Many commuters were caught off-guard on Jan. 17 when the Department of Transportation (DOTr) formally started the implementation of the "no vaccination, no ride" policy in Metro Manila.
It was the product of a Department Order 2022-001 signed by Transportation Sec. Arthur P. Tugade on Jan. 11, 2022. It was technically up for implementation on Jan. 13, but transportation officials said they would rather implement it a week after so that enforcers and the public can prepare.
And so as early as 5am on Jan. 17, enforcers of the Interagency Task Force for Traffic (I-ACT) were busy checking passengers’ vaccination cards at EDSA Busway stations.
The rule appeared simple: no vaccination, no ride. Those who have yet to be inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines will not be allowed to take any public land, rail, air, and sea transport if they are coming to or from Metro Manila. Those who forgot to bring their cards, or at least failed to show any proof of vaccination, will not be allowed to board any plane, sea vessel, train, bus, or jeepney.
The same applies for those who are partially vaccinated or those who only got the first dose of the vaccine.
But there are exemptions: those who cannot be vaccinated because of certain medical conditions may still take public transportation, provided that they show medical certificates that say so.
The unvaccinated as well as the partially vaccinated may also take public transportation if they can show proof that they are out to avail themselves of essential goods and services, such as, but not limited to, buying food, going to the hospital for check-ups, or getting vaccinated.
The goal: to prevent public transportation from becoming a vector of transmission of COVID-19, especially now that cases are on the rise due to the more transmissible Omicron variant.
But this should not be totally unheard of for some passengers coming from Metro Manila. As early as Jan. 3, passengers who were unable to bring their vaccination cards were not allowed in some passenger terminals, one of them being Baliwag Transit in Cubao, Quezon City.
But still, the implementation came as a surprise.
One of the most challenging aspects of this policy is the implementation on jeepneys.
On the first day of implementation, hundreds of passengers were unable to go to their destinations for not bringing their vaccination cards – including those who were supposed to go for work and even essential activities.
One passenger that News5 spoke to was also not allowed entry at the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange as his vaccination card that was issued by the Malaybalay, Bukidnon local government unit appeared to be just a printout on a piece of paper that was far different from what is being issued in Metro Manila, and was not recognized by the enforcers.
Those with QR codes that did not show their names or photos were likewise denied boarding.
The DoTr likewise admitted that it does not have the capacity to confirm the veracity of the vaccination cards.
Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of this policy is the implementation on jeepneys. It would be very difficult to check on the vaccination cards of passengers as most jeepneys do not have exact spots for picking up and dropping off passengers.
Our team tried to ride on jeepneys during the first day of implementation and observed that jeepney drivers do not even bother to check passengers’ vaccination cards.
One driver we spoke to said: “Alangan namang bababa pa kami [para] magcheck kami ng pasahero namin. Dapat merong may magcheheck talaga na may vaccine ‘yung pasahero kaysa ‘yung kami pa ang magbabantay.”
The DoTr said that it forged an alliance with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), and the Highway Patrol Group of the Philippine National Police so that they can designate areas for spot checking if passengers onboard are vaccinated.
But much of the burden was passed on the jeepney drivers who have to ensure compliance among passengers, as failure to do so would merit hefty fines, considering the lower income that they are getting due to limited capacities and limited mobility of passengers.
The DoTr also said they are assigning “mystery riders” to ensure compliance.
“We can also see from here how the program is implemented on a daily basis, without the drivers knowing that that there are enforcers on board,” said Mark Steven C. Pastor, assistant secretary for road transport and infrastructure, in an online briefing to reporters.
Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms hurled against the DoTr for enforcing this policy is the order’s tendency to be in violation of human rights – Filipinos’ right to travel, which is enshrined in the Constitution.
The right of an individual is subjected or subservient to the rights of the majority.
But Transportation Usec. Artemio U. Tuazon, Jr., a lawyer, was quick to defend the policy.
“In our Bill of Rights, what is protected is the right to travel. We are not limiting the travel of the commuters. What we are limiting is the use of public transport. They can always use their own vehicles if they want to travel around,” Tuazon said in an interview via Zoom.
“The right of an individual is subjected or subservient to the rights of the majority. Remember that we are in the state of national national public health emergency and the DoTr has the mandate of providing safe public transportation for all.”
Renato M. Reyes, Jr., secretary-general of progressive group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, called the policy “punitive” as it passes on the blame to those unable to get vaccinated due to the failure of the government to roll out an effective vaccination program.
It also serves as a punishment for those who decline to be vaccinated due to whatever reason.
Others, still, tagged the policy as anti-poor, as this prohibits the working class from moving around given that public transportation is their only way to do so.
The Labor department said that the DoTr should exempt the working class from the policy. To which health expert Dr. Anthony C. Leachon said in his Twitter account: “I don’t agree with DoLE Sec. (Silvestre) Bello. He does not understand the no vax, no ride policy. Balewala rin kapag pinayagan mo ang unvaccinated workers to go out. Kaya nga tayo gumawa ng policy para mapilitan silang magpabakuna. Lahat naman na lalabas ay workers. Masyadong magulo!”
It is a tug-of-war. On the one end, there’s the Transportation department under pressure by its mandate to provide safe transportation and by the directive from the Metro Manila mayors preventing the unvaccinated from going out.
On the other hand, there’s the commuting public who just needs to get by in the middle of a pandemic.
At the end of the day, if authorities argue that the policy does not impede on human rights given the exemptions, all the commuters deserve is an efficient enforcement, as well as an easy access and efficient roll out of vaccines for all.