Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra believes President Rodrigo Duterte “merely used strong words” when he warned people that they will face jail time if they refuse to get vaccinated.
“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,” Guevarra said in a statement on Tuesday.
Duterte earlier threatened to arrest Filipinos who decline the coronavirus shot in the middle of a national emergency.
“Mamili kayo, magpabakuna kayo o ipakulong ko kayo sa selda? (You choose, get vaccinated, or I send you to jail?)” Duterte said in his public address on Monday.
Guevarra said there is no law yet that penalizes people who refuse to get their COVID-19 shots.
“As a lawyer, he (Duterte) knows that not getting vaccinated is a legal choice; there is no law as yet that compels vaccination against COVID-19, much less criminalizes it, as presently available vaccines are still in their trial phases,” he said.
In an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source, Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Benhur Abalos said Duterte merely made the threat “out of frustration” as the country’s “father.”
“Parang ama naman natin siya eh, he wants to show the seriousness of these things. Nakikita mo naman sa tono niya,” Abalos said.
[Translation: He’s like our father, he wants to show the seriousness of these things. You can realize that from his tone.]
Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje expressed a similar sentiment and urged the public to look at the context of Duterte’s pronouncement. She said people can still receive vaccines with free and informed consent.
“I think it is the context na kailangan nating tignan sa pronouncement na iyon ng President. Because ang sabi nga niya (I think it is the context that we should look at when it comes to the President’s pronouncement, because he said) no one is safe until everyone is safe and he wants safe and effective vaccines for all Filipinos,” she said in a briefing.
More than 2 million Filipinos have so far completed their doses, still far from the government’s target of achieving herd immunity by inoculating at least 70 million Filipinos by yearend.
Malacañang said the government is administering about 322,000 doses a day and is targeting sufficient supply to achieve 500,000 daily doses. About 11 million doses are expected to arrive in the Philippines this month alone.