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By Pia Ranada in Manila

What is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s solution to vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos? Threaten them with jail time.

Duterte, in a meeting with pandemic task force officials yesterday said he would order the arrest of people who refused to get vaccinated.

“Kung ayaw mo magpabakuna, ipaaresto kita at ang bakuna, itusok ko sa puwet mo. Putang ina, bwisit kayo,” said an irate Duterte in edited footage of the meeting aired on television.

(If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested then I’ll inject a vaccine into your buttocks.)

“Magpabakuna kayo or ipakulong ko kayo sa selda (Get vaccinated or I’ll jail you in a cell),” he added.

He has also threatened to inject them with the version of anti-parasitic medicine Ivermectin intended for animals.

Duterte said his justification for such a drastic measure as arrest was the state of national emergency he declared over the country due to covid-19 and the dangers posed by unvaccinated people as possible “carriers” of the disease.

He conceded it was a “strong-arm” tactic for which he would find a legal way to enforce.

“I will think it over very hard, legally of course, in pursuance of a policy of crisis, this health issue,” said Duterte.

The President also said he would tell local government officials to “find” those who were unwilling to get vaccinated.

“I will order all the barangay captains to have a tally of all the people who refuse to be vaccinated,” said Duterte, adding that the Department of the Interior and Local Government should supervise the effort.

The Duterte administration is already notorious for its use of barangay lists to keep tabs on suspected drug users and peddlers, many of whom have ended up killed either in police operations or by unknown assailants.

Harshest vaccination policy
If Duterte makes good on his threat, his would probably be the harshest penalty globally for people unwilling to get vaccinated against covid-19 and would likely raise human rights concerns.

In Indonesia, its capital Jakarta announced it would fine people who refused to get vaccinated.

Will coercion and threat work among a majority of Filipinos unsure about getting their jabs? A Social Weather Stations survey conducted from late April to early May found that only three out of 10 Filipinos were willing to get vaccinated.

The top reason for this unwillingness was fear of side effects of vaccines being used — the most common is the Chinese Sinovac — and the belief that the vaccines were not safe or effective, according to SWS.

Lawmakers and civil society organisations have called on the government to ramp up its vaccination information drive to counter vaccine hesitancy.

Pacific Media Watch reports that the Philippines has logged at least 1.35 million infections and over 23,500 deaths since the pandemic began, but under 6 percent of its roughly 108 million residents have been inoculated with at least one dose.

The republic has now secured the delivery of 113 million doses from five vaccine manufacturers: Sinovac with 26 million doses, Sputnik V with 10 million doses, 20 million doses from Moderna, 17 million doses from AstraZeneca — and now a deal for 40 million doses from Pfizer.

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. Rappler articles are republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.

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