Duterte's arrest order vs. anti-vaxxers 'constitutional' --- Panelo

"Drastic times demand for drastic measures."

A health worker administers a coronavirus vaccine to a Manila resident during start of the inoculation of A5 priority group in Baseco Compound, Manila on June 16, 2021. (Ali Vicoy/Manila Bulletin)

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo issued the latest argument in defending the legality of President Duterte's recent threat to order the arrest of people who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

According to Panelo, President has the constitutional duty to serve and protect the people especially during a national health emergency, adding the national security was "paramount" over a person's choice.

The President's arrest order, he added, seeks to "save their lives from the deadly effects of being infected with the coronavirus disease."

"We are in a state of national emergency due to the deathly pandemic. Drastic times demand for drastic measures. The Constitution has given sufficient authority to the government to manage the crisis even as it works vigorously towards achieving herd immunity while our people look forward to reaching it," he said in a statement Wednesday, June 23.

"Individual choice or liberties are to be respected but the security of the nation is paramount hence its survival must be fiercely protected," he said.

The President, in a televised address Monday, June 21, warned about the arrest of the vaccine hesitant, saying he wanted to protect the general population from the potential carriers of the coronavirus.

Duterte, known for his tough and vulgar rhetoric, said those who refuse to get inoculated can leave the country or land in jail and get jabbed with an antiparasitic drug used for hogs. He admitted that he has become "exasperated" with people reluctant receive the vaccines even as more coronavirus shots are delivered to the country.

“Mamili kayo: Magpabakuna kayo o ipakulong ko kayo sa selda (Choose: Get vaccinated or I’ll put you in jail)," he said.

READ: Political opposition blamed for fueling COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

In his statement Wednesday, Panelo invoked the Constitution to justify the President's latest threat to lock up anti-vaxxers in jail.

"The order of the President is not without any constitutional basis. Article II, Section 4 of our Constitution mandates that 'The prime duty of the government is to serve and protect the people,'" he said.

He mentioned two other sections of the Constitutions related to the protection of life, promotion of general welfare as well as protection of people's health. He said such constitutional provisions are considered self-executory, adding there was no need for legislation to implement them.

"As of June 21, 2921, more than 1.3% of the population of the Philippines, or 1,364,239 have been infected with Covid 19, and 23, 749 of those afflicted have died. Beyond doubt, the real danger of infection from Covid-19, together with its probability of causing deaths, poses a grave threat to the health and life of our people, imposing upon the government the utmost responsibility to address it with proportional urgency. The numbers speak for themselves," Panelo said.

"Thus, with the prime duty of the government to serve and protect the people — as constitutionally enshrined in Article 2, Section 4 — the President as its head is charged with the obligation to do what is necessary to comply with the constitutional command," he added.