MANILA — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday defended the Transportation department’s “no vaxx, no ride” policy amid criticisms that it is anti-poor and discriminates against the unvaccinated.
Guevarra said that while a person has the right to refuse vaccination, “the state has the power to regulate the movement of unvaccinated persons if it deems that such regulation is in the interest of public health or public safety and is for the benefit not only of the vaccinated but also of the unvaccinated.”
“In short, a person may refuse to get vaccinated for his/her own personal reasons, but he/she is duty-bound to obey reasonable state regulations affecting unvaccinated persons for the benefit of society at large,” he said in a message exchange with reporters.
Criticisms against the policy heightened on Monday, the first day that the policy was implemented.
Under the policy, passengers are required to show proof of vaccination before htey are allowed to board public buses, jeepneys, trains, boats or planes in Metro Manila.
Inconvenienced commuters and public utility drivers complained, including those who have yet to be fully vaccinated.
Guevarra explained there is no discrimination against the unvaccinated.
“Note that there is no restriction on travel for unvaccinated persons, just restriction on access to public transportation or common carriers, subject to well-defined exceptions,” he said.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST UNVACCINATED WITHOUT CARS?
Critics pointed out that that policy, in effect, discriminated against the unvaccinated individuals who do not own cars as opposed to those to who do, who are not affected by the restriction.
Guevarra however said that the more determinative classification is between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.
“Between them a huge and substantial distinction exists. More than 3 out of 4 who get hospitalized are unvaccinated, and more than 3 out of 4 who die of COVID-19 are unvaccinated,” he said.
“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,” he added.
But if travel for the unvaccinated is not restricted, what would be the legal basis for public transportation operators or common carriers for refusing to board unvaccinated individuals when they are supposed to offer their services to the public under the law?
“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.
Guevarra also stressed that the "no vaxx, no ride" policy is time-bound (only while the NCR is under alert level 3 or higher), and is not meant to be adopted in places with very low vaccination rates.
He explained the DOTr's authority to implement the measure comes from the Administrative Code (EO 292) and indirectly from RA 11332 (the law requiring mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases) as a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Cities in NCR, he added, have also enacted ordinances limiting the movement of the unvaccinated.
GUEVARRA ON IMPLEMENTATION: ‘MAHIRAP AT MABUSISI’
Guevarra, however, refused to comment on a specific case involving a partially vaccinated woman who was not allowed to board a PUV on the way to a medical exam for a job application, saying he doesn't know all the facts.
But he acknowledged practical problems in the implementation of the policy.
"Mahirap at mabusisi talaga,” he said.
A lawmaker on Tuesday asked the DOTr to review the policy, noting that the policy appears to discriminate in favor of unvaccinated individuals who have their own vehicles.
The Labor department also on Tuesday carved out an exemption for unvaccinated workers, calling their service “essential.”
“‘Pag inihinto mo ang mga ‘yan, paano gagalaw ang ating mga negosyo. ‘Pag walang negosyo, walang ekonomiya,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said at a press briefing.