Mask on or off? Even Cebu top cops are split | Inquirer News

Mask on or off? Even Cebu top cops are split

By: - Reporter / @nestleCDN
/ 05:30 AM June 12, 2022
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia. STORY: Mask on or off? Even Cebu top cops are split

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia. (INQUIRER FILE PHOTOS)

CEBU CITY, Cebu, Philippines —Top police officials in Cebu are in an apparent dilemma as to whether they should follow their boss at the national government level, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, or the provincial chief executive Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, both of whom have issued conflicting policies on the wearing of face masks in open spaces.

Col. Engelbert Soriano, director of the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO), said he would be guided by Garcia’s Executive Order No. 16 issued on Wednesday, dispensing with the use of face masks except in closed and air-conditioned spaces.

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“The PNP [Philippine National Police] is mandated to enforce the law. Hence, [the] CPPO will support whatever is legal and supported by existing laws,” Soriano said in a statement on Friday night.

But he also said the EO may be “invalidated by proper authority.”

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His superior at the regional level, Brig. Gen. Roque Eduardo Vega, urged the public to continue wearing face masks in open spaces.

“In compliance with the directives of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the PRO (Police Regional Office) in Central Visayas continues to remind the public to observe the minimum public health standards which include the mandatory wearing of face mask[s] in public places as set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) [on] the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases,” Vega, who heads PRO-Region 7, said in his statement on Saturday.

Arrest violators

On Friday, Año rejected Garcia’s EO and ordered the police in Cebu province to arrest violators.

He cited guidelines by the IATF which still required face masks and said President Duterte himself had directed the authorities to heed the IATF on that matter.

But Garcia invoked certain sections of the Local Government Code granting the exercise of autonomy among local officials like herself—including Section 105, which authorizes the national government to manage the health situation in any given locality for only up to six months before the local government concerned takes over.

Garcia’s differences with Año were reflected in the respective statements of Soriano and Vega.

Soriano said “A perusal of EO 16 would show that it only gives the option to use masks in well-ventilated and open spaces. In all other situations, a mask is still required.”

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He added that the order “actually encourages people to wear it in closed and crowded places and when with symptoms.”

But Vega stood by Año’s order. “Don’t be complacent right now and make sure to always be vigilant because COVID-19 is still here,” the police official said.

Brig. Gen. Augustus Alba, chief public information officer of the PNP, said the organization would obey Año.

“The instructions were already relayed to the provincial director of Cebu PPO by [Brig. Gen. Roque Vega], the director of the Central Visayas [Police Regional] Office, that the … IATF guidelines must be followed,” Alba said in his statement on Saturday.

‘Manage cases first’

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the local governments must still observe uniform health protocols, particularly regarding face masks.

“So we take [it] one day at a time. Let’s not be in a hurry, let us not be impatient. We will come [to that point] when the … face mask [requirement] will be stopped. But we need to manage the cases first for now,” she said at Saturday’s Laging Handa briefing. Vergeire pointed out that COVID-19 cases in other countries were on the rise again after rules, such as wearing of masks, were relaxed.

She then cited other factors, such as the slow inoculation drive on booster shots and the emerging threat of other infections like monkeypox, which experts said can also be spread through respiratory droplets.

“So, we want to prevent this from happening here. We want to first see that we are stable here, in terms of cases and to see that our cases are manageable,” Vergeire said.

—WITH REPORTS FROM NESTOR CORRALES AND DEXTER CABALZA

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TAGS: Eduardo Año, Face Masks, Gwendolyn Garcia
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