EXPLAINER: Lapu-Lapu City Ahong Chan uses 'scare tactic' - no vaccination, no entry to all markets, malls, shops. Mayor risks IATF rebuke, voters wrath but keeps foot in escape hatch. Might work.

·6 min read

ANGER-INDUCING ORDER. Monday, July 26, Mayor Junard "Ahong" Chan issued Executive Order #2021-040 that says only vaccinated persons shall be allowed entry to "public and private markets, including department stores, supermarkets, grocery and convenience stores." Requirement for entry: the individual's vaccination card.

The order drew a flood of comments on social media -- 12,000 as of 5 p.m. that day, a newspaper reported -- and Mayor Chan in a Facebook post said he was still in his office at 1:13 a.m. the following day, Wednesday, poring over the comments.

Negative comments included criticisms that it (a) would hurt people who have no money to stock up on food and must buy their subsistence needs each day and (b) would disregard sentiments of those who fear, didn't trust, or even hate vaccination and the public officials who force it on them.

Not articulated enough but it must have run deep among certain sectors of the city's populace: their mayor was in effect blackmailing them. Get jabbed or get shut out, or its equivalent, be vaccinated or you don't eat. To them, that breaches the repetitive government pledge, along the road to vaccination, that no one shall be forced to submit to inoculation.

The city's public information office (PIO) in a press release conceded the mayor's move was "drastic and unpopular" and "earned the flak of netizens in social media."

CAUTIONARY FLAGS. But many Oponganons didn't listen or read well enough to see that Mayor Chan could just be using a strategy or plain gimmickry to hype up the vaccination campaign. It could be a straw grasped after that free-Cordon-Bleu-snacks promo didn't attract enough people to vax sites.

The mayor and the city's publicists disclosed early on these telling facts:

[1] The ban will take effect on August 25 yet, or 29 days from the date of the order. And, along with the other restrictions in the mayor's EO (such as the limits on liquor and video-karaoke}, the markets ban will be "temporary."

[2] The mayor has not yet made a final decision as, he said, he'd still assess conditions and data on rate of vaccination and extent of further infections.

The red flags say this is all tentative, depending on what Mayor Chan would like to see in the next few weeks: surge in vaccinations, slide in infections.

Yet many people saw and heard only the word "ban," with its avowed totality in scope. Thus, the near-panic backlash.

RESPONSE TO SURGE. In batting for his no-vaccination-no-entry plan, Mayor Chan said there were 763 cases and a positivity rate of 19.7 percent, as of July 27. The city's P.I.O. cites "increasing" deaths and infections, waving on its Facebook wall the warning: "91 percent of Covid patients are unvaccinated."

At a July 27 press-con, Mayor Chan warned of a return to lockdown, or MGCQ (modified quarantine). That's a threat earlier made by Nagiel Banacia, head of the city's DRRMO or disaster management office, who said the hospitals were full and would no longer accept Covid patients. Rescue chief Banacia said the infection is in the houses: "hurot-hurot gyud ang natakdan."

While the City Government has provided figures on the new surge, no numbers are given, as are none in most LGUs, on vaccination goal, actual vaccinations made, number of doses required, supply of vaccines, and estimated extent of vaccine hesitancy.

RISKS OF THE STRATEGY. Mayor Chan's warning of a return to lockdown with its restrictions, topped by the "unpopular" plan to ban the un-vaccinated from markets and shops, carries risks, whose effects he must begin to feel:

[1] REELECTION CHANCES. A lot of voters don't like the "blackmail," some of whom -- no way to tell if they're loyalists of Paz Radaza, former mayor now congresswoman, or truly concerned and involved citizens -- naughtily remind him, "Eleksyon baya, mayor."

It could backfire. He might not have more people vaccinated and the pandemic would continue to rage and inflict its toll. And the IATF leaders in Manila might not agree with the method.

Or it could work. If Mayor Chan could raise the vaccination rate to a level that tames the virus and saves a significant number of lives, he could be a hero in his constituents' eyes.

He's doing -- or threatening to do -- what a mayor or governor has not done. He is figuratively pointing a gun on people's heads and hissing: be vaccinated or you can't shop anywhere; you could starve, if the virus won't kill you.

[2] IF VACCINES RUN OUT. One may assume that in Lapu-Lapu, supply of vaccines from Manila is as unreliable and erratic as in other LGUs. For one, Cebu City vaccines convenor Acting Mayor Michael Rama has publicly complained about the flow of vaccines: "tagi-tagi, di sigi-sigi." Supply could fail to meet to meet demand spurred by Chan's threat. The mayor, one observer noted in his radio broadcast, is behaving like some Democratic state in the US that is awash with vaccines: "Be vaccinated, or else..."

[3] IATF POLICY. The IATF is known for putting its foot down on LGU rules that depart from its national guideline. The task force's resistance to Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia's initiative -- about a more practical quarantine protocol for returning Filipinos from abroad -- still rankles.

ESCAPE HATCH. Would the LGU's ban not come out violating national policy? The standing policy, as the public understands it, is that vaccinations shall not be forced: if you don't want a jab, then pull out and line up again once you decide to be vaccinated.

The mayor could take a public beating or he might come out of it being cheered. He could back out, his feet are near an escape hatch. All he has to do is back out before August 25 and shelve the plan blaming developments, including an order from Manila.

Mayor Chan's threat is not like forcing the citizen down, holding a shoulder and pushing the needle. But it is equivalent, some say, to starving you by denial and deprivation from sources of food, not to mention the beating on your belief about vaccines or the medicine people selling them. World Health Organization (WHO) though disagrees, declaring that the compulsion may be justified if it's "necessary for, or proportionate to, the achievement of an important health goal."

SunStar tried to get the mayor's thoughts on that and other questions about the planned ban. Former PIO chief Oscar C. Pineda said "our know-all lawyers need to screen everything..." Incumbent PIO chief Mark Bautista doubted if their lawyer, one Atty. (Ailee) Tejano, would give him authority to answer, adding the infectious "he he" to his rejection note.

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