A health worker issues a digital clock to an employee as they monitor possible side effects after receiving his COVID-19 vaccine at the Ayala Stock Exchange covered court in Makati City on June 21, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Malacañang said on Tuesday it was “encouraged” that government might not need to use the “iron fist of law” to push Filipinos to take COVID-19 vaccines, after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to jail people who would refuse to get inoculated. 

Duterte’s remark only meant “to emphasize what the state can do,” said his spokesman Harry Roque. 

“We are encouraged naman po by the public response. In fact, naiinip ang ating kababayan dahil kulang nga po ang bakuna, so we’re encouraged na hindi na kinakailangan gamitin ang iron fist of the law to compel vaccination,” he said in a press briefing. 

(In fact, our compatriots are getting impatient because the vaccines are not yet enough, so we’re encouraged that the iron fist of law need not be used to compel vaccination.)

Following reports of low turnouts in some vaccination sites in Manila, Duterte on Monday told the public in a televised address, “You choose, vaccine or I will have you jailed.” 

“Don’t get me wrong, there is a crisis in this country,” he said. “I’m just exasperated by Filipinos not heeding the government.”

His remarks contradict those of his health officials who have said that while people are urged to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, it was voluntary. 

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The Supreme Court previously decided on a case that questioned an Administrative Code provision that all children must get vaccinated against smallpox, noted Roque, a lawyer. 

The ruling quoted a US court decision that stated, “In every well-ordered society, the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times under pressure great dangers be subjected to such restraint to be enforced by reasonable regulations as the safety of the general public may demand,” he said. 

“Malinaw po ‘yan. Sa jurisprudence ng Pilipinas at ng Amerika, pupuwede pong ma-compel, pupuwede pong ipatupad ang compulsory vaccination,” said Roque. 

“Pero kinakailangan po may legal na basehan. Kinakailangan po natin either ng ordinansa o batas na magpapataw ng parusa doon sa mga ayaw magpabakuna,” added the Palace official. 

(That is clear in jurisprudence in the Philippines and the United States, compulsory vaccination can be enforced. But there should be a legal basis. We need either an ordinance or a law that sets penalties for those who refuse to get vaccinated.)

He said this would be “easy” to request from Congress. 

As of June 20, Philippine authorities had fully vaccinated 2.1 million people, making slow progress towards the government’s target to immunize up to 70 million people this year in a country of 110 million.

Philippines: COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker

 – With a report from Reuters 

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