Workers are exempted from a ban on unvaccinated people using public transport in Metro Manila, the Labor Department said Tuesday.
At a press briefing, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said workers render “essential services” without which business could not operate.
“They are exempted from the ‘no vax, no ride’ police. That’s very clear,” Bello said.
“That is very clear,” he continued in Filipino. “If you stop them, how can our businesses operate? If there are no businesses, there is no economy.”
The “no jab, no ride” policy took effect Monday, days after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to arrest the unvaccinated who went outside their homes.
The Department of Trade and Industry initially estimated that 100,000 to 200,000 workers would be affected by COVID-19 restrictions, Bello said, but noted that 11,500 workers have already lost their jobs because they were retrenched or their companies closed down.
Some 20,000 other workers are earning less because of shortened work hours or arrangements to reduce working days, he added.
According to Department of Transportation Undersecretary for Railways TJ Batan, a total of 1,749 commuters attempted to take Metro Manila’s rail lines without showing proof of their vaccination.
About 1,204 were recorded at the MRT-3, 401 at LRT-1, 136 at LRT-2, and eight at the Philippine National Railways, he added.
Enforcers from the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic (I-ACT) also said 160 passengers were barred during the first day of implementation of the policy, aside from other violations such as excess passengers, obstruction, inspection report summons, and overloading.
Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) warned the public against so-called “COVID-19 vaccination exemption cards” that can allegedly be used to excuse the unvaccinated from stay-at-home orders.
“The public is warned that there is no such thing as a ‘vaccination exemption card.’ This is not authorized, issued, nor recognized by the government. In other words, these are fake,” DILG Undersecretary and spokesman Jonathan Malaya said in a news release.
He said according to reports received by the DILG, the “exemption cards” which supposedly originated in Facebook groups and group chats in Regions 11 and 12 can allegedly be registered to local government units (LGUs) and are supposedly recognized by local authorities in lieu of COVID-19 vaccination cards.
Malaya said the government will never issue nor recognize such cards because this runs counter to the government’s national vaccination program to inoculate the majority of the populace to achieve population protection.
He expressed dismay that some people will resort to such gimmicks and disinformation so that they will be exempted from vaccination and even dupe others into believing that they can be exempted from vaccination.
The Philippine National Police (PNP), meanwhile, said it continued to defer making arrests on the second day of the implementation of the “no jab, no ride” policy in Metro Manila.
“No arrests will be effected except for specific violations of law that authorize lawful arrest of offenders,” said Police Col. Roderick Augustus Alba, acting chief of the PNP’s Public Information Office.
Police units were only helping Department of Transportation personnel in denying rides to those who cannot show proof of vaccination.
He noted that the PNP did not also make any arrest on the first day of the new policy’s implementation on Monday, despite the deployment of more personnel at terminals across the National Capital Region.
Though several drivers complained about the government’s move, the transport group Pasang Masda expressed support for it.
According to Alba, unvaccinated passengers who meet the criteria for exception to the policy are allowed to take a trip on public transport. These include people with medical conditions that prevent full vaccination against COVID-19, and persons who need to travel to procure essential goods and services.
Also on Tuesday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said there is no law that compels every Filipino to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and there is no absolute restriction on the movement of unvaccinated persons.
“The unvaccinated are not absolutely prohibited from availing themselves of public transport, provided that they have passes to show that they are out to obtain essential goods and services, such as food and medicine; or that they have medical certifications showing that they could not be vaccinated for medical or health reasons,” Guevarra said in text message to reporters.
“Common carriers are indeed open to everyone, but under our existing laws operators of common carriers are bound to carry their passengers safely to their destinations, and ‘safely’ means freedom not only from accidental injury but also from transmissible diseases,” he added.
Guevarra pointed out that these measures are time-bound only while the National Capital Region is under Alert Level 3 or higher, “and are not meant to be adopted in places with very low vaccination rates.”