SENATORS on Sunday warned against a plan by the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG) to withhold the allowances of poor families under the 4Ps cash transfer scheme if they are unvaccinated, saying such violates the 4Ps law and any vaccination mandate must be instituted by new legislation.

Sen. Koko Pimentel said forcing people to have the Covid-19 vaccines injected in their bodies will definitely face legal challenge on several grounds, and advised the Executive branch to just focus on ramping up vaccinations instead of imposing controversial sanctions like withholding benefits of the poor.

In the first place, the eight vaccines in the market, he noted, are all just covered by an emergency use authorization (EUA), and a citizen may well invoke his right against taking it, even though some legal quarters say forcing vaccinations is justified by the police power of the State needing to ensure public health in a pandemic.

Also, Pimentel said in a radio interview,  a forced vaccination at this stage may fall short of the “reasonableness” test required of such impositions.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, along with Senators Risa Hontiveros and Kiko Pangilinan, also weighed in against the DILG proposal.

In a statement, Drilon deplored the “no vax-no subsidy” scheme for 4Ps members.

Denouncing the DILG’s “callousness,”  Drilon agreed with Vice President Leni Robredo in suggesting that the Duterte government should offer incentives to get people vaccinated “rather than punish them.”

Drilon strongly opposed the “no vax, no subsidy” for 4.4 million beneficiaries of 4Ps or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.

In a statement on Sunday, he deplored that “it only shows that the DILG is detached from reality and unaware of the real plight of the poor.”

The Minority Leader suggested the DILG recall its proposal and called on the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the lead agency for the program, to protect the welfare of 4Ps beneficiaries.

As co-author of Republic Act No. 11310 that institutionalized 4Ps, Drilon declared that vaccination is not part of the conditions that beneficiaries must fulfill before receiving assistance.

The government’s poverty alleviation program serves 4.4 million Filipino families as beneficiaries since the term of the late President Benigno Aquino III, who prioritized the program and increased its beneficiaries from about 700,000 to 4.4. million towards the end of his term, Drilon noted.

 “It is contrary to the 4Ps law to withhold benefits or expel members who are not vaccinated. The DILG cannot just do that. That will be inhuman and totally insensitive,” Drilon said.

“We cannot assume that they are not vaccinated because they refused vaccines. They are not vaccinated because they have limited access to vaccines especially in the countryside or the roll out remains slow or the vaccines available are not what the people prefer,” Drilon added.

He recalled that the DSWD had earlier maintained that COVID-19 vaccination is not among the conditions of 4Ps and vowed to oppose the proposal all out.

Invoking Section 11 of RA 11310, Drilon said the conditions for entitlement are clearly indicated in the law: these are (a) Pregnant women must avail of pre-natal services, give birth in a health facility attended by a skilled health professional, and receive post-partum care and post-natal care for her newborn; (b) Children zero (0) to five (5) years old must receive regular preventive health and nutrition services including check-ups and vaccinations; (c) Children one (1) to fourteen (14) years old must avail of deworming pills at least twice a year; (d) Children three (3) to four (4) years old must attend daycare or pre-school classes at least eighty-five percent (85%) of them time; (e) Children five (5) to eighteen (18) years old must attend elementary or secondary classes at least eighty-five percent (85%) of their time; and (f) At least one (1) responsible person must attend family development sessions conducted by the DSWD, at least once a month.

“The poverty incidence is continuously rising. There are 4.25 million Filipinos unemployed and 4.8 million families are hungry,” he cited. The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) had earlier said that about 17 million Filipinos are expected to remain poor next year and the government may fail to reach its 14-percent poverty rate target set by the Duterte administration due to the pandemic.

Risa weighs in

At the same time, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said such a proposal is not likely to help the poor beneficiaries. She noted that Conditions under Republic Act 11310 or 4Ps Law are fixed and conditionalities may be suspended because we’re still under state of calamity until September 2022.

Instead, she suggested that DSWD and DOH should work together with parent leaders to continue their efforts to promote health/wellness by encouraging 4Ps to get vaccinated, instead of making it a conditionality.

She noted that “at the start, less than 40 percent of Metro Manila’s population wanted to be vaccinated. Now, over  80% have already been vaccinated. As long as they are briefed in a clear and reasonable way, most Filipinos are willing to be vaccinated.”

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