MANILA — There is no law that requires vaccination, said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday, after President Rodrigo Duterte warned the public that those who refuse to be inoculated faced arrests.
“As a lawyer he knows that not getting vaccinated is a legal choice; there is no law as yet that compels vaccination against COVID-19, much less criminalizes it (not getting vaccinated), as presently available vaccines are still in their trial phases,” Guevarra said in response to queries from reporters.
Under Philippine laws, an act is not considered a crime and no one is criminally responsible unless a law says so at the time it was committed.
On Monday night, Duterte said people who will not get vaccinated will be sent to jail.
"Mamili kayo, magpabakuna kayo o ipakulong ko kayo sa selda (You have to choose, get vaccinated or I'll send you to jail),” the chief executive said.
Guevarra was however quick to justify the President’s statement.
“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,” he said.
Guevarra did not directly answer if he was consulted by the President before making his statements last night.
“He seeks my legal opinion only when he finds it really necessary,” he said.
While rejecting to be vaccinated is not a crime, violating quarantine protocols may however warrant arrests, Guevarra said.
“Not getting vaccinated and not following health protocols are two entirely different things. Getting vaccinated is not mandatory but complying with health protocols is mandatory. There is no law or ordinance that penalizes non-vaccination but there are existing laws and ordinances that penalize non-compliance with health protocols,” he said.
This is not the first time the DOJ has had to justify the President’s threat of arrests.
Last month, Duterte threatened to arrest those were improperly wearing face masks and, later on, even barangay chairpersons or village leaders in areas where super-spreader events take place.
DOJ Undersecretary Adrian Sugay told ANC then that the DOJ will have to study carefully the legal bases cited for the arrest of village leaders — dereliction of duty and reckless imprudence under the Revised Penal Code.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque offered his own take: warrantless arrests of barangay leaders will be allowed if they are present during super-spreader events.
The DOJ later clarified arrests could be made on the basis of ordinances requiring the proper wearing of masks and setting quarantine restrictions against mass gathering, despite an earlier pronouncement in April that it’s better to impose community service, not jail time or fines on quarantine violators.
Guevarra’s statement Tuesday was also not the first time he differed from the President’s legal view.
President Duterte late last month said not all drug war records can be released, citing national security.
Guevarra said that deaths due to the drug war are more criminal in nature than a national security concern, acknowledging an April 2018 Supreme Court resolution which declared that drug war documents “do not involve state secrets affecting national security.