DILG, Cebu local gov’t in face-off over mask rule
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is once again in disagreement with the provincial government of Cebu over its policies which run counter to the national government’s pandemic response.
This time the DILG is taking the Cebu government to task for its Executive Order No. 16, dated June 8, which makes wearing of face masks outdoors optional.
“[T]his department does not recognize the executive order issued by Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia because we have the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) guidelines approved by the President,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in a statement on Friday.
“The Philippine National Police will continue to confront, apprehend and arrest, if necessary, all violators of IATF guidelines and MPHS [minimum public health standards] in the province of Cebu,” he added.
Garcia’s executive order limited the mandatory wearing of face masks to closed or air-conditioned spaces.
“On the other hand, the use of face masks shall be optional in well-ventilated and open spaces. However, persons are highly encouraged to continue to wear their masks especially in crowded outdoor areas,” the order read.
Under the latest IATF guidelines on alert level 1, issued on June 4, wearing of face masks remained mandatory “at all times, … whether outdoors or … indoor[s,] [in] private or public establishments, including … public transportation by land, air or sea.”
But Cebu province is under alert level 2 until June 15. Gambling establishments cannot yet operate under this level and other indoor and outdoor establishments are only allowed up to 50-percent and 70-percent capacity, respectively—unlike the 100-percent capacity for all establishments under alert level 1.
Año emphasized that it was President Duterte himself who ordered that wearing of face masks be continued except under circumstances defined by the IATF.
Exceptions to the face mask rule are when eating or drinking, engaging in sports in well-ventilated venues and [in] outdoor sports or exercises where physical distancing can be maintained.
“The department wishes to remind the public and all local government units that the COVID-19 virus is still present and the pandemic is not yet over,” said the interior chief, who had been thrice infected by the coronavirus.
He said the public’s adherence to minimum public health standards and the still ongoing vaccination drive were the reasons why the country’s pandemic situation remained manageable despite the detection of new subvariants.
But Garcia stood by her latest executive order.
As in her previous orders which had been questioned by the national government, she once again asserted the provincial government’s autonomy in issuing its policies, citing Sections 16 and 465 of the Local Government Code, defining the authority of the “chief executive” and his or her local government, as well as Section 105 which gives the national government only up to six months of direct supervision over a health situation in a given locality.
“Now it has been two years. And I am ready now to test that. Local autonomy must prevail, especially since it is us who know what our situation here is,” Garcia said.
She called on the Cebu Police Provincial Office not to make arrests but instead give away face masks.
This was not the first time Garcia contradicted the national government on its pandemic response.
In May last year, she issued an order which agreed with the IATF’s rule on swab testing for Filipinos arriving from abroad, but shortened their quarantine to three days. The task force imposed at that time a quarantine of up to 10 days.
Mr. Duterte was even prompted to divert Cebu-bound international flights to Manila for two weeks, as he ordered Garcia to follow the IATF. This obliged her to withdraw her executive order in June.
In September, she required employees working in establishments to wear air purifiers around their necks, supposedly as added protection against the coronavirus.
But the Department of Health (DOH) said at that time that air purifiers could not provide protection against COVID-19 and would only give their wearers a false sense of security.
In February this year she issued an executive order allowing the entry, beginning March, of foreign travelers to the province regardless of their vaccination status.
The National Task Force Against COVID-19, of which Año is vice chair, objected to that order. But he settled his differences with Garcia soon after.
The DILG did not respond to the Inquirer’s question regarding what action it would take on her latest executive order.
Mayor Michael Rama of Cebu City, an independent local entity from the province, said the wearing of face masks would continue in the city.
“We have different … situations. [And] Cebu City is a convergence area,” Rama said in an interview on Friday.
“Right now, I’m not saying we will not get rid of the mask. But as of this time, wearing a face mask in Cebu City remains mandatory,” he added.
The DOH in Central Visayas has stopped its updates on the pandemic situation in the region, after noting a steady decline of coronavirus cases.
The department’s last update was on May 1 when Cebu City had 50 active cases and the province had 55.
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