Philippine Public Attorney Accused of Flouting COVID Vaccine Rules

Aie Balagtas See
2022.01.19
Manila
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Philippine Public Attorney Accused of Flouting COVID Vaccine Rules Motorists line up to receive COVID-19 shots at a drive-through vaccination site in Manila, Jan. 14, 2022.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

A senator on Wednesday accused the chief of the Philippine Public Attorney’s Office of flouting the government’s strict restrictions on the movements of unvaccinated people by not being jabbed, amid surging COVID-19 infections from the Omicron variant.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the refusal by Persida Acosta to get coronavirus vaccine shots ran counter to the government’s efforts to inoculate the general public.

“Acosta is putting the life, health and safety of her co-workers in danger and that should be dealt with accordingly and decisively,” Drilon said in a statement. “The government should take the same hardline stance against their own officials. Set an example with Acosta.”

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the health department recorded the first deaths in the country attributed to the highly infectious variant.

“There were two reported deaths among our Omicron cases. … Both deaths were aged more than 60 years, unvaccinated and had pre-existing medical conditions,” it said in a statement.

Acosta, a political ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, is head of the government office that provides legal representation to those who cannot afford to pay for lawyers.

Drilon said Acosta should be restricted from leaving her home.

“If the government is serious about its ‘no vax, stay at home; no vax, no ride policy,’ it should apply it to all. Otherwise, it will not work,” he said.

Earlier this week, Acosta publicly opposed the stay-at-home policy, calling on the government to respect the rights of those who refuse to get inoculated. She added that she had yet to get her shots and was waiting for studies about a protein-based vaccine.

On Wednesday, Acosta accused pharmaceutical firms of “doing mass experimentation to fight off the pandemic and those who refuse to vaccinate are punished.”

“If a person would not want to get vaccinated for COVID-19, that’s his choice, and that’s his right because that is his own body given to him by God. So he’s the only one who can decide for himself,” Acosta said on her social media account.

“I am begging you, don’t discriminate them.”

Acosta’s comments occurred as the Philippines has seen thousands of infections in recent days. The health department logged 39,004 cases on Jan. 14, the most since the pandemic began. On Wednesday, it reported 22,958 daily COVID-19 infections, a drop from 28,471 on Tuesday.

220118-PH-covid-inside.jpg
Persida Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney’s Office, talks to reporters at Caloocan City Regional Trial Court near Manila, Nov. 29, 2018. [Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews]

‘Duty-bound to obey’

Acosta’s anti-vaccine statement did not sit well with some government officials, including her boss, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. He said she must obey regulations restricting the movement of unvaccinated individuals in the interest of public safety. 

“At present, there is no law making anti-COVID vaccination mandatory. To that extent, PAO Chief Acosta has the legal right to refuse vaccination,” Guevarra told reporters on Tuesday. “But the state has the power to regulate the movement of unvaccinated persons if it deems that such regulation is in the interest of public health or public safety.

“In short, a person may refuse to get vaccinated for her own personal reasons, but she is duty-bound to obey reasonable state regulations affecting unvaccinated persons for the benefit of society at large,” he said.

This is not the first time that Acosta challenged a government vaccination program. 

She previously led an investigation into a public vaccination program against dengue over fears about the drug Dengvaxia manufactured by French firm Sanofi Pasteur, the only dengue vaccine licensed globally.

The shots were administered to thousands of Filipino schoolchildren nationwide before Dengvaxia was pulled off the market following the deaths of at least 14 boys and girls who received the vaccine in 2016 and 2017. Experts could not determine if the drug was responsible for the deaths.

Dengue fever and dengue hemorrhagic fever are acute viral infections that affect infants, young children and adults. It is transmitted by a bite from an Aedes aegypti mosquito infected with any one of four dengue strains.

In November 2017, Sanofi issued a statement on its website admitting Dengvaxia could be harmful when administered to individuals not previously infected with dengue. Months later in March 2018, it posted another statement expressing confidence in the vaccine.

Philippine health officials have denied the company’s appeal to lift the ban, citing the permanent revocation.

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