DILG admits ‘miscommunication’ with Cebu City gov’t on optional mask use policy
MANILA, Philippines – The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on Friday said that “miscommunication” might have happened with the Cebu City government regarding the suspension of the local order mandating the wearing of face masks in the city.
Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. earlier announced that Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama has agreed to put the policy on hold until he meets with the country’s Interagency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
But Rama said this was not true when he told reporters that he would not be withdrawing his order on the optional wearing of masks.
In a statement, Abalos admitted that he and Rama may not have agreed to pause the policy’s implementation.
“There seems to be a miscommunication [regarding] what Mayor Rama and I discussed regarding the issue. I respect the statement of Mayor Rama, and I fully intend to keep communication lines open to give him the opportunity to explain his position and basis behind the enactment of the city-wide order,” he said.
Abalos then added: “Notwithstanding, I remain firm and steadfast in my commitment to raise this issue to the IATF and make Cebu City a pilot city that will help assess the lifting of masking protocols in outdoor areas and wide open spaces.”
Rama on Wednesday issued Executive Order No. 5, which makes the wearing of face masks outdoors in Cebu City voluntary starting September 1.
Officer-in-charge of the Department of Health (DOH) Maria Rosario Vergeire has spoken out against the EO, claiming that the Cebu City government did not confer with the DOH before approving the policy.
Vergeire told local governments that they shouldn’t make their own COVID-19 rules and instead follow the rules made by the national government.
Following Vergeire’s remarks, Rama voiced his disappointment.
“I didn’t like it when she said they were not consulted,” he said. “Does the Local Government Code say that local governments need to consult with the DOH before it can implement an order? I don’t want to be misinterpreted by the national government. We know where to stand. Definitely, my executive order has a legal basis.”
Last June, Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia signed Executive Order No. 16, lifting the requirement to wear face masks outdoors – a directive initially frowned upon by then DILG Secretary Eduardo Año.
The Cebu provincial board eventually adopted Garcia’s EO as Ordinance No. 2022-03.