By Junel Fiestada

Cartoon by Francesca Diane Tan

Agencies responsible for the implementation of the “no vaccination, no ride” policy in the National Capital Region declare the first day of enactment a “success” and “generally peaceful”. Triumphant in the eyes of the rich and bourgeoisie, but a nuisance to unvaccinated commuters as their freedom of movement is neglected.

            As COVID-19 cases spiked due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant and easing of preventive measures for the coronavirus, the Department of Transportation launched the “no vaccination, no ride” policy aiming to encourage those who defy the vaccine. Unvaccinated, or should we say, unqualified, for the policy are barred from riding taxis, buses, sea ferries and commercial planes.

            In addition, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the apprehension of stay-at-home violators. The country has already faced countless waves and spikes of cases, yet, we are back at the militaristic approach of the government. If this would be implemented, along with the ‘no vax, no ride’ policy, the administration would be restraining people’s freedom and human rights. There is no law prohibiting the unvaccinated to go out, nor an approved policy that mandates everyone to be inoculated.

            Up until now, Karl Marx’s concept of division between “haves” and “have-nots” is still manifested in this capitalistic world - leaving the poor with great disadvantage. Privileged and advantageous, whether they’re vaccinated or not, are not affected by this policy because they have their private vehicles. While commuters bargain for the possibility of getting into cheaper public vehicles, rich people are at ease in their air-conditioned cars and not worried about the policy being a hindrance to their destination. Move as One Coalition, meanwhile, pointed out that only 1 out of 10 Filipinos have a personally-owned vehicle.

            Although there are exceptions declared in the implementation of the policy, it is unreasonable and would occupy a lot of time. Instead of a passenger going to their workplace, they have to first get a medical certificate and other necessary documents just to take a ride. Meanwhile, in a ‘24 Oras’ report, the commuter couldn’t do anything but cry, because she is restricted to ride public transport even though she already took the first dose of AstraZeneca jab. It is not their fault that they can’t get the two doses, since they have to follow the interval between first and second inoculation. In the worst case scenario, some commuters would be compelled to falsify vaccination cards due to their despair to ride public transit. If that happens, it would cause larger problems and the rampant act of forgery would take place.

            Despite a concern raised by a transport group that this policy will encourage the unvaccinated to be vaccinated, it breached the right of citizens to medical freedom and freedom to transportation. If we would get deeper and consider the constitution, Republic Act 11525 summarizes that vaccination cards shouldn’t be a requirement for employment. Therefore, it is the citizen’s critical and rational judgement whether they should take the jab or not. The policy would also affect the business of jeepney and other public transit drivers because they wouldn’t get as many customers as possible because there is a restraining policy. Every commuter matters to drivers, but the money they’re anticipating turns to stone because of this policy.

            The ‘no vax, no ride’ policy is just a sugarcoat for step-by-step compulsory vaccination and gradually losing medical freedom to militaristic approach and illogical policies. There is an underlying message behind the policy, “If you don’t want to take the jab, you better own a private vehicle.” Instead of forced vaccination, an educated and well-informed recipient of the vaccine would be better. It is also a great way to make use of ‘word of mouth’ that vaccines work because they are knowledgeable. The government should also focus on acquiring high-efficient vaccines in order to boost the vaccine confidence of the Filipinos, preventing the laxation of protocols as well as following measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

     Giving restrictions to the unvaccinated isn’t totally draconian. Scientifically speaking, individuals who took the jab have more protection against the severity of coronavirus, prevents death, and risk of transmission. Yet, there should be no discrimination between the vaccinated and not - just as stipulated in Republic Act 11494, otherwise known as the Bayanihan II. Everyone should have access to public and government services because they are still Filipino citizens, paying their taxes and working day and night for living - a right that the government should uphold.