Will President Duterte fire unvaccinated PAO chief Acosta? | Inquirer Opinion
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Will President Duterte fire unvaccinated PAO chief Acosta?

/ 04:00 AM January 18, 2022

This question looms large after public defender Persida Acosta admitted on television that she remains unvaccinated due to her age and other health considerations. “I am not anti-vaccination but I am having second thoughts, and I am waiting for a protein-based vaccine,” she says while current available vaccines are based on ribonucleic acid (RNA).

Acosta said her daughter and brothers are vaccinated while 91 percent of her staff at the Public Attorneys Office (PAO) are now vaccinated. She appealed to LGUs to implement policies that are not discriminatory against unvaccinated persons.

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She says the Bill of Rights of the Constitution states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty and property without due process of law. “The COVID-19 Vaccination Program of 2021, or RA 11525, provides that vaccine cards shall not be necessary for educational or any transaction.”

Acosta says the Department of Health (DOH) portal also declares that a patient has the right to refuse a vaccine or any medicine because the body belongs to the person and not the government.

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“President Duterte’s instructions to LGUs to restrict the movements of unvaccinated persons was made because he believes that the only way to curb the pandemic is vaccination, but it does not mean violating the Constitution,” Acosta declared.

On the ground, DOTR imposed its no vaccine-no public transportation policy on the unvaccinated triggering confusion and criticism from both drivers and passengers. At the same time, LGUs implemented ordinances further limiting their mobility. Barangay chairmen were given a January 31 deadline by the DILG to submit the names of unvaccinated people in their respective areas. DILG Undersecretary for Barangay affairs Martin Diño says that if the barangay official is himself unvaccinated, then he should resign or take a leave until the pandemic is over.

Diño also clarified that the unvaccinated list was needed to help government determine how many more vaccines are needed. “We are appealing to them to get vaccinated and helping them to get scheduled,” he said.

But the Commission on Human Rights reminded barangay officials that submitting a list of unvaccinated residents in their area must not result in violation of their “right to privacy”.

In Metro Manila, around four million people, or 30 percent of its 13.4 million population, remain unvaccinated, prompting Mr. Duterte to order these people to stay at home while the Omicron varIant is surging.

These conflicting statements from Malacañang, DILG, CHR and now the unvaccinated PAO chief Persida Acosta raise serious questions on the danger of violating the “right to privacy” of individuals who continue to refuse vaccination. Acosta’s powerful statement is expected to reverberate in the more than four million unvaccinated people in Metro Manila. “If ever the local officials will incarcerate me for being unvaxxed, then I will fight for my cause, I will take action against local laws that restrict the movement and punish unvaccinated persons,” she says.

Personally, I am fully vaccinated together with my family but I hate the idea of polarizing our society into classifications with an underlying accusation that one group is a threat to our health. It is not a crime to refuse vaccines and the right to privacy should be respected at all times.

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Elsewhere in the world, the unvaccinated people are staging massive protests against their governments in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, UK, Czechoslovakia, Lebanon and even in Washington DC led by longtime anti-vaccine activist lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who’s organizing a protest march on January 23.

About a week ago, a small group of anti-vaxxers were dispersed with water cannons in Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila by the police for reportedly failing to follow physical distancing.

And so, the big question today, how will President Duterte, and the DILG respond to the unvaccinated PAO chief Acosta’s challenge? Will she be fired or strongly admonished?

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