In a public address this week, President Rodrigo Duterte aired his frustration at the slow pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in the country. He is now pushing harsher and punitive measures, threatening to arrest people who refuse to get inoculated.
“If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I will have you arrested. And I will inject the vaccine in your butt. [CURSES]. You are pests. We are already suffering and you’re adding to the burden,” Duterte said, speaking partly in Filipino.
“If you will not agree to be vaccinated, leave the Philippines. Go to India if you want or somewhere, to America,” he said, adding he would order village leaders to compile a list of defiant residents.
This outburst is in contrast with the Department of Health’s statement that the vaccination is voluntary.
Is There Basis for Arrest?
In response to the president’s outburst, Justice Secretary Menandro Gueverra said that there was no Philippine law criminalizing one’s refusal to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“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.
Bayan Muna Congressman Neri Colmenares likewise said that there is no basis for arresting individuals who refuse to get vaccinated. (Read: ‘Vaccine Passports Will Be Issued to Inoculated Individuals’ – Roque)
“There is no law that makes vaccination mandatory nor any law that imposes imprisonment,” Colmenares said in a tweet.
Human rights lawyer Edre Olalia also raised concerns about Duterte’s threat, saying that the president could not just order the arrest of anybody who has not clearly committed any crime. (Read: Common COVID-19 Vaccine Fake News And Myths–Debunked!)
Statement from Malacañang
Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said that the president was just airing his exasperation for the low turnout of people who get vaccinated.
“As far as arresting those who won’t get vaccinated, we have no such policy,” Nograles said. “When the president said that, I think he already explained that he said in the context of, as it were, a sense of exasperation.” (Read: DOLE to Give Bikes, Cellphones to Vaccinated Essential Workers)
President Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque also said that it would need a law to arrest individuals and that the president’s words were just meant “to emphasize what the State can do.”
“Of course, alam naman ni Presidente at sinabi naman niya na kailangang pag-aralan ang option na ito at kailangan ng batas na maipasa ng Kongreso,” said Roque.