Philippine President Tells Citizens to Go 'to America' if They Won't Get COVID Vaccine

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told citizens to leave the country if they refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine in televised remarks Monday night. The president expressed his irritation with vaccination resistance and warned that he may call for those who do not comply with the nation's campaign to be arrested, the Associated Press reported.

"Don't get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. If you don't want to get vaccinated, I'll have you arrested and I'll inject the vaccine in your butt," Duterte said.

He also threatened to order village leaders to assemble a record of resistant locals and demanded that citizens go to India or America if they continue to refuse vaccination.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra pointed out on Tuesday that no law in the Philippines makes rejecting COVID-19 vaccination a crime. "I believe that the president merely used strong words to drive home the need for us to get vaccinated and reach herd immunity as soon as possible," he said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Philippines Vaccines
A pedicab driver is inoculated with China's Sinovac COVID-19 Vaccine in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in Manila, Philippines. The Philippine president has threatened to order the arrest of Filipinos who refuse the COVID-19 vaccination and told them to leave the country for hard-hit countries like India and the United States if they would not cooperate with massive efforts to end the pandemic. Aaron Favila/AP Photo

A human rights lawyer, Edre Olalia, raised concerns over Duterte's threat, saying the president could not order the arrest of anybody who has not clearly committed any crime.

Duterte and his administration have faced criticism over a vaccination campaign that has been saddled with supply problems and public hesitancy. After repeated delays, vaccinations started in March, but many still opted to wait for Western vaccines, prompting some cities to offer snacks and store discounts to encourage people to get immunized with any vaccine.

Duterte blamed the problem on wealthy Western countries cornering vaccines for their own citizens, leaving poorer countries like the Philippines behind. Some officials said the bigger problem was inadequate vaccine supply more than public hesitancy.

Duterte also walked back on an earlier remark that required people to wear plastic face shields over face masks only in hospitals as an added safeguard. After experts briefed him on the threat of more contagious coronavirus variants, Duterte declared it mandatory for people to continue wearing face shields indoors and outdoors.

The Philippines is a coronavirus hot spot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases and at least 23,749 deaths.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a statement during the 19th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-South Korea Summit on the sidelines of the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related summits at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Manila on November 13, 2017. Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images