President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said Muslims and some indigenous people in Mindanao, including the Tausug, are hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Duterte recalled that he saw a media report on the stranded passengers at North Harbor, many of whom were Muslims bound for Zamboanga.
“Some of them were crying because they were stranded. They were not allowed to board the ship because they are unvaccinated. And some of them are people whom you cannot force to get the jab,” the President said in his address to the people aired late Monday evening.
“I think the Muslim community here in the Philippines, many are of the belief that it is not allowed by their—I don’t know—religion. I might be mistaken. It could be that or something else in their culture… I think they are not confident of allowing the vaccine into their body. They simply do not want it.”
“In Mindanao, the Muslim community are resisting the vaccine. It is true even for the Tausug. The governor is talking to them. The [latest] report is that some of the Tausugs are not resisting anymore. I don’t know, maybe the governor is persuading them [to get vaccinated],” he added.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said he has instructed the Philippine Ports Authority to allow 276 stranded passengers to leave, noting that “returning home is essential travel.”
“We learned that there were about 136 Tausug, including children. My instructions were to give them food, give them aid, and do not force them to show vaccination cards and do not require them to undergo RT-PCR and instead simply require a negative antigen test result,” Tugade said.
“After the 136 were allowed to leave, I was informed that 140 more passengers appealed that they be allowed to leave as well. So, as we speak now, all 276 of them are already on their way home,” he added.
Based on the report of vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr., the government has fully vaccinated 57.268 million Filipinos as of Jan. 23.
Broken down into regions, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has the lowest inoculation rate at only 25.22 percent for the fully-vaccinated or 769,604 individuals.
Region 12 or SOCCSKSARGEN, which is also in Mindanao, had the second lowest rate for fully vaccinated individuals at only 56.64 percent of its population.
Earlier, Malacanang said the President was urging Filipinos to get COVID-19 booster shots, after some groups spread a spliced video of his previous, contradicting remark.
The viral clip shows Duterte questioning how a person can self-check for antibodies if they get more than two vaccine doses.
“If there are antibodies, don’t get too much because that’s bad,” the President said in what appeared to be a public address.
The clarification emerged as the Department of Education (DepEd) encouraged personnel and learners to participate in the national government’s vaccination drive which has expanded to the pediatric population.
“Vaccination is one of the essential keys towards protecting our communities and our children against the threats of COVID-19. With additional protection for our stakeholders, we can further implement our safe-return-to-schools initiatives while helping our economy recover,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones said.
“Together with our teachers and learners, DepEd will continue to be a part of our government’s whole-of-nation approach against COVID-19.”
Duterte issued the statement last September, when only 21 million Filipinos had been vaccinated and government had yet to approve booster jabs, said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.
“The said video clip should be viewed in the proper context,” he said in a statement.
Nograles added: “The situation today is now vastly different. Last November, upon the recommendation of our health experts, the
government approved the use of booster doses for all fully vaccinated individuals as we had ample supplies of vaccines and a substantial percentage of our population was already fully vaccinated.”
Nograles also noted that the President last Dec. 21 urged the public to “take advantage” of the sufficient supply of vaccines and get boosters to dodge the highly transmissible omicron COVID-19 variant.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque II himself said there was “clear evidence” that COVID-19 booster shots provided additional protection against the virus.
He told a public briefing: “Let us not allow ourselves to be used for fake news or information that lacks basis.”
About 57.2 million Filipinos have been fully inoculated against COVID-19 and at least 6.2 million have received vaccine top-ups.
DepEd has urged its field offices and schools to cooperate with their respective local government units about the continuous vaccination drive for young children and education front-liners.
Starting the last quarter of 2021, minors aged 12-17 years old have been allowed to receive their coronavirus shots.
Briones also encouraged teachers and non-teaching personnel to take their booster shots once eligible.
“We are reminding our personnel and offices to not wait since local government units are already vaccinating and giving Covid-19 jabs to their constituents,” she said.
Meanwhile, the department said existing arrangements on the use of schools as vaccination sites will be maximized.
Schools that were previously used as vaccination sites are highly encouraged to reopen for pediatric vaccination.
In related developments, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority launched Monday a mobile COVID-19 vaccination hub at the Paranaque Integrated Terminal Exchange.
“Additional vaccination sites at strategic locations will be opened in Metro Manila to further ramp up the government’s vaccination efforts and inoculate unvaccinated residents as well as those who are due for booster shots,” said MMDA chairman Benjamin Abalos during the event dubbed as “We Vax as One: Mobile Vaccination Drive.”
The MMDA in partnership with the Department of Transportation is identifying more locations in the National Capital Region to accommodate more people to get their COVID-19 vaccination doses and booster shots.
“The mobile vaccination drive at PITX is our pilot site and we plan to expand this to more accessible sites as we go along,” said Abalos.
“It is not enough to have two COVID-19 doses; it is important to get booster shot to be fully protected from the virus,” he added.
The mobile vaccination drive, manned by a doctor and 20 nurses, will run for five days, starting today until January 28, 8 a.m. to 12 noon.
It targets inoculating 500 individuals per day, whether for first, second, or booster doses.
“We have been deploying our vaccinators not only in Metro Manila but in other places all over the country. We are passionate towards the goal of having everyone fully vaccinated and have booster shots,” said Abalos.
The MMDA chief said it would be accessible for people when vaccination sites are set up at strategic locations.
“We will strategize; what is important here is for people to have their booster shots, that is our objective,” he said.
DOTr Undersecretary for Administrative Service Artemio Tuazon, Jr. said they are planning to set up vaccination centers at airports, seaports, train stations, exit points of expressways, among other areas, upon the directive of Secretary Arthur Tugade.
Meanwhile, Department of Health-National Capital Region Regional Director Dr. Gloria J. Balboa, stressed the importance of getting COVID-19 booster shots. She said opening more vaccination sites that can accommodate residents from other regions is a good move.
“This would help other local government units to reach their vaccination targets. The more we vaccinate people, the better,” said Balboa.