Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Friday called for the removal of the proposed vaccine passports to prevent the delay in the passage of the bill that would expedite the country’s procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
Pimentel said the vaccine passports should be tackled under a different bill and separate from the Senate Bill No. 2057, or the proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act.
Under the bill, the vaccination passport shall serve as certification that a person has been vaccinated against the coronavirus and will contain information about the vaccines administered to the holder, the dates they are inoculated, and the persons and institutions that administered the vaccine.
“COVID-19 vaccine passport program with all those benefits and implications should be the subject of a separate and independent bill [because] the current measure is about making vaccination procurement and administration easier. This can be done with or without any ‘COVID-19 passport program’,” he said in a text message sent to reporters on February 19.
“Hence in order not to delay the main measure we should separate the passport topic for more exhaustive debates on it.”
Pimentel had raised concern that proposed issuance of vaccine passports could in effect result in the discrimination of people who will refuse to get vaccinated, since the its provision covers non-essential, international travel and even entry into business establishment.
“I’m just worried that if we now establish a vaccine passport program and the word ‘passport’ actually connotes and affects mobility…are not directly telling them or pressuring them that the COVID-19 vaccination is mandatory if you want to be a mobile passport?” he said during the interpellations on the bill last Wednesday, February 17.
“What if they now adopt that as a universal rule?” he raised.
Sen. Sonny Angara, sponsor of the bill, confirmed on Fridaythat some senators, including Pimentel, were “not comfortable” with the proposed vaccine passport.
On the other hand, he maintained that the immunization will be “purely voluntary” and the vaccine passports will only serve as a record of the inoculation.
“We tried to allay their fears that number one, it’s not absolutely necessary to get vaccinated, that’s freely up to the person, but of course, there are consequences. Like a person can choose not to wear a mask, but there will be consequences,” he said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.
He earlier told Pimentel that he is open to amending the bill to allay such a concern.
For Sen. Grace Poe, one of its proponents, the vaccine passport will help expedite the return to work of workers, including OFWs sidelined by the pandemic.
“The vaccine certificate will give our workers the advantage to get hired as they already have the proof of protection from the virus. Getting more Filipinos employed will boost our comeback from the economic downturn,” Poe said in a separate statement.