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How the Philippine capital's 'no vaccination, no ride' public transit rule is going


The Philippines is cracking down on people who aren't vaccinated against COVID-19. Earlier this month, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to incarcerate anyone unvaccinated. And just this week, a new no-vaccination, no-ride rule for public transportation went into effect in a sprawling national capital region. Reporter Ashley Westerman has more from Manila.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: One of the busiest places during rush hour in Manila is the Araneta Center-Cubao station. Hundreds of people buy tickets...


WESTERMAN: ...Tap through the gates...


WESTERMAN: ...Get on trains.


WESTERMAN: But starting Monday, there was an additional step. Show your vaccination card and a valid ID to the guard at the entrance. Commuter Ronilo Valdes (ph) says he likes the new rule that requires all riders to show proof of vaccination before boarding any train, bus, trike or jeepney in this megalopolis of over 13 million people.

RONILO VALDES: And they've complied, and others should comply. Anyway, vaccinations are free.

WESTERMAN: And does it make you feel safe?

VALDES: Yes, I feel safe.

WESTERMAN: Christopher Pandan (ph) says while he also likes the new rule, he feels bad for those who aren't vaccinated and can't get a ride.

CHRISTOPHER PANDAN: (Through interpreter) It's a matter of choice because it is our own body and we have our own views and opinions.

WESTERMAN: The original policy required riders to show proof of full vaccination to get a public ride. However, after a wave of criticism, the Department of Transportation issued new guidance just a day after it went into effect. It allowed partially or unvaccinated individuals to take public transportation if they were going to work.

IRA CRUZ: The already unrealistic enforcement just got this much more complicated.

WESTERMAN: Ira Cruz is with the advocacy group AltMobility PH. He says 88% of households in metro Manila do not own private cars, meaning the only way for most people to get to work is by using the city's unreliable public transportation.

CRUZ: These are our frontliners. These are people that don't have options to work from home, which is severely discriminatory.

WESTERMAN: Meanwhile, enforcement of the policy lands on the shoulders of the vehicle operators. If they let someone ride who isn't vaccinated or doesn't have a work exemption, they could be fined.

CRUZ: The government seems to be passing on the responsibility of covering for the shortcomings of a vaccination campaign.

WESTERMAN: Even though over 50% of Filipinos are vaccinated, the Philippine government still failed to meet its 2021 goal for jabs. NPR's requests for comment from the Department of Transportation went unanswered. The no-vax, no-ride rule is not the only policy being used to ramp up pressure on the unvaccinated. Also this week, the government asked neighborhood officials to begin compiling a list of all unvaccinated residents. Roberto Cadiz with the Philippine Human Rights Commission says that is unnecessary and dangerous.

ROBERTO CADIZ: But what will prevent them from using this information for other purposes that they will not engage in other extreme measures?

WESTERMAN: Just the threat of these lists stokes fear in human rights activists, who are quick to point out that the thousands of people killed in President Duterte's yearslong war on drugs were also on a list somewhere. Cadiz says the commission understands that the pandemic is an emergency and that it is the government's duty to protect the health of citizens. But...

CADIZ: They should be respectful of the human dignity because even if they are not vaccinated, they still have human dignity.

WESTERMAN: For NPR News, I'm Ashley Westerman in Manila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANANA SONG, "FAST DAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.
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