As the country grapples with both vaccine hesitancy and a lack of supplies, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to arrest anyone who refuses to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“I will arrest them,” Duterte said late Monday. “In order to protect the people, I must imprison you. Now you have a choice: get vaccinated or I’ll lock you up in a cell.”

“If you don’t want to be vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested and the vaccine injected into your [buttocks],” he said, using a vulgar term. He also expressed his displeasure with any anti-vaccine sentiment, suggesting that those who felt that way should leave.

“Leave the Philippines if you do not get vaccinated. If you want, you can go to India or somewhere in America,” he added. Menardo Guevarra, the Justice Secretary, clarified on Tuesday that refusing vaccination was not against the law.

“I believe the president simply used strong words to emphasize the importance of getting vaccinated and achieving herd immunity as soon as possible,” he said. “As a lawyer, he understands that refusing to be vaccinated is a legal option.”

However, a change in the law may be on the way. According to Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, the Philippine Congress could pass legislation requiring vaccinations.

According to the Rappler news site, he stated, “We need an ordinance or a law that will impose a penalty on those who refuse to get vaccinated.” “It’s simple to ask Congress for that because Congress understands the importance of vaccination.”

He went on to say that such a policy was also covered by the state’s police powers. “When it comes to police powers, some rights are clearly violated — but they are violated for broader interests, in this case, public health and safety.”

Since the pandemic, Duterte, a tough-talking populist best known for waging a bloody drug war that has killed thousands, has largely responded to the health crisis with an iron fist, ordering the arrest of quarantine violators and people who aren’t properly wearing masks. His pandemic task force is mostly made up of retired army generals. His pandemic policies have been criticized for both human rights violations and a lack of scientific evidence, according to critics.

Critics also claim that the president hasn’t instilled much trust in the government’s vaccine program, owing to his public support for security personnel who used smuggled vaccines. Duterte insisted on being vaccinated with Sinopharm, a Chinese vaccine that at the time was not locally approved for emergency use.

In a survey conducted earlier this year, Pulse Asia Research discovered that 6 in 10 Filipinos would not get vaccinated despite high fears of contracting covid-19.

After a 2017 controversy involving the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, which was administered to thousands of students in a mass immunization program, vaccine skepticism skyrocketed in the Philippines. Following the announcement by pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur that the vaccine could cause severe cases of dengue in people who had never had the disease before, the Public Attorney’s Office prematurely claimed the vaccine was responsible for the deaths of some children.

Following a media frenzy and political blame game, vaccine rates plummeted, resulting in measles and polio outbreaks. The scarcity of vaccines, on the other hand, is a major impediment. Lines formed before sunrise in Manila, and many hopefuls had to wait up to eight hours for a shot.

In the past year, the Philippines experienced one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Southeast Asia, with 1.3 million confirmed cases and over 23,000 deaths. Only 8 million people out of 108 million have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose.