SC dodges key issues on legality of COVID-19 measures
The Supreme Court has dismissed on a technicality three petitions against the constitutionality of government measures during the COVID-19 lockdown because facts should have first been established in lower courts.
“The petitions were dismissible for violating the doctrine of hierarchy of courts as the resolution of the issues raised therein required the determination and adjudication of extremely technical and scientific facts that necessitate the conduct of a full-blown proceeding before a court of first instance,” the court said, after voting unanimously during its en banc session on July 11.
Among the questions left unsettled were: can the government force citizens to get vaccination shots or wear masks, detain them at health facilities, prevent them from using public transportation or working for a livelihood because they were not inoculated?
The petitions were separately filed in 2022 by Jose C. Montemayor Jr., Passengers and Riders Organization Inc., Nicanor Jesus P. Perlas III and others against the issuances of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) in the Philippines.
The petitions also impleaded the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Education, the Department of Health (DOH) and Makati City.
The decision came two months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that COVID-19, which killed millions of people and wreaked economic havoc for over three years, was no longer a global health emergency.
The IATF, chaired by the DOH, is the government’s advisory body on the pandemic response.
The petitioners argued that the issuances trampled on their right to life and liberty without due process of law, impaired their right to travel, and infringed on the principle of equal protection under the law.
The substantive issues are far from moot and academic, even if COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency.
The WHO’s emergency committee first declared that COVID-19 represented its highest level of alert more than three years ago, on Jan. 30, 2020.
The status helped focus international attention on a health threat, as well as bolster collaboration on vaccines and treatments.
It also allowed governments to resort to extraordinary measures to prevent the spread of the disease.
Former President Rodrigo Duterte on March 8, 2020, declared a state of public health emergency due to COVID-19, allowing national and local government agencies to reallocate funds and resources to implement urgent and critical measures to contain the spread of the virus.
Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa said that the DOH and the IATF have already recommended the emergency’s lifting, but the Office of the President had to review the proposal further.
But President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. now believes the Philippines’ COVID-19 health emergency has been “de facto” lifted.
He said, however, that people still need to protect themselves, even if the state of emergency is lifted.
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