‘Mystery passengers’ to be deployed for enforcement of ‘no vaccine, no ride’ rule

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — If you’re taking public transportation, you may just find yourself seated next to a “mystery passenger” by Monday, when the Department of Transportation’s policy to ban unvaccinated people on public utility vehicles in Metro Manila takes effect.

The DOTr said Friday they will be deploying these mystery passengers in public transportation to check the enforcement of the “no vaccine, no ride” policy, which some transport groups have criticized for being impractical and violative of Filipinos’ right to mobility.

“This is to ensure that our drivers are following our policy even without the presence of uniformed enforcers,” DOTr Assistant Secretary Mark Steven Pastor said in Filipino in a press conference. “We will see how our program will be implemented on a daily basis without them knowing if there’s an enforcer or government official.”

Pastor said the mystery passengers will be paying for their own fare when they ride public transportation, which will be sourced from the pockets of unnamed DOTr officials and not from government coffers.

The deployment of mystery passengers is only one of the solutions offered by transportation officials during the press briefing, where they were quizzed about the feasibility of the enforcement of the ban on the unvaccinated on public transportation.

Asked about how passengers of traditional jeepneys can be screened for their vaccination status, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board chairperson Martin Delgra said they can show their vaccination card to the driver before riding.

Transportation officials were also asked about the potential for forgery of vaccination cards, to which they responded by putting the onus on the public to present legitimate proofs of vaccination.

“We know that our vaccination card is easy to forge,” Transportation Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon said in Filipino. “But if we think of it, the obligation of drivers and operators [to check vaccination cards] has an equivalent obligation for our riders and the public to give real vaccination cards.”

Much of the enforcement of the ban, most especially in land transportation, falls on the shoulders of drivers and operators, who can be penalized with a fine ranging from P1,000 to P10,000 or with a suspension or revocation of their franchise if they allow someone who has not been vaccinated onto their vehicles.

The DOTr, however, cannot penalize the unvaccinated for boarding public transportation as officials said they are outside their jurisdiction. 

Instead, the unvaccinated can be punished under city ordinances prohibiting them from going out of their homes and other relevant laws.

Transport marshalls and traffic enforcers will also be deployed to check on the implementation of the ban.

“There will be a lot of enforcers on the ground who will implement this,” Pastor said. “But we won’t say that they would be there all the time.”

As of writing, only 68.65% of Metro Manila’s population have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Department of Health. 

But those who have received their first dose have exceeded the capital region’s population, indicating that many may not be returning to get the full two doses of the jab.

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