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DOTr urged to let partially-vaccinated commute amid 'no vax, no ride' policy

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
DOTr urged to let partially-vaccinated commute amid 'no vax, no ride' policy
Unvaccinated individuals seen at Northport passenger terminal premise in Tondo Manila as they were not allowed to enter on the first day of no vaccine no ride on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022 .
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Progressive group Akbayan urged the Department of Transportation to allow partially-vaccinated commuters aboard public transportation amid the enforcement of its new "no vaccination, no ride" policy while senators called the rule an added burden if vaccination is not made more accessible to the people.

Under the DOTr's department order, transport operators "shall allow access or issue tickets only to fully-vaccinated persons as evidenced by physical or digital copies of an LGU-issued vaccine card."

As of this writing, however, only 67.8% of Metro Manila residents are fully vaccinated. Transport groups said earlier that many jeepney drivers are not fully vaccinated as scheduling their jabs meant having to take a leave from work. 

"Partially vaccinated people are on the path to full vaccination. The commitment to keep themselves healthy and safe is there. As such, it is only fair that as they wait for their second doses, they are not deprived of essential services like public transportation," Akbayan party-list second nominee RJ Naguit said in a statement sent to media. 

"While we support policies that aim to protect the public, especially the unvaccinated from the pandemic, these regulations must be reasonably practical and responsive to the people's concrete realities and experiences," Naguit, a doctor,  asserted in the statement.

Pangilinan: Policies 'with heart and humanity' needed

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who is running for vice president, said the department should make inoculation convenient by setting up vaccination stations in transportation hubs and other such places.

Pangilinan called the move a "punishment to our poor countrymen who just want to work, and do not have their own car." According to data from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, 88% or almost nine out of ten households in Metro Manila do not own private vehicles and have to rely on public transportation. 

"Only the ones who have only had first doses will be punished if they are not allowed to use mass transport. Most of them are already paid very little, so we can't put them in jeepneys to work?" he said in Filipino. 

"I'm sure if they could just work-from-home they would [comply], but they can't. It is obvious that the target of this policy is our poor countrymen."

Rights and transport groups earlier questioned the "extreme and unnecessary" policy, saying it doesn't address the root cause of low vaccination numbers, which is the lack of access to vaccines. 

Naguit reiterated Akbayan's call to the government to boost its vaccination drive by providing incentives, such as fuel and transportation subsidies, to the public.

"Let us reframe our approach to our health and safety protocols. Instead of punishing the unvaccinated by denying them access to services, let us show to them what they stand to gain if they decide to get vaccinated," Naguit said.

"The people are already struggling. Let's not add to their difficulties. Our health and safety policies, if they are to work, must be enforced with empathy, practicality, and humanity. Let's make sure there's still heart and humanity in our policies."

READ: DOTr says no tickets just yet in first day of 'no vax, no ride' implementation

Partially vaccinated still need to present requirements

The Department of Transportation has not budged on the rule thus far, saying the partially vaccinated are only exempted if they bring documents proving they belong to the two exempted groups: people with medical conditions, or people buying essential goods. 

Without proof of their exemption, the partially vaccinated will be denied public transportation. 

Asked about a viral report on GMA's "24 Oras" of a woman in tears after being denied entry, Transportation spokesperson Goddes Libiran said in Filipino in a message to reporters: "The problem is [she] did not show any proof of job appointment, ID, medical examination schedule/appointment, or even barangay health pass, to prove that travel is essential."

In the video report, the woman said that she received her first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in December and was just waiting to get her second dose in February.  

"If you have only just had your first dose, or are unvaccinated, but your trip is esential...you need to present proof that you  are actually going there, such as an ID that will prove that you are an employee there, or a medical appointment, certificate/appointment from the company with which you have an interview or exam, or health pass from the barangay," Libiran said. 

AstraZeneca has the longest waiting time between the first dose and second dose. 

Speaking at the Laging Handa briefing, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines Chief of Staff Danjun Lucas also pointed to the requirements when asked about partially-vaccinated individuals. 

"They're under the exemption [if] they can show certificates that they have medical conditions preventing them from taking the vaccine on time," he said. 

"In general, the Department Order is really just accepting fully-vaccinated individuals...but we used the definition of the IATF for fully-vaccinated individuals."

Crackdown on unvaccinated questioned 

The move comes as the latest in the national government’s strongarm approach towards the unvaccinated. Both national and local executives have ramped up pressure against the unvaccinated in the past few weeks.

Along with the Department of Transportation, Metro Manila's mayors earlier this month unanimously agreed to restrict the mobility of unvaccinated people in the capital region. A number of local governments have already passed ordinances banning the unvaccinated from entering malls, establishments, and public transportation in their localities.

On Sunday, the Department of the Interior and Local Government threatened to arrest unvaccinated barangay officials who refuse to resign or go on leave per its latest order.

Pangilinan, who has received the two doses and the booster shot, said it is unfair to attribute the rise of COVID cases in the country to unvaccinated individuals because there is no science backing this claim.

"Even if all those who have not been vaccinated are shut in at home, COVID-19 will still spread because there are vaccinated people who are asymptomatic," he said, citing data from the health department that more than 7,000 confirmed cases on Sunday did not have fever, cough, body aches.

Per the Department of Health's guidelines, testing is no longer required for close contacts of positive cases who are asymptomatic. 

In a separate statement Tuesday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a re-electionist, also criticized the measure, saying it "only adds to the burden on operators and drivers who still need to check that every passenger."

"We also appeal to the authorities, especially local governments, to consider passing policies or ordinances, which will further oppress and increase the burden and discrimination against our countrymen, whether vaccinated or not," she said in mixed Filipino and English. 

Senators urge tracing, better access, stronger information campaign 

Hontiveros, who earlier represented Akbayan in the House of Representatives, questioned the implementation of the "no vaccine, no ride" order, pointing out that vaccination cards are issued by different local governments and do not have a uniform system.

"It is not clear in this policy what our unvaccinated compatriots should do when they will still have to earn a living and earn for the family. This can be abused because possible interpretations vary and implementation is not clear," she said in Filipino.

"Public transport is an essential service, so it should not be denied to any rider. At present, vaccination cannot be made mandatory because only EUA has been given to them and clinical trials have not been completed."

Though she was careful to say she "recognized the good intentions" behind the order, Hontiveros added that "it only adds to the burden on operators and drivers who still need to check that every passenger is vaccinated."

Hontiveros called on the national government's coronavirus task force to focus on the root of the problem behind vaccination, starting with contact tracing, combing through communities to vaccinate, and launch a stronger information drive.

"For several years now, we have been calling for an increase in PCR tests per day to 150,000. Our countrymen need it more than any other type of lockdown," she said. 

Pangilinan said the surge will only worsen in the coming days if the national government continues to refuse to welcome suggestions on how to effectively handle the crisis.

“The average Filipino is still sick with COVID because the Philippines still does not have a proper health system. First of all, testing is very expensive. Secondly, even if there are symptoms, you would still not go to the hospital because it is expensive,” Pangilinan said.

“We cannot stop COVID if government policies do not take into account the status of the people. The first steps should be, and we have long said so, free testing, contact tracing, isolation of the sick, and vaccinations. It's already 2022 and nothing has changed." — with reports from Xave Gregorio and Angelica Y. Yang

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