Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to jail people who refuse to be vaccinated against coronavirus as his country battles one of Asia’s worst outbreaks, with more than 1.3 million cases and 23,000 deaths.

“You choose, vaccine or I will have you jailed,” Duterte said in a televised address on Monday following reports of low turnouts at several vaccination sites in the capital, Manila.

Duterte’s remarks contradict those of his health officials, who have said that while people are urged to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, it was voluntary.

“Don’t get me wrong, there is a crisis in this country,” Duterte said. “I’m just exasperated by Filipinos not heeding the government.”

President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during ceremonies to mark the 123rd anniversary of Philippine Independence.
President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during ceremonies to mark the 123rd anniversary of Philippine Independence. Credit: Aaron Favila/AP

As of June 20, Philippine authorities had fully vaccinated 2.1 million people, making slow progress toward the government’s target to immunise up to 70 million people in the country of 110 million this year.

Duterte, who has been criticised for his tough approach to containing the virus, also stood by his decision not to let schools reopen.

Drug war probe

In the same address, Duterte took a swipe at the International Criminal Court, after an ICC prosecutor had sought permission from the court for a full inquiry into the drug war killings in the Philippines.

Duterte, who in March 2018 cancelled the Philippines’ membership of the ICC’s founding treaty, repeated he will not cooperate with the probe, describing the ICC as “bulls**t.”

“Why would I defend or face an accusation before white people. You must be crazy,” said Duterte, who after winning the presidency in 2016 unleashed an anti-narcotics campaign in which thousands have died.

Human rights groups say authorities have summarily executed drug suspects, but Duterte maintained those killed had violently resisted arrest.

Sought for comment, ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah said: “The court is an independent judicial institution, and does not comment on political statements.”

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte threatens to jail people who refuse COVID vaccine
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