MANILA (UPDATE) — Malacañang on Monday denied that President Rodrigo Duterte's remarks were to blame for the chaos that overtook several COVID-19 vaccination sites in Metro Manila last week.
According to his spokesman, Duterte's last public address was on July 28, over a week before thousands showed up on Thursday at several vaccination sites in Manila and Las Piñas.
"Iyong pag-uunahan po, Thursday na po 'yon... Kung talagang reaksyon 'yan sa sinabi ni Presidente, dapat po 'yan nagsiksikan na ng Tuesday pa lang o Wednesday, pero hindi po nangyari 'yon," Harry Roque said in a press briefing.
(The jostling happened on Thursday. If that was a reaction to what the President said, that should have happened on Tuesday or Wednesday, but that did not happen.)
The President in his speech said barangay officials should bar unvaccinated people from going out.
Duterte also said police can escort unvaccinated people back to their homes if they are seen outside, although he did not say how those who are not immunized would be identified.
"Ito ngayong ayaw magpabakuna, sinasabi ko sa inyo, huwag kayong lumabas ng bahay. Kasi kapag lumabas kayo ng bahay, sabihin ko sa mga pulis, eh ibalik ka doon sa bahay mo. You will be escorted back to your house because you are a walking spreader," Duterte has said.
Some of those who flocked to Thursday's vaccine queues said they feared being prohibited from going out or being disqualified from getting cash aid during Metro Manila's Aug. 6-20 lockdown.
"Ang tinutukoy lamang ng Pangulo ay ang mga nasa priority list na ayaw magpabakuna," said Roque.
(The President was referring to those in the priority list who do not want to get vaccinated.)
"Wala pong kinalaman ‘yong sinabi ni Presidente. ‘Wag natin lagyan ng kulay ‘yong mga sinabi ni Presidente. Meron po talagang mga nagsabotahe," he added.
(The President's remark had no connection to that. Let us not put color in what the President said. There are really people who sabotaged the vaccination.)
Officials last week said online disinformation prompted thousands to jostle each other to be the first in line at vaccination centers, which prompted police intervention to enforce social distancing rules.
The Manila Public Information Office had said that crowds flocked to the vaccination sites because word spread that the unvaccinated won’t be allowed out of their homes when enhanced community quarantine is implemented in Metro Manila.
Las Piñas City spokesperson Paul San Miguel also said they received reports people flocked to the sites despite curfew after hearing “No vaccine, no ayuda (gov’t financial assistance)”. He clarified that this is not true.
"Wala po kaming mga sinisisi. Pero yung mga lokal na pamahalaan, ‘wag naman kayong magbabaling ng pula sa ating Presidente dahil the bottomline is, katungkulan n’yo pa rin na kayo ang magpatupad ng maayos at makataong pagbabakunahan," said Roque.
(We are not blaming anyone. But local governments, you should not pass blame to our President because the bottomline is it's your duty to implement efficient and humane vaccinations.)
The Philippines has administered at least 24.4 million COVID-19 shots, including 13,087,781 first jabs. At least 11,391,969 are now fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, Roque said.
The government aims to vaccinate up to 70 million people this year to achieve herd immunity and safely reopen the economy.
Asked whether or not government has a program for Filipinos who remain hesitant to get inoculated, Roque said, "Bahala na si COVID-19 sa kanila, kung ayaw nilang magpabakuna."
(COVID-19 will take care of them, if they do not want to get vaccinated.)
With around 1.6 million COVID-19 cases and more than 29,000 deaths, the Philippines has the second-worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; and Reuters