The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) took up the cudgels for the country’s unvaccinated persons against policies and local ordinances which restrict their movements “despite lack of law” on mandatory vaccination against COVID-19.
Local government units in the National Capital Region (NCR) have started, even before the implementation of the “No Vaccination, No Ride” policy last Jan. 17, enacting ordinances that ban unvaccinated persons from taking public transportations.
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra last Jan. 18 clarified that there is no absolute restriction on the movement of unvaccinated persons.
“The unvaccinated are not absolutely prohibited from availing themselves of public transport, provided that they have passes to show that they are out to obtain essential goods and services, such as food and medicine; or that they have medical certifications showing that they could not be vaccinated for medical or health reasons,” Guevarra said.
In defense of the unvaccinated, the IBP said in a statement:
“The IBP understands that vaccination remains the primary scientific way out of this COVID-19 Pandemic. In fact, the IBP strongly supports the vaccination drive of the government.
“What we cannot understand is why unvaccinated persons are treated in a manner that appears in violation of their Constitutional rights.
“There is no law that requires individuals to undergo compulsory vaccination against COVID-19 (coronavirus disease).
“Existing laws pertaining to pandemics or epidemics of communicable diseases and vaccination such as Republic Act No. 11332, RA 11469, RA 11494 and RA 11525 do not contain any provision that can be used as a legal basis to compel individuals to be vaccinated against COVID-19.”
RA 11332 is the Law on Reporting of Communicable Diseases, while, RA 11469 and RA 11494 are the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act and the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, respectively.
The IBP said even the latest law, RA 11525 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, states that: “Provided, further, that the vaccine cards shall not be considered as an additional mandatory and other similar transaction purposes.”
It pointed out that “the DOTr (Department of Transportation) ‘No Vaccine, No Ride policy’, as well as the LGU ordinances on ‘No Vaccine-Stay Home policy’ are apparently intended to protect public health, but at the same time they restrict an individual’s right to travel or movement.”
It reminded that the 1987 Constitution’s Bill of Rights states that: “Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.”
It noted that even RA 11332, RA 11469, RA 11494, and RA 11525 “do not contain any provision that will authorize the limitation of an individual’s right to travel or movement simply because that individual is unvaccinated.”
While the IBP acknowledged that the DOTr and LGU policies “contain exceptions, such as religious belief, medical conditions, work, and accessing essential services for good” but “these exceptions are not sufficient to address the legal questions that be raised against these policies.”
It urged the national government and the LGUs “to take a second look at these policies in order to uphold the rule of law which the IBP is duty bound to support.”
Guevarra had also explained that “common carriers are indeed open to everyone, but under our existing laws operators of common carriers are bound to carry their passengers safely to their destinations, and ‘safely’ means freedom not only from accidental injury but also from transmissible diseases.”
He said the “these measures are time-bound (only while the NCR is under Alert Level 3 or higher and are not meant to be adopted in places with very low vaccination rates.”
Guevarra also said:
“With respect to the DOTr, its authority emanates directly from the Administrative Code (EO 292) and indirectly from Republic Act No. 11332 (Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases) as a member of the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases).
“Furthermore, considering that these measures are temporary and limited in geographical scope, local ordinances will be sufficient.
“The underlying classification is between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, and between them a huge and substantial distinction exists.
“More than three out of four who get hospitalized are unvaccinated, and more than three out of four who die of COVID-19 are unvaccinated.”