Recent gov’t policies against unvaxxed individuals are punitive, anti-poor

Photo by Michael Varcas/Philippine Star

Recent government policies that violate the rights of unvaccinated individuals and restrict their access to essential services are punitive and anti-poor, human rights watchdog Karapatan asserted on Saturday, as the group slammed the imposition of restrictions such as the “no, vax, no ride” policy in Metro Manila and the listing of unvaccinated individuals in barangays following President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to arrest them if they go out of their residences.

“As we reiterate the role of government in providing free, safe and accessible vaccines as well as community-based education as part of its pandemic response, policies that restrict unvaccinated individuals from using public transport, receiving aid, going to work and receiving wages — more so threats to arrest them — are patently discriminatory, dangerous, punitive, and anti-poor. Such policies will not curb the pandemic,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Last Tuesday, January 11, the DOTr released its order limiting public transportation in Metro Manila to vaccinated individuals, while, on Wednesday, January 12, the DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said they have already issued a memorandum circular directing barangay chiefs to identify their unvaccinated constituents and submit the list to the DILG. Various local government units have since issued ordinances to restrict and monitor the movement of unvaccinated individuals.

Palabay said that “DOTr’s order to restrict unvaccinated individuals from using public transport is a discriminatory denial of a basic and essential public service. It also effectively denies them access to other basic services, even those supposedly excepted from these restrictions, for not having their own private vehicles. The DILG’s directive to list and monitor unvaccinated individuals in barangays also raises concerns about the right to privacy.”

Moreover, the Karapatan official also expressed concern over the dispersal and arrest of protesters opposing mandatory vaccination last Tuesday, as she averred that “the basic right of people to free expression and to peaceably assemble must be upheld and protected — even during a public health emergency. Punitive policies against unvaccinated individuals such as putting them in jail only places them at risk of contracting the virus.”

“The right of individuals to voluntary and informed consent also must be respected, and there are ways to encourage individuals to get vaccinated without coercion and violence. We also reassert that, along with free, safe and accessible vaccination, the pandemic can be addressed by comprehensively upholding the people’s rights to health by heeding the calls for free mass testing, contact tracing, free treatment, strengthening the public health system and rollback of neoliberal privatization policies, and ensuring access to food and basic services as well as aid and subsidy,” she ended.