We find some good grain in the proposal of Deputy Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo that vaccine line jumping and mishandling be criminalized – the proposal, we add, must be approved posthaste.
We understand a bill to this effect will be filed March 29, today, which aims to amend Republic Act 11525 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, which President Rodrigo Duterte signed last Feb. 6.
We agree with Castelo who said vaccine queue jumping and mishandling, which results in wastage, should be considered criminal offenses and penalties be imposed on offenders, adding there should be accountability.
She correctly pointed out that both acts of wrongdoing “deny healthcare workers and senior citizens, who are on top of the vaccine priority list, their COVID-19 shots, and consequently, their protection from the virus.”
Listen to her: “Mishandling also affects our timetable to go back to normalcy and to hasten economic recovery. It is preventable and therefore cannot be made an alibi for incompetence or even stupidity.” True, both vaccine line skipping and wastage could jeopardize the country’s allocation of free 44 million doses from the World Health Organization vaccine sharing facility.
It is as well a maxim that even if we buy from producers to replace wasted jabs, it would take time before they can supply us because “their production for the immediate future has already been contracted and cornered by rich countries.”
Earlier, Castelo called for swift punishment for local officials and private individuals who have jumped the vaccine priority list, dislodging healthcare workers, who get the top priority, followed by senior citizens.
As it turned out, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, the jumpers could not be held criminally liable because RA No. 11525 did not have penal provisions, except for those who falsified vaccination cards.
But Guevarra said jumper-officials could be penalized administratively.
If jumper-officials can be sanctioned, necessarily jumpers should also have a taste of the penalty. But if indeed they cannot be criminally liable, then let’s go for Castelo’s proposed measure promptly.
On Friday, Guevarra said the government might file administrative cases against public officials who jump the line to get inoculated against COVID-19.
“Possible administrative liability [may be filed] if they are government officials who are not in the priority list,” Guevarra said in a text message.
While the new vaccination law does not provide penal provisions against erring government officials who jump ahead of the line in getting jabs, they may be held liable for violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (Republic Act 6713).
Duterte earlier warned government officials against getting themselves vaccinated for COVID-19 even though they were not in the priority list, which puts health care workers ahead of all other groups.
The warning came after the Department of Interior and Local Government issued a show-cause order against five local chief executives for skipping the line and getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
The President reminded the public that the vaccines were donated by the COVAX Facility of the World Health Organization and, because of this, the Philippines has an obligation to follow the list of priorities, which is a condition for receiving the donated vaccines.
The DILG said seven more mayors would receive show cause orders for getting inoculated ahead of health care workers.
Interviewed on CNN Philippines, DILG Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III said these local government officials have to explain and justify their vaccination.
Densing III said show cause orders were issued to the following mayors as of Tuesday: Mayor Alfred Romualdez of Tacloban City, Leyte; Mayor Dibu Tuan of T’boli, South Cotabato; Mayor Sulpicio Villalobos of Sto. Nino, South Cotabato; Mayor Noel Rosal of Legazpi City, Albay; and Mayor Abraham Ibba of Bataraza, Palawan.
The President also named four mayors: Elanito Peña of Minglanilla, Cebu; Victoriano Torres III, of Alicia, Bohol; Virgilio Mendez of San Miguel, Bohol; and Arturo Piollo II of Lila, Bohol.
Castelo had called for swift punishment for those who have jumped the prioritization list for COVID-19 vaccine.
We agree with Castelo that, and we quote her, “Show cause orders and citations of law or rules are not enough. We should have instant sanctions for vaccine queue jumpers and those with command responsibility for violations to set the example for all concerned and the general public.”
She said it is only by imposing penalties swiftly on violators and responsible officials could the government send the message that it is pretty serious about enforcing pandemic response measures impartially.
There is this unhealthy, if nagging, perception that only the small fry like localized lockdown breakers are caught and penalized instantly, while [the guilty] in high places get away with infractions.
Castelo has a point that cannot be ignored when she said she could not believe the claim of vaccine line jumpers that they got themselves vaccinated as “substitutes” for health care workers who were absent or who refused the jabs or to get public confidence in the vaccine jabs.
“There are many doctors, nurses, other medical practitioners, and hospital personnel who are willing to take the vaccine to protect themselves from the virus and continue attending to patients,” Castelo said.
She pointed out that as of now, fewer than 500,000 of the estimated 1.7 million health care workers in the country have been inoculated since the vaccine rollout on March 1.
We also note that Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone appealed to his fellow local government officials to strictly follow the priory listings for the vaccine rollout.
“We should set the example in ensuring proper and orderly vaccination rollout. Let’s avoid jumping the line. Let’s protect first the health workers and frontliners. anyway, the national government has assured the general public that all the targeted 70 million Filipinos will be vaccinated once the supply is available,” Evardone, former congressman, said in a message to reporters covering the House of Representatives.
Tacloban’s mayor said he was ready to face any investigation.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian himself said it was unfair for health workers and other front liners that government officials and entertainment personalities jumped ahead of the line to get the vaccines and save themselves.
“I don’t buy the reason – they did it for the people or to build confidence on the vaccines– because the people will not have access to vaccines till July. The only qualified people as of this point are medical frontliners,” Gatchalian said.
Talk of Filipino culture indeed.