By Joemar Yubokmee Jr

Cartoon by John Dave Poot

With the economic and health predicaments posed by a more contagious Omicron variant of the COVID-19, bold notions such as apprehension and detention of unvaccinated individuals become topics up for a national debate.

         One would beg the question: Is this possible? With current, pertinent laws, there are no legal precedents to warrant arrests of unvaccinated individuals. Therefore, the issue boils down to whether it is high time for the government to legislate mandatory vaccination considering the threat of Omicron and given the stable and sufficient supply of vaccines throughout the country. With this, we stand with the objective of achieving herd immunity not through force but by science.

         There is no question in the fact that Congress can pass a law that would legalize mandatory vaccination but there is a chance that if passed, it would not hold up in the Supreme Court where issues on its constitutionality would be raised. The petitioners might argue that it is the discretion of the individual whether they want to be inoculated with the vaccine or not and forcing said individuals to be vaccinated would be a breach of their freedom but there is a way to make vaccination mandatory without violating anyone’s rights to freedom. This is where the police power of the state comes in.  

         Police power is the right of the state to protect the country and its population from threats to public health and safety. Mandatory vaccination is ethically and legally justifiable considering that Covid is a real and grave threat not only to the general public but also to the Philippine economy and the drained medical frontliners. The pandemic caused the Philippines' economy to decline to its lowest level since World War II. For two years, it has been an endless cycle of lockdowns and restrictions. For two years, the medical community endured waves after waves of infections. These conditions will continue to persist until we quash the high risk of infection by stepping up our vaccination efforts to achieve herd immunity.

         Regardless of the status of the supply of vaccines, herd immunity is still impossible until anti-vaxxers get inoculated. As long as the government use force and threats instead of supporting efforts to educate these anti-vaxxers who are not only adamant in their stance but are also misled with wrong information on the vaccine, then more mutations and variants of Corona Virus will appear, more long-term economic repercussions, more covid infection, and more lockdowns would ensue. 

         With these predicaments, we go back to the main issue of unwarranted arrests against unvaccinated individuals where Vice President Leni Robredo disagrees. She contends that more people would be enthralled to get vaccinated if the government offers incentives just like what her office is doing in their vaccination drives where they give out gasoline vouchers to tricycle drivers who are the beneficiaries of the said program.

The problem with invoking the right of the state to police power is that this opens up another opportunity for abuse considering the political climate and nearing national elections. If the government chooses to go through with mandatory vaccination, instead of including provisions that would legalize arrests and detention of the unvaccinated individuals, it must focus on ramping up the information campaign on the efficacy and the safety of the vaccines since these are the top reasons on why most Filipinos are hesitant to get their jabs according to an SWS survey and providing incentives to those who will be vaccinated.

It is our position that public safety is always paramount but we must not resort to threats that might prove counterproductive at the end of the day. We must bear in mind that public safety is a two-way street. For our nation to truly rise from the pit hole that it has fallen into, there must be shared responsibility between the government to ensure the safety of its people that is by allocating funds for information campaigns and for any needs of the vaccines if any complications arise and for the people to trust its government and the science behind the development of the vaccines.