Officials of the national pandemic task force are ready to answer the criminal complaint filed against them for issuing a resolution mandating Covid-19 vaccination among select on-site workers, but they insisted that all orders from the body are legal and constitutional.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Wednesday assured the public that they will address the complaint lodged by five individuals before the Office of the Ombudsman over Resolution 148-B issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
Duque and Nograles, who serve as the IATF chairperson and co-chairperson, respectively, are named respondents in the complaint with Health Undersecretary of Health Charade Mercado-Grande. who leads the IATF’s secretariat.
“We will wait for the Ombudsman to decide on the case. For me, the complaint is good since it’s an opportunity to know whether what we did was right or wrong,” Duque told Daily Tribune.
Nograles, for his part, said that the IATF would submit a comment on the complaint if ordered by the Ombudsman.
“We will await the court to ask us to do so,” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
The issue stemmed from the complaint filed on 1 December by five individuals from General Santos City, who identified themselves as Nenit Caminoy, Mary Ann Doce, Norma Marquez, Marylin Reynoso, and Vivien Viernes.
The complainants questioned the IATF resolution dated 11 November, which stated that establishments and employers in both the public and private sectors should require Covid-19 vaccination among their workers tasked to do on-site jobs in areas with sufficient jab supply. The resolution took effect 1 December.
They argued that the resolution should be deemed illegal since it supposedly violated Section 12 of Republic Act 11525 or the Covid-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021. According to the said provision, vaccine cards should not be considered as an “additional” mandatory requirement for educational, employment, and other similar government transaction purposes.
Complainants also opposed a provision in the IATF resolution which stated that unvaccinated employees would be required to undergo coronavirus tests regularly at their own expense for purposes of on-site work, although they should not face termination.
The group said the required coronavirus testing are “coercive elements of overreaching scheme and overt acts of ulterior form of coercion to force the undersigned.”
Expenses for RT-PCR or antigen tests, the complainants claimed, may not be enough for unvaccinated employees’ salaries and may eventually force them to resign from their jobs.
In an effort to defend themselves, both Duque and Nograles pointed out that the IATF explicitly stated in its resolution that unvaccinated workers should not be fired for not receiving Covid-19 jabs.
Nograles also stressed that the lawyers in the IATF have been reviewing the body’s resolutions to ensure that these are “legal and constitutional.”
“We did everything by the book. Since we are an inter-agency task force, that means we also have lawyers and representatives from the justice department. We get the inputs of all our members on issues, especially from legal experts to make sure what is written in the IATF resolutions pass the test of being legal and constitutional even,” he said.
Meanwhile, Duque said that the government’s efforts to boost the state’s inoculation efforts are for public welfare.
The health chief added that Filipinos have an “ethical and moral” duty to get vaccinated against coronavirus.
“It is your ethical and moral duty to make sure you are vaccinated, so people around you will not be infected. We will wait for the Ombudsman to decide on the issue and I see no problem with that,” he said.
Over 38.6 million individuals in the country have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, while 53.4 million have received their first doses.
with JOMELLE GARNER