THE Davao City Government is eyeing legal measures against the people behind the billboard urging parents to think twice before having their children vaccinated.

The billboard was paid by the Alliance of Filipinos For Freedom and Informed Choice (AFFIC), which was first seen over the weekend.

The group is urging parents to think twice before having their children inoculated as the Covid-19 pediatric vaccination for ages five to 11 began last week.

However, the billboard was already removed on Tuesday afternoon, February 22.

City Covid-19 Task Force Spokesperson Dr. Michelle Schlosser said in a radio interview on Wednesday, February 23, that the matter was already raised at the task force meeting and is now seeking legal opinion from the City Legal Office (CLO).

"We have consulted the City Legal on this one. The City Legal Office is studying ung unsa ang pwedeng mabuhat nato ani sa mga tao na ing-ani, na naay mga plot (what we can do these people who have plot) against the government, and against the ways forward sa gobyerno (of the government) in terms sa atong vaccination rollout," Schlosser said in an interview on 87.5 FM Davao City Disaster Radio.

She also said the city security cluster was also tasked to intensify its monitoring to determine the people behind these campaign drives.

Schlosser said they still have no lead on the group behind the billboard.

The group, on February 13, through its volunteers, also distributed leaflets and encouraged the public to "resist the rush and wait until the Covid-19 vaccines for children are proven safe and effective."

"It was quite alarming kay nagbutang gyud silag dakong billboard, and allegedly, murag naga-house-to house-sila. Nagahatag og mga leaflets informing the public mga detrement na makuha sa bakuna, ug mga bad effects sa bakuna," she said.

(It was quite alarming that they had mounted this billboard, and allegedly, are also going house-to-house giving leaflets that misinform the public of the "bad effects" of the vaccines.)

Schlosser expressed concern about this move, adding that this might affect the government’s vaccination turnover, especially for the booster shots.

She added that the message of the billboard could affect the behavior and reception of the public towards the vaccination.

"Kon ila ning ipadayon, dako ni siya'g epekto sa atong rollout ug turnout of vaccinees nato. Basi'g mugamay because of this misinformation sa public," the spokesperson said.

(If they would continue this, this would affect our rollout and turnout of vaccinees. We might only have a low turnout because of this misinformation to the public.)

Schlosser said the group is “desperate” in smearing the government’s vaccination program.

"Ing-ana sila ka-desperate to really pull down the activity of the government. I hope nag-isip sila og maayo in doing this one kay they are not just responsible sa ilang mga sarili, they are also responsible towards other people and their community," the official said.

(They are really desperate to pull down the activity of the government. I hope they thought clearly when they did this because this is not only their responsibility, this also affects other people and their community.)

Schlosser said the City will intensify its information campaign in response to the efforts against the Covid-19 vaccination drive.

The official said the City will continuously inform the public of the importance of getting vaccinated against Covid-19.

Schlosser declined to comment on the comments of some netizens who are supporting the cause of the group that the removal of the billboard is suppression of the freedom of expression. She said it would be best for the legal opinion of the CLO.

Meanwhile, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)- Davao Chapter president Maceste Uy told SunStar Davao in a phone interview that there is nothing wrong with the billboard as the group behind it is only exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Uy also said that Republic Act (RA) 11525 is clear in its provision that the Covid-19 vaccination is not mandatory.

“Kung walay balaod ana, ang tao pwede niya i-exercise iyang right to free speech, including na pwede ka magbutang og ing-ana [billboard],” the lawyer said.

(If there is no law about it, people can exercise their right to free speech, including putting up billboards.)

However, it would be illegal if the posting of the billboard did not undergo a legal process, including the securing permit.

While he personally said that he has not yet seen the billboard, its context can be questioned if the message is libelous, and has no malice.

Uy also said there is a line between freedom of expression and spreading disinformation.

“Pag na-cross na nimo ang boundaries, na what you are spreading are already lies, dili na transported by the evidence or facts, liable ka na ana,” he said.

(When you have crossed boundaries, that what you are spreading are already lies, no longer transported by the evidence or facts, you are already liable.)

He said those opposing the vaccination must have concrete support to prove their claims.

The IBP president, meanwhile, said it is already a different story if the opposing party would bar anyone from getting vaccinated as this would be considered harassment.

“You cannot just impose what you want on some other people. Mao kana ang (That is) freedom of choice. Pwede nimo siya storyahon, pero dili nimo siya pwede pugngan physically (You can talk to them, but you cannot prevent them physically),” Uy said.

Debunking ‘misinformation’

Based on the billboard's text, mounted along JP Laurel Avenue, the group is using the perspective of a child who questioned the parent's decision to have him or her vaccinated against Covid-19.

"NAY, TAY, NGANO IMO KONG PABAKUNAHAN? (Mom, dad, why do you let me get vaccinated?)," the upper text of the billboard wrote.

The subject of the billboard cited that there is no reason for children to get vaccinated because they are healthy.

AFFIC also said on the billboard that there is no guarantee that those vaccinated will not get infected with Covid-19. In addition, all the vaccines' efficacy is still under experimentation and its effect would affect the lives of those vaccinated.

The group also said the government and pharmaceutical companies would not be held liable for the vaccinees, citing Section 8 of RA 11525 or the Covid-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021.

AFFIC continues to cite RA 11525, that Covid-19 vaccination is not a mandatory school requirement.

"PALIHUG HUNAHUNAA OG MAAYO, NAY, TAY... (Please think this through, mom, dad)," the lower text of the billboard wrote.

The group, on February 13, through its volunteers, also distributed leaflets and encouraged the public to "resist the rush and wait until the Covid-19 vaccines for children are proven safe and effective."

Schlosser pointed out the misconceptions raised by the group’s billboard.

She said vaccines are not meant to serve as medicine but as an additional layer of protection from possible infection.

The task force, meanwhile, agreed that the vaccines are still under experimentation.

“But the vaccine will not be approved if it is not safe. There are levels... Upat ka level ang giagian una ma-approve sa (It underwent four levels of studies before it will be approved by the) FDA [Food and Drug Administration]. Once it is approved, it is sure that the expert studied it,” Schlosser said.

She also debunked information that the vaccines are an attempt to control the population.

"Ngano man patyon niya [government]... There is no point for that. Kung ang bakuna makapatay, ang Covid-19 vaccine makapatay, so gipatay na nato ang tao sa world,” Schlosser said.

(Why would the government kill their constituents? There is no point in that. If the Covid-19 vaccines are dreadful, everyone in this world should have been dead by now.)