DOTr issues 30-day period to get vaccinated or be barred from PUVs
The government said on Wednesday that workers unvaccinated and partially vaccinated against COVID-19 can continue riding public transportation in Metro Manila for 30 days starting Jan. 26, after which they must comply with the “no vaccination, no ride” policy.
The announcement by the Department of Transportation (DOTr)—echoed by the Labor and Interior departments—seemed to contradict Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III’s declaration a week ago that unvaccinated workers were exempted from the policy because they provide “essential services.”
But Transportation Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon Jr., the department’s official representative to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), said the policy was in place to protect unvaccinated and partially vaccinated workers from developing severe COVID-19 infections.
“Data show that workers who remain unvaccinated against the virus that causes
COVID-19 are more vulnerable to severe and critical infections,” Tuazon said.
But the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) reiterated its claim that the policy is a form of punishment and discrimination for employees who have not gotten vaccinated against the coronavirus disease.
Alan Tanjusay, TUCP national spokesperson, said the Duterte administration should provide incentives to their employees to convince them to get vaccinated, such as giving them paid leaves, financial bonuses, rice allowance, or simply providing shuttle services going to vaccination sites.
The Associated Labor Unions (ALU) has also condemned the move, saying that vaccination is not mandatory under Republic Act 11525 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 that was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in February 2021.
The government should shoulder the expenses for the swab testing and antigen test of unvaccinated employees instead, the ALU added.
Last week, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said that while it supports the government’s vaccination drive, there is no legal basis for “no-vaccine-no-ride” and “no-vaccine-stay-home” rules.
The IBP expressed concern on the legal implications of recent developments affecting unvaccinated persons, saying the policies “appear to be unfair and unreasonable” as only around 54 million Filipinos or roughly half of the population have been given the COVID-19 vaccine.
The lawyers’ group also noted that not enough vaccines are available, majority of individuals 17 years and under have not yet been vaccinated, and that there is not enough data at the local government or barangay level on who have been vaccinated.
But Tuazon said that 30 days following the announcement of the new protocol, only workers in the NCR who are fully vaccinated—those who have completed the two-dose primary series vaccinations or the one-dose vaccination—will be allowed to use public transportation.
Tuazon added that the joint decision made by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the DOTr supports the government’s ongoing thrust to ramp up vaccination efforts, especially amid a surge caused by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
“This joint decision is also meant to support the vaccination drive of the entire government. We want our workers to get fully vaccinated especially now that there is no longer a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, and there is a threat of highly transmissible variants of the virus. We are giving our workers the time to get themselves vaccinated,” Tuazon said.
The government’s no jab, no ride policy has also come under heavy fire by groups who say it discriminates against the poor.
They also say it violates the law on COVID-19 vaccination, which states that COVID-19 vaccine cards “shall not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for education, employment, and other similar government transaction purposes.”
Tuazon said, however, that after the 30-day deadline, unvaccinated workers can still take other forms of transportation—such as private vehicles, company shuttles, or “active transport”—to go to work.
Earlier, the DOTr said it was considering opening mobile vaccination sites in transport hubs all over the country.
From Jan 24 to 28, the department is working with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to put up a vaccination center at the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX).
Tuazon said the PITX was only the first of such initiatives that may include railway stations, ports, and airports.