President Rodrigo Duterte’s top legal adviser on Wednesday doubled down on the Chief Executive’s power to order mandatory vaccination against COVID-19, even without an enabling law.
While most other officials of the government played down the President’s threat Monday night to arrest people who refuse a vaccine jab and acknowledged this would violate their individual rights, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Duterte’s threat was “not without any constitutional basis.”
The Constitution, he said, states that the prime duty of the government is to serve and protect the people, and there was no need for an enabling law to enforce constitutional provisions because these are already “operative.”
He also cited the Supreme Court’s previous ruling that the provisions of the 1987 Constitution relating to the promotion of health are “self-executory and do not require any enabling law.”
“Constitutional provisions on public health, by themselves, are operative and need no subsequent legislation for their enforcement,” Panelo said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Tuesday said arresting people who refuse to be inoculated can only be done once a law is passed, asking the public not to take Duterte literally.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also played down Duterte’s threat to arrest people who refuse vaccination, saying the President was merely trying to emphasize the need for people to get inoculated. The Department of Health said free, prior, and informed consent is a requirement for COVID-19 vaccination.
But amid the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, the government needs to take drastic steps to stop the further transmission of the coronavirus, Panelo said.
He said while individual choice or liberties are to be respected, the security of the nation is paramount.
“We are in a state of national emergency due to the deadly pandemic. Drastic times demand for drastic measures,” Panelo said, adding that the Constitution has given Duterte sufficient authority to manage the COVID-19 crisis.
But Senator Panfilo Lacson said the “bayanihan spirit” should be the reason Filipinos get vaccinated, not the fear of arrest.
“We should get vaccinated not so much due to the fear of being arrested if we refuse, but because we have the bayanihan spirit,” Lacson said.
He noted that Filipinos getting the jab means helping their countrymen since they are protecting not just themselves but also those around them.
“We want to do our part to protect those around us. We want to do our part to achieve herd immunity, and we want to do our part to finally end the threat posed by the pandemic on our health and on our economy,” he said.
Lacson said the best formula for the country to find its way out of the pandemic is for people to “get the jab done” by trusting in the vaccines and getting vaccinated.
He said the government should also get the job done by improving the implementation of the vaccination program.
“For the people, this means trusting the vaccination process and helping achieve herd immunity early, so the economy can recover. For the government, this means being transparent and exercising restraint in spending our already severely limited resources,” he said.
“That said, if we see that our authorities are showing efforts in getting the job done effectively and efficiently, then we can do no less by getting the jab done,” he said.