Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told citizens to leave the country if they refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine in televised remarks Monday night. The president expressed his irritation with vaccination resistance and warned that he may call for those who do not comply with the nation’s campaign to be arrested, the Associated Press reported.

“Don’t get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested and I’ll inject the vaccine in your butt,” Duterte said.

He also threatened to order village leaders to assemble a record of resistant locals and demanded that citizens go to India or America if they continue to refuse vaccination.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra pointed out on Tuesday that no law in the Philippines makes rejecting COVID-19 vaccination a crime. “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.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

A human rights lawyer, Edre Olalia, raised concerns over Duterte’s threat, saying the president could not order the arrest of anybody who has not clearly committed any crime.

Duterte and his administration have faced criticism over a vaccination campaign that has been saddled with supply problems and public hesitancy. After repeated delays, vaccinations started in March, but many still opted to wait for Western vaccines, prompting some cities to offer snacks and store discounts to encourage people to get immunized with any vaccine.

Duterte blamed the problem on wealthy Western countries cornering vaccines for their own citizens, leaving poorer countries like the Philippines behind. Some officials said the bigger problem was inadequate vaccine supply more than public hesitancy.

Duterte also walked back on an earlier remark that required people to wear plastic face shields over face masks only in hospitals as an added safeguard. After experts briefed him on the threat of more contagious coronavirus variants, Duterte declared it mandatory for people to continue wearing face shields indoors and outdoors.

The Philippines is a coronavirus hot spot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases and at least 23,749 deaths.


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