“Don’t get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested and I’ll inject the vaccine in your butt,” Duterte said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra acknowledged on Tuesday that there was no Philippine law criminalizing refusal to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“I believe that the president merely used strong words to drive home the need for us to get vaccinated and reach herd immunity as soon as possible,” Guevarra said.
A human rights lawyer, Edre Olalia, raised concerns over Duterte’s threat, saying the president could not order the arrest of anybody who has not clearly committed any crime.
Duterte blamed the problem on wealthy Western countries cornering vaccines for their own citizens, leaving poorer countries like the Philippines behind. Some officials said the bigger problem was inadequate vaccine supply more than public hesitancy.
Duterte also walked back on an earlier remark that required people to wear plastic face shields over face masks only in hospitals as an added safeguard. After experts briefed him on the threat of more contagious coronavirus variants, Duterte declared it mandatory for people to continue wearing face shields indoors and outdoors.
The Philippines is a COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases and at least 23,749 deaths.