t has been about two years since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Just when it appeared that we were about to reach our desired destination of a COVID-free Philippines, the situation seemingly became worse than ever. After two (2) years, the number of daily reported cases in the Philippines is higher than ever. Just recently, the Philippines recorded its all-time high number of COVID-19 cases at 39,004. It is difficult to believe that only a month ago, the Philippines recorded as low as 235 cases, the lowest reported new COVID-19 cases since May 19, 2020.
As a result, the National Capital Region and several other cities and municipalities have been placed again under Alert Level No. 3 until January 31. This may possibly be extended depending on the COVID-19 situation by January 31. If the health care utilization breaches 70% utilization rate, both for total beds and ICU, these areas may even be placed under Alert Level No. 4.
The Government has since implemented measures to, at the very least, mitigate the surge of COVID-19 cases. Among the measures implemented by the Government is the so called “No Vaccination, No Ride Policy”. The Department of Transportation (DoTr) issued its Department Order No. 2022-001 to limit public transportation access only to COVID-19 fully vaccinated population in the National Capital Region when the region is placed under Alert Level No. 3 or higher.
Under the Department Order, when the NCR is placed under Alert Level No. 3 or higher, only fully vaccinated persons may use public transportation by land, rail, sea or air. Public utility vehicle operators who violate the Policy may be penalized with a fine ranging from P1,000 to P10,000, or suspension or revocation of the PUV franchise, depending on the gravity of their offense.
To have a clearer picture of the number of people affected by the Policy, as of January 19, the total administered COVID-19 vaccination in the Philippines is 120,645,514. 56,027,759 out of the said number have been fully vaccinated, while 59,255,237 have only been vaccinated with their first dose. (https://doh.gov.ph/covid19-vaccination-dashboard). As previously discussed, only those who have been fully vaccinated may use public transportation. Therefore, 59,255,237 Filipinos who have only been vaccinated with their first dose, in addition to the millions more who have not yet been vaccinated, or have no intention to be vaccinated, may not use public transportation.
It now begs the question, is the issuance and implementation of the “No Vaccination, No Ride Policy” the proper path to take in hopefully reaching our desired destination? Legally speaking, is the Policy a valid exercise of the state’s Police Power?
The Supreme Court defined Police Power as the power of the state to promote public welfare by restraining and regulating the use of liberty and property. As ruled by the Supreme Court, to warrant such interference, two requisites must concur:
a) the interests of the public generally, as distinguished from those of a particular class, require the interference of the state. This means that the activity or property sought to be regulated affects the general welfare; if it does, then the enjoyment of the rights flowing therefrom may have to yield to the interests of the greater number; and
b) the means employed are reasonably necessary to the attainment of the object sought to be accomplished, and not unduly oppressive upon individuals. Otherwise stated, there must be a concurrence of a lawful subject and lawful method.
By illustration, in the case of Lucena Grand Terminal v. JAC Liner, the city of Lucena issued several ordinances with the objective of relieving traffic congestion in the city. The Supreme Court ruled that the questioned ordinances were invalid because the means employed were unreasonable as the questioned ordinances prohibited the operation of all bus and jeepney terminals within Lucena, including those already existing, and allowed the operation of only one common terminal located outside the city proper.
Thus, in determining the validity of the “No Vaccination, No Ride Policy”, the questions which need be considered are whether its provisions are reasonably necessary for the accomplishment of its purposes, and whether they are unduly oppressive upon individuals.
On one hand, those who are for the Policy claim that it is necessary to address the exponential increase of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, and to hopefully mitigate the situation. Further, they claim that the Policy is not unduly oppressive against unvaccinated individuals as the Policy is actually for their benefit because it protects unvaccinated persons from possibly being infected with COVID-19 as they are supposedly the most vulnerable.
On the other hand, those who are against the Policy opine that the issuance of the Policy restricts the exercise and enjoyment of fundamental rights. Worse, the Policy is allegedly anti-poor as it is the poor who are allegedly directly affected by the Policy since they cannot afford to have their own vehicles, and thus, have no choice but to use public transportation in their daily lives. As such, implementation of the Policy allegedly deprives these individuals their basic right to travel with the use of public transportation.
The seeming solution is a compromise of allowing workers to travel regardless of vaccination status, thus restricting the curtailment of travel to what might be considered as non-essential travel. Worldwide, there are efforts to use state influence to modify behavior which is deemed necessary for public health. In Singapore, there is an initiative to even restrict access to work places to those who are unvaccinated. In countries in Europe and the United States, there are some policies encouraging the use of masks, but with varying degrees of effectivity because of resistance from the population. Legalities aside, however, it seems that the question involving this Policy is one of philosophy. Some sectors believe that incentivizing vaccination status instead of penalizing is the better approach. Some are obviously of the belief that it is with punishment that behavior is best shaped. Whatever the philosophy, one can only hope that policies are implemented seriously and fairly across all sectors so that the populace can be properly guided.
This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not offered and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinion.
Jonn Kenneth Laurence A. Gonzales is an Associate of the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Department (LDRD) of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices or ACCRALAW, located at Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines.