SEN. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara is touting a bill — Senate Bill No. 2057 — seeking to ease the process of acquiring COVID-19 vaccines by local government units and private companies.
This measure is as commendable as it is necessary, especially now that the national government is finding it hard to secure even the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines for Filipinos, after being hampered by such legalities as lack of indemnification law and emergency use authorization.
Because of the wide coverage of this Angara measure, we have decided to take up only one aspect of the bill that seems to be left out of the national discourse lately — the proposal to have a “COVID-19 passport” for travelers. Other more commonplace topics that are contained in the bill, which had been certified as urgent by President Duterte, can be discussed later.
The proposal for a COVID-19 “vaccination passport” was filed by Senators Grace Poe, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Pia Cayetano separately, but were incorporated into the measure.
Cross-border travelers now have this so-called health passports which, despite the name, are not official documents from governments but are digital passes issued by apps. People in the international airline industry have endorsed the use of these digital health certificates that meet the demands from airlines and governments that the travelers should possess a negative coronavirus status.
In the Philippines, we first heard of the idea when Lance Gokongwei of Cebu Pacific endorsed it, and this was followed later by similar endorsements from leaders of other airlines and tourism establishments.
In pushing for this travel innovation, Senator Angara cited countries like Israel and Denmark as having adopted a certain type of COVID-19 vaccination “passport program” to facilitate international travel and movement of people across borders. He said that certification carries with it all the attendant benefits, whether through law or through practice. It will certify a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19 and contains basic personal information, the name of the manufacturer of the vaccine used, date of inoculation, and the institution that administered the vaccine.
Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III is correct, however, in pointing out that the program could effectively discriminate people who refused to be vaccinated against the coronavirus for personal reasons. Pimentel said the passport program could inevitably pressure Filipinos to comply with the vaccination requirement, which is official not mandatory.
Aside from Pimentel’s objection, we should also consider the statement of a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, as reported by The Washington Post, that the WHO opposes governments or travel companies imposing coronavirus vaccines as a requirement to entry “because the efficacy of vaccines in preventing transmission is not yet clear, and due to limited global vaccine supply.”
The senators are well advised to consider both sides of the narrative before passing the COVID-19 passport program.