MANILA - An organization of lawyers on Tuesday dismissed as "baseless" President Rodrigo Duterte's threat of arresting those who refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
"Walang legal na batayan 'yan," National Union of Peoples' Lawyers president Edre Olalia told TeleRadyo.
(It has no legal basis.)
"Walang pupuwedeng arestuhin nang walang ginagawang krimen," he added.
(No one should get arrested without committing a crime.)
In a televised address Monday, Duterte threatened to jail people who declined to be inoculated against the coronavirus.
"Mamili kayo, magpabakuna kayo o ipakulong ko kayo sa selda," he said.
(You choose -- get vaccinated or I'll send you to jail.)
Olalia said Duterte's latest pronouncement is "dangerous" because it disrupts the democratic system.
"Kailangan meron tayong sinusunod na rule of law. Mahirap 'yong mere say-so, 'ika nga ay pupuwede na manghuli," he said.
(We need to follow the rule of law. Arresting someone on a mere say-so is problematic.)
Olalia reminded the President that his remarks could become official government policy.
"Hindi dapat binibiro o nilalaro 'yang ganiyang mga seryosong mga bagay kasi ang problema natin, 'pag nagsalita ang pangulo, magka-cascade, bababa 'yan do'n sa police o minsan sa military pa nga, parang batas na," he said.
(These serious things should not be said in jest because when the President speaks, it will cascade to police and even the military, and then becomes a policy.)
Olalia recalled that Duterte previously warned lockdown violators they could be liable for murder if the people they come into contact with contract the disease and die.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he believes Duterte "merely used strong words to drive home the need for us to get vaccinated and reach herd immunity as soon as possible."
"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, as presently available vaccines are still in their trial phases," added Guevarra.
As regards violators of health protocols, the justice chief said complying with those is mandatory and corresponding penalties are set for non-compliance.
"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.
In February, the Department of Health said COVID-19 vaccination was not mandatory, saying they were not going to force the jabs on people.
The agency though regularly encourages the public to get vaccinated once it becomes available to them in order to protect their families and communities.
As of June 20, the Philippines has administered over 8.4 million doses since it began inoculating in March. The government aims to vaccinate at least 58 million people to achieve "population protection" by year-end.
The country has so far received at least 14.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines developed by Sinovac, Pfizer, Gamaleya Institute and AstraZeneca.