Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to jail Filipinos who refuse the coronavirus vaccine as the government tries to speed up the roll-out of jabs to prevent the spread of the more contagious Delta variant.
In a late-night public address, Duterte also said that “stupid” people who do not want to get vaccinated should just leave the country so they don’t end up infecting more Filipinos.
“There is a crisis being faced by the country,” he said. “There is a national emergency. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I will have you arrested.”
Duterte said he will ask village officials to keep a list of people who refuse to be vaccinated.
“You have to choose, get vaccinated or I’ll send you to jail,” he added.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday clarified that there is no law that criminalizes the refusal of vaccination.
“I believe the president merely used strong words to drive home the need for us to get vaccinated and reach heard immunity as soon as possible,” Guevarra told reporters.
“As a lawyer, he knows that getting vaccinated is a legal choice,” he added.
More than 2.1 million Filipinos – nearly 2 per cent of the country’s total population of 110 million – have been fully vaccinated since the government launched the vaccination drive in March.
A nationwide survey in March showed that 61 per cent of the Filipino adults were not inclined to get vaccinated against Covid-19, mainly due to concerns over safety and efficacy.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there is jurisprudence that allows the government to make vaccination mandatory, if it becomes necessary.
Roque quoted from a 1963 ruling of the Supreme Court of the Philippines in a case regarding the vaccination of children against smallpox, wherein the tribunal said that “the right of the state to compel compulsory vaccination is well-established.”
“We just need to have either an ordinance or a law that would penalise those who refuse to get vaccinated,” he said.
The Philippines’ total coronavirus caseload rose to 1,367,894, with 3,666 cases reported on Tuesday, the Department of Health said. The death toll was up by 60 to 23,809, it added.
Despite thousands of cases reported daily, the government has been easing coronavirus restrictions in a bid to jump-start the economy, which has contracted for the fifth straight quarter since last year.