The Department of Transportation (DOTr) said Thursday the “no vaccination, no ride” policy in public transportation in the National Capital Region was aimed at avoiding total lockdown experienced in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The DOTr statement came amid rising opposition to restrictions on people’s mobility in Metro Manila, where nearly 13 million of the 110 population live and work, following the increasing infections daily in the national capital, breaching the 30,000 mark each day since January 1.
The DOTr said such a shutdown might occur if more public transport personnel tested positive for COVID-19.
“We are doing everything we can to maintain and keep our public transport operations safe and running. It will be a much heavier burden for commuters if we experience a repeat of public transport closures,” the DOTr said.
“If we do not act now, all industries and business sectors will be severely affected. Either the businesses will minimize workers, cut down on some parts of their business, retrench employees, or shut down to cut down on losses or pay off debts,” it added.
The department made the statement following criticisms for the policy’s legality and discrimination against unvaccinated individuals.
The policy requiring full vaccination against COVID-19 in public transport is not discrimination but a means to protect public health, the agency said.
“We would also wish to assure the public that the implementation of the said policy will be both tolerant and firm,” the DOTr said.
The policy’s legal basis includes the DOTr’s department order, the recent resolution by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, and the ordinances issued by all local government units (LGU) in the NCR that limit the mobility of the unvaccinated.
“To be clear, there is no directive to prohibit travel. Unvaccinated individuals are allowed to travel by using other means aside from public transport. Even the Department Order of the DOTr has exceptions,” the DOTr said.
It said the policy did not violate Republic Act 11525 which states that vaccine cards shall not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for educational, employment and other similar government transaction purposes.
“Access to public transportation is not among those enumerated in the prohibition. The Administrative Code prevails, which mandates DOTr to provide safe transportation services to the general public,” the DOTr said.
Beginning Monday, only fully vaccinated individuals will be allowed to take public transportation in Metro Manila.
Exempted from the policy are individuals with medical conditions that prevent full COVID-19 vaccination and those who will procure essential goods and services as evidenced by a medical certificate or a barangay health pass.
Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said there should be designated coaches or buses in trains or in public utility buses for riders who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19.
“There should be no discrimination among the riding public,” said Sotto who is running for vice president under the Narionalist People’s Coalition.
“There are many options, but to destabilize the means of transportation of our people should not be the only option. Think. Explore. There are plenty of other ways to fight the pandemic,” he added.
Senator Joel Villanueva said any policy on public transportation should primarily focus on the welfare of commuters, a large portion of whom are workers going to and from their places of work and their homes.
He said an all-out ban on unvaccinated individuals in public transportation – with little to no viable alternative options – would only create resentment and animosity, warning this would only discourage them to get vaccinated.
For Sen. Nancy Binay, she questioned how the DOTr could implement this policy.
“We recognize that transmissions can easily spread in enclosed settings like trains and buses, but retrofitting PUVs is the more practical approach since COVID is now part of our life,” Binay said.
Reacting on the same issue, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it begged the question — “Are there enough vaccine doses available even for the willing? If not, it’s unfair.”
“Indiscriminately punishing even the willing but have no choice due to government shortcomings in providing for their protection should first be taken into consideration before taking a drastic action of possibly denying those people their means of livelihood to feed their families,” noted the standard bearer of the Partido Reporma in the upcoming elections.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the House committee on ways and means, said the issuance was clearly “out of line with the most fundamental right to mobility.”
“The point of vaccination is to ensure that we can keep the economy open. With 58 million Filipinos still without vaccines, restricting their mobility is nowhere near allowing the economy to operate,” Salceda said.
“Before restrictive policies, we have to guarantee that anyone who wants a vaccine can get one. As such, the means to get a vaccine have to be widely available and with a special preference towards the poor. Otherwise, it could deny access to basic public services among the poor who want to get vaccinated, but whose LGUs have not reached them yet,” Salceda said.
Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said public transport was a public utility and should not be denied to anyone who needed access to it.
“This policy is simply absurd, unconstitutional, anti-poor and discriminatory,” Castro said in a statement.
“Instead of barring unvaccinated people from using public transport, why won’t the DOTr instead provide free rides to vaccination sites and help the government educate people and curb vaccine hesitancy?”