MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte's chief legal counsel differed with his spokesman on whether a law is needed to arrest persons who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
In his public address last Monday, Duterte said he would send to jail people who do not want to avail of pandemic shots, saying it would prevent them from spreading the virus.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has said there are court decisions in the Philippines and the US stating that a compulsory vaccination can be implemented but it should have a legal basis. An ordinance or a law is needed to punish those who do not want to avail of vaccines, he added.
But chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the 1987 Constitution has provided the government sufficient authority to manage the health crisis as it works to achieve herd immunity. The World Health Organization defined herd immunity as indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune through vaccination.
Panelo said while individual choice or liberties are to be respected, the security of the nation is paramount so its survival must be fiercely protected.
"We are in a state of national emergency due to the (deadly) pandemic. Drastic times demand for drastic measures," Panelo said in a statement.
"Constitutional provisions on public health, by themselves, are operative and need no subsequent legislation for their enforcement," he added.
Panelo cited Article II, Section 4 of our Constitution which states that the prime duty of the government is "to serve and protect the people." He noted that Article II, Section 5 of the Constitution states that "the maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, and the promotion of the general welfare, among others, are essential to democracy." Section 15 of the same article also directs the state to "protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them," Panelo added.
The president's chief legal counsel also cited the case of Imbong versus Ochoa, wherein the Supreme Court ruled that the provisions of the Constitution relating to the promotion of health are "self-executory and do not require any enabling law."
“A component to the right to life is the constitutional right to health. In this regard the Constitution is replete with provisions protecting and promoting the right to health," Panelo quoted the high court ruling as saying.
Panelo said the Supreme Court had enumerated Sections 15, 11, 12, 13 of Article II, and Section 9 Article XVI which state that the provisions are "self-executing."
"Unless the provisions clearly express the contrary, the provisions of the Constitution should be considered self-executory. There is no need for legislation to implement these self-executing provisions," the president's chief legal counsel said.
"Beyond doubt, the real danger of infection from COVID-19, together with its probability of causing deaths, poses a grave threat to the health and life of our people, imposing upon the government the utmost responsibility to address it with proportional urgency," he added.
Panelo said since the President is the head of the government, he has the obligation "to do what is necessary to comply with the constitutional command."
He described as "erroneous" the view that vaccine hesitancy is the problem and claimed that the opposition and "some progressive groups" are causing agitation and doubt in the minds of our people with regard to the benefits of inoculation.
"The government response to the pandemic is in fact, science-based, and we are backed by an array of health experts in our campaign to reach herd immunity through mass vaccination," Panelo said.
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