President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night threatened to have people who refuse to be vaccinated arrested and forcibly inoculated, saying they are potential carriers of COVID-19.
“Don’t get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested and I’ll inject the vaccine in your butt,” Duterte said.
“So to all of you Filipinos listening: you have been warned: Don't force my hand into it. If you will not agree to be vaccinated, leave the Philippines. Go to India if you want or somewhere, to America."
Duterte's own spokesperson, the Department of Health and the Department of Justice, however, acknowledged that there is no law to back the arrest order, and that free and prior consent is needed before vaccination.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Tuesday said arresting people who refuse to be inoculated can only be done once a law is passed even as he acknowledged that the state has inherent police power to implement policies that could violate human rights in the name of safeguarding public health.
Roque, however, said Duterte should not be taken literally as he was merely trying to encourage people to be inoculated to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has already killed more than 23,000 people in the Philippines and more than 3.7 million people around the world.
“Do not take him literally. He was just saying, go to other jurisdictions because in the Philippines, we want our people to be vaccinated,” Roque said. “It is the President’s way of convincing the people to get vaccinated.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also played down Duterte’s threat to arrest people who refuse vaccination, saying the President was merely trying to emphasize the need for people to get inoculated.
He said the President has no intention of jailing those who refuse to get a jab, because as a lawyer, he knows there is no law that compels people to get vaccinated.
“I believe that the President merely used strong words to drive home the need for us to get vaccinated and reach herd immunity as soon as possible,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters. “As a lawyer he knows that not getting vaccinated is a legal choice.”
“There is no law as yet that compels vaccination against COVID-19, much less criminalizes it,” he added.
The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday said free, prior, and informed consent is a requirement for COVID-19 vaccination.
The DOH said that President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to arrest people refusing to get vaccinated against the disease was merely “born out of passion.”
“Our vaccines require free and prior informed consent, that’s why a consent form must be signed first,” Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said in Filipino.
Duterte on Monday night said people who refuse to get inoculated run the risk of spreading COVID-19.
"For as long as you are here and you are a human being and can carry the virus, then get vaccinated. Otherwise, I will order all the barangay captains to have a tally of the people who refuse to be vaccinated. Then I will let you take the ivermectin for pigs," the President said.
Duterte said he will task the Department of Interior and Local Government to look for those who have been refusing to get their COVID-19 shot and convince them to get inoculated or he will order their arrest.
"I am just exasperated by Filipinos not heeding the government. Anyway, we have no other intention but public good.,” he said
"If you are not vaccinated and you are a potential carrier, then to protect the people, I have to sequester you in jail. Choose: Get the vaccine or get imprisoned?"
"I will think it over very hard, legally, of course. But if you do not want to get vaccinated, I will have you arrested. That is in pursuance of our policy amid this health crisis." the President added.
Over 6.2 million Filipinos have been vaccinated as of June 20. A Social Weather Stations poll earlier found that 35 percent of Filipinos remain unsure about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
An advisor to the Department of Health and an infectious disease expert said making vaccination mandatory would be “difficult.”
“It’s difficult to make vaccinations mandatory with an EUA (emergency use authority) vaccine.
There still has to be an element of concern,” Dr. Edsel Salvana said in an interview on ANC.
An EUA is issued for drugs and vaccines during a public health emergency.
“As a doctor, I would rather that people understand why they need to get vaccinated -- not just to protect themselves but to protect other people,” Salvana added.
In other developments:
• Senator Nancy Binay said the lack of COVID-19 vaccines is the reason so many Filipinos are not yet vaccinated. “We have a problem with the supply. It’s not as if our countrymen don't like to be vaccinated," she said. “At this point, I think vaccine hesitancy is not the problem. Vaccine supply is the biggest problem so we need to arrest that,” Binay said.
• Senator Risa Hontiveros slammed Duterte for threatening those who refused to be vaccinated. She said there is no need to sow fear if there is enough supply of vaccines.
• Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles urged the government to lift stringent safety protocols for vaccinated people to encourage others to be vaccinated. As it is, vaccinated people are treated no differently than those who have not been vaccinated, so there is no incentive to get the jabs, Nograles said. He said fully vaccinated individuals should be allowed to return to physical activities that are currently disallowed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19.