Doctors, lawyers question basis and fairness of 'requiring' vaccination

Doctors, lawyers question basis and fairness of 'requiring' vaccination
Authorities ask for vaccination cards from individuals and motorists entering Taguig City during their vaccination checkpoint operation held at Brgy. North Daang Hari on Jan. 21, 2022.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — More groups are questioning the national government's continuing strongarm approach towards the unvaccinated, pointing to pandemic task force policies that they said tend to "blatantly flout the constitutional rights of Filipinos and the laws of the Philippines."

To recall, Malacañang said employees who are unvaccinated cannot be terminated but will be required to undergo regular RT-PCR testing at their own expense. This, while the transportation department has implemented a "no vaccination, no ride" order on public transportation. 

As of this writing, only 67.8% of Metro Manila residents are fully vaccinated while just 88% or almost nine out of ten households in Metro Manila do not own private vehicles and rely on public transport. 

In a statement, the group Concerned Doctors and Citizens of the Philippines hit what it said was the "discriminatory, segregationist, and unconstitutional" measures proposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, namely:

  • Allowing public and private establishments to "validly refuse entry and/or deny service to individuals who remain to be unvaccinated, or are merely partially vaccinated."
  • Encouraging local government units to issue orders or ordinances "...requiring proof of vaccination before individuals and/or entities may undertake or qualify for certain activities."
  • Enjoining all government agencies to implement measures prioritizing fully vaccinated individuals availing of government programs and services.

"Requiring vaccination as a prerequisite to restoring to work on-site is a form of coercion depriving Filipinos of their constitutional right to make informed decisions about their personal health," the group said. 

"This measure being pushed by the IATF removes the ability of unvaccinated individuals to rejoin their workplace, and is thus a form of coercion that goes directly against the freedom to make informed health decisions."

Although President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly argued that the state can compel vaccination, there have been no moves to pass a law that will make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory. The Palace has also yet to issue any written orders making vaccination mandatory among government personnel.

READ: Gov’t makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for on-site workers in areas with enough shots

In arguing that the requirement was a form of "financial coercion," Concerned Doctors and Citizens of the Philippines also pointed to the costly expenses of RT-PCR tests, saying that "given the salary scales in the Philippines, a vast majority of unvaccinated workers cannot afford to shoulder additional expenses of this magnitude."

"In effect, the IATF is using mandatory required testing as a financial cudgel to coerce unvaccinated workers to either take vaccines or face the prospect of financial ruin."

The COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 or Republic Act No. 11525 provides that vaccine cards shall not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for educational and employment purposes.

The Department of Labor and Employment has also come up with an advisory saying employees cannot be compelled to get vaccinated. 

RELATED: DOLE call for paid quarantine leave not enough, workers say

IBP: No legal basis 

The 1987 Constitution provides that "neither shall the right of travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law."

Philippine jurisprudence holds that "the requirement for a legislative enactment was purposely added to prevent inordinate restraints on the person's right to travel by administrative officials who may be tempted to wield authority under the guise of national security, public safety, or public health."

In a separate statement over the weeked, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines said the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act and the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 have no provisions authorizing the limitation of right to travel on the basis of their vaccination status. 

The IBP also questioned the wisdom of the policies, pointing out that around half of the country's population is still unvaccinated. 

"There are not enough vaccines yet that the remaining unvaccinated individuals can avail of; thus, they are being penalized for not availing of something that is not yet available to them," it said. 

"An overwhelming majority of individuals aged 17 years or younger have not yet been vaccinated [while] there is not enough data at the local government or barangay level as to the number and identity of individuals who have been vaccinated or not." 

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

The IBP questioned whether individuals can be legally compelled to be vaccinated, pointing out that there is no law that requires individuals to undergo compulsory inoculation. 

The IBP acknowledged that while the ordinances and department orders "are apparently intended to protect public health," they also "at the same time restrict an individual's right to travel or movement."

It also said that the exemptions outlined in the DOTr's order are "not sufficient to address the legal questions that can be raised."

"We therefore urge the government both national and local to take a second hard look at these policies in order to uphold the rule of law," it said. 

 — Franco Luna with reports from Kristine Joy Patag and Xave Gregorio 

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