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FIRING LINE: Pandemic human rights

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

Once again, the question of human rights is likely to be raised over the insistence of local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila to keep unvaccinated individuals in lockdown. Perhaps not even Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Benhur Abalos would deny that part of the intention here is to convince more Metro Manilans to get themselves vaccinated.

It is, after all, for the greater good that more people going about in shared spaces have a shot of protection in their arms as COVID-19 cases continue to rise because of the more contagious Omicron variant in our midst.

As of this writing, the daily tally of new cases has hit 5,434 – more than 12 times over the 433 new cases logged by the Department of Health (DOH) just 10 days prior. We must also consider that even the fully vaccinated can catch this particular infection because of the complexity of its spike protein mutations.

However, I agree that raising human rights is always relevant to any new policy of locking down the population, or even just a margin of citizens like the unvaccinated. Regardless of whether one is vaccinated against COVID-19 or not, no person should be discriminated against.

The pandemic, though, and the critical responses required to abate the health crisis naturally collide with the absolute preservation of human rights. European courts have to contend with this emerging challenge to balance the right of states to impose pandemic-related restrictions against upholding human rights, which generally protects people’s freedom to make choices and live their lives according to their beliefs.

To my mind, differential treatment of people may not be discriminatory if it can be objectively and reasonably justified. And it seems the MMDA and the Metro Manila Council are exercising such caution by still allowing the unvaccinated to go out to buy their necessities, go to work, and attend to other essential activities. They’re even allowed to engage in outdoor exercises within the vicinity of their residence.

Of course, there remains the issue of being barred entry to the malls or being barred from domestic travel, especially for non-emergencies. But even for the fully vaccinated, these are measures that may be necessary to save lives from the invisible, seething nature of this Omicron variant.

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Here’s a question authorities may never answer, however viral it gets on social media: How come the justice being brought upon Gwyneth Chua, the supposed Omicron super-spreader in Makati, did not apply to other protocol violators, the likes of Sen. Koko Pimentel, Gen. Debold “Mananita” Sinas, Sec. Harry Roque Jr. or Mocha Uson?

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email firingline@ymail.com or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at https://www.thephilbiznews.com

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