vaccination, no ride” policy meets strong backlash, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on January 20 said Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia’s decision to junk the controversial policy supports the marginalized in the province.
“She is receiving wise and great counsel from her advisers,” the vice-presidential bet of the Liberal Party said.
Metro Manila has enforced the policy supposedly as a way to curb the spread of the more transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant. Only fully vaccinated individuals will be allowed to use public transportation.
But Garcia announced that Cebu will not heed the rule because it is anti-poor.
Instead, she ordered the police to set up checkpoints to ensure that passengers wear face masks, that public utility vehicles ply their routes with windows open, and physical distancing and other health protocols are followed.
The Governor said Republic Act 115251 (Covid-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021) provides “that the vaccine cards shall not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for educational, employment and other similar government transaction purposes.”
Calls for a halt in the no vax, no ride implementation has since snowballed after Pangilinan made the plea to the government to end it as it will only punish the poor.
Pangilinan said he hopes other local government units will take a second look at the policy and follow Cebu’s firm stance to side with reason and compassion in dealing with the pandemic.
Instead of penalizing and punishing Filipinos, notably the poor ones, Pangilinan said the government should do better and do more to administer vaccines on a daily basis.
“The government is not admitting that the core of the problem is the lack of readily available supply of vaccines. There is an extremely limited number of vials of vaccines transported to vaccine sites daily. People are willing to be vaccinated but the government supply (is not enough),” Pangilinan said.
Two years into the pandemic, Pangilinan said they are still fixing the supply chain system.
“Yet, the government has no all-out campaign to educate, inform, and communicate to the public why anti-Covid vaccines are important. Parusa at pahirap lang ang alam nilang gawin,” noted the running mate of Vice-president Leni Robredo in the upcoming elections.
The first day of its implementation in Metro Manila was chaos as thousands were denied in buses or jeepneys, including workers and those who have yet to complete their doses.
Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello III clarified that workers are exempted from the no vax, no ride policy. He also apologized for the confusion over the roll-out of the policy.
Meanwhile, Drilon said the national government is exercising its police power to protect the general welfare, including the health of the people.
He also cited the general welfare clause as a sufficient authority to the government to implement measures for the “maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty, and property, and promotion of the general welfare.”
However, Drilon pointed out even in the most sophisticated and most established democracies in the world, the issue still exists. “This has to be resolved by the courts,” he said.
For his part, Senate Committee on Health Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go said, “I welcome any investigation, if warranted. The government should make the public understand this policy which shouldn’t trigger any fight,” he said.
Go issued the statement after a lawmaker filed House Resolution number 2451 on January 18, urging the House of Representatives’ committees on Health and Transportation to conduct a joint inquiry on the alleged “illegal and discriminatory” policy which prohibits certain unvaccinated individuals from accessing public transport in Metro Manila.
“The ‘no vax, no ride’ policy, I am told, is designed to protect the unvaccinated individuals, considering that 85 percent of COVID-19 patients at the ICUs requiring mechanical ventilators in DOH hospitals in Metro Manila are not vaccinated,” he noted.
According to the Department of Transportation, 23 passengers have tested positive in the free, random, and voluntary COVID-19 antigen testing being conducted in Metro Manila’s railways.
Eight out of 96 tested passengers were from Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3),12 out of 85 from Light Rail Transit 2 (LRT-2), and three out of 47 from Philippine National Railways (PNR) stations.
As of January 19, the government has successfully administered 121.49 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines nationwide. Out of these numbers, about 56.44 million Filipinos are fully vaccinated while 59.43 million have received their first dose. Meanwhile, 5.61 million Filipinos already got their booster shots.