MANILA, Philippines — Two bills looking to implement a vaccine passport program were filed in the Senate this week as the country waits to receive the first shipments of the life-saving jabs as soon as next month.
Senate Bill Nos. 1994 and 1999 were filed by Sens. Grace Poe and Pia Cayetano, respectively. Both proposed measures seek to issue a passport to every Filipino in order to better track the status of their inoculation against COVID-19.
Benefits, exemptions for passport holders
Holders of vaccine passports will be granted benefits such as international and domestic travel as well as access to business establishments under both measures.
Cayetano’s bill also provides for exemptions from some local checkpoints and quarantine while Poe’s allows the organization of public gatherings.
Generally, both bills stipulate that the passports contain the holder’s basic personal data, date of inoculation, brand and batch number of vaccine received and information on the physician and institution which administered the jab.
Under Cayetano’s measure, vaccine passports “shall primarily be digital, but shall remain accessible through other means such as printed passports.”
Fees and penalties
Only the measure filed Poe makes provisions for penalties for fraud.
A fee of P30,000 to P90,000 and imprisonment for six to 10 years will be the punishment for any “person who uses, attempts to use, a vaccine passport issued for another holder, or furnishes a vaccine passport for the use of a person.”
The same penalty applies to the falsification, forgery, and counterfeiting of vaccine passports and the distribution of the same documents.
There have been at least two instances of tourists to Boracay falsifying their COVID-19 test results. Tourists to the resort island are required so submit negative COVID-19 tests from at least 72 hours before travel.
The tourism department said then that faking the results undermine government efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 while reopening the tourism industry.
Holders who deface, mutilate, alter, or destroys their vaccine passports will have to pay fees ranging from P15,000-P60,000 and be imprisoned for three to 10 years.
Persons who possess more than one passport will face the same penalties.
Poe also stipulates that the passports be given to Filipinos for free, making provisions as well for their free amendment and replacement.
Why is this important?
In the explanatory note for her bill, Cayetano said that a vaccination passport program “will provide the government with a means to monitor [the] distribution of the vaccines, including post-market surveillance.”
Poe also notes that “easing community quarantine and raising consumer confidence are central to our economic recovery,” and makes an argument for the need to increase mobility in the country.
She also cites countries such as Greece, Israel, and Denmark that have rolled out vaccine passport programs to complement their inoculation efforts. A report from the World Economic Forum also notes that vaccine passports may be required for seamless border crossing.
Both senators also discuss the necessity of such passports even beyond the coronavirus pandemic, citing the possibility of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases in the future.
A counterpart measure, House Bill 8280, was filed by Rep. Ronnie Ong (Ang Probinsiyano party-list) last month.