Much has been said about the government’s decision to enforce the “no-vaccination, no-ride/entry” policy on public transportation, which took effect yesterday, 17 January 2022. While many people, including transport groups, medical communities, and airline companies, have favored its implementation for the general public’s safety, misguided and unsound judgments and remarks had been hurled regarding the new protocol. Some are even saying that the policy is both discriminatory and anti-poor.
But what is really at stake here is the overall safety and wellness of everyone, especially with the alarming uptick in Covid-19 cases recently.
Transportation Secretary Art Tugade’s order to enforce the “no-vaccination, no-ride/entry” policy was never meant to discriminate against anyone. This was made to protect all — both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated — to safeguard the most vulnerable, unburden our healthcare system, and give our exhausted medical workers — who have been strenuously holding the line for us in the past two years of this pandemic — some space to breathe.
However, as many of our kababayans have remained unvaccinated, it is expected that the policy will encounter some resistance as it is seen as an inconvenience by some. For that, we extend our apologies. We understand their sentiments. It is also important to note that we are not discriminating against them. But we are protecting them as they do not have the needed protection against the disease.
We must remember that it creates more inconvenience and it is even riskier if unvaccinated individuals will contract severe Covid-19 infections, particularly amid the Omicron variant now infecting Filipinos at an alarming rate.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been very clear when it said: “Wgile Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, it remains a dangerous virus, particularly for those who are unvaccinated.”
Worse, if the number of public transport workers infected with the virus goes higher, we might face another shutdown just like what happened last year in the MRT-3, LRT lines, and PNR, as most front-facing passengers were infected with the virus.
For those saying that the policy is anti-poor, draconian or punitive, we believe that it is more anti-poor and anti-life if we will not impose interventions that will prevent loss of lives due to non-vaccinations. Alternative steps were also promoted to accelerate vaccination. Last year, we provided free rides for vaccinated passengers in public transport — specifically on our railway lines. Free snacks were also given in airports and seaports for vaccinated individuals.
We also do not want businesses to shut down due to the surge in Covid-19 cases. According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), our campaign is all-encompassing. If we do not act now, all industries and business sectors will be severely affected.
On those questioning the legal basis of the policy, it should also be clear that the Metro Manila Council (MMC) first issued a resolution on the guidelines for unvaccinated individuals. The resolution prohibits unvaccinated individuals from boarding public transport. This resolution was approved and signed by all Metro Manila Mayors and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and is strongly supported by the Inter-Agency Task Force.
Similarly, the Department of Justice (DoJ) also issued a legal opinion about the new policy, saying that the Resolution from the MMDA and MMC with its corresponding LGU ordinances is a valid exercise of police power under the Local Government Code. Considering that the DoTr’s order is an implementation of these ordinances, then the same is, likewise, legally valid.
To be clear, there is no directive to prohibit unvaccinated individuals from traveling. They are allowed to travel by using other means aside from public transport. Even the Department Order of the DoTr has exceptions. The policy is also temporary or while Covid-19 Alert Level 3 or higher is in place. Remember that the so-called right to ride needs to be balanced with our responsibility as transport regulators to maintain and preserve safe travel.
Contrary to those saying that the “no-vaccination, no-ride/entry” policy violates Republic Act 11525, which states that vaccine cards shall not be considered an additional mandatory requirement for educational, employment, and other similar government transaction purposes, such is not the case. Access to public transportation is not among those enumerated in the prohibition and that the Administrative Code prevails, which mandates DoTr to provide safe transportation services to the general public.
The policy is anchored on the state’s inherent power to protect the health and safety of the people. It is also in line with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s directive to restrict the movement of unvaccinated individuals in Metro Manila with the uptick of Covid-19 cases.
If we do not act now, our efforts to control the pandemic will be wasted. We must remember that it is part of our civic duty to protect each other.