DILG orders Garcia to fix in 3 days EO on optional mask use outdoors
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Thursday gave the Cebu provincial government a three-day ultimatum or until this weekend to rectify its newly-passed ordinance that made wearing face masks in open and well-ventilated areas in the province optional amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will be giving the Cebu provincial government, the governor (Gwen Garcia), and the councilors to amend, rectify, and adjust their ordinance and (provincial) EO to be consistent with the (presidential) EO 151 and the guidelines in the implementation of the alert level system which is part of EO 151,” Año said in a press briefing in Camp Crame.
“Maybe over the weekend, we will give them a chance to rectify this.
After the weekend then we will do whatever is necessary,” he added.
Those who violate the mandatory use of face masks in Cebu may be arrested by the police despite the executive order issued by Garcia, Año added in a radio interview.
He reiterated that the national government will still implement the mandatory wearing of face masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, thus law enforcers will follow suit.
Ano stressed that the Cebu government has violated President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No. 151, series of 2021, regarding the Nationwide Implementation of the Alert Level System for COVID-19 Response.
“Our police will continue to confront the violators and if they need to arrest those who really don’t want to follow, then the Philippine National Police will do that. We are consulting with the legal team on our next move to stop this practice which is not really appropriate,” the Interior secretary said.
Año maintained that the ordinance passed by the Cebu provincial board cannot supersede Duterte’s EO 151, which mandates the use of face masks all over the country except in allowable circumstances.
He emphasized that the country is still under a state of public health emergency and a state of calamity until September 12, 2022.
“Cebu Province is still under Alert Level 2, and we have an uptick of cases. Now is not the time to be complacent. There should only be one policy across the country,” he said.
Earlier, Sen. Sonny Angara proposed a dialogue between Garcia and all parties concerned on the wearing of face masks to avoid court cases.
“This might reach the court, that’s why I am recommending a dialogue, that’s a reasonable way to move forward,” said Angara, adding he thinks there is room for some dialogue between the parties.
“I can understand where Governor Gwen is coming from because we’re coming from a pandemic-hit Cebu province that’s dependent on tourism,” said Angara in a TV interview Wednesday night.
“I understand the point of the governor in trying to come up with a proactive policy regarding the wearing of masks,” added Angara.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said Garcia could have appealed to the Inter-Agency Task Force to change its recommendations on face masks or allow Cebu to be a pilot test area for allowing maskless gatherings in open spaces.
But Año said the PNP, which is under DILG’s supervision, will strictly enforce the mandatory face mask rule imposed by the President in Cebu and that all police officers who refuse to follow orders from higher authorities will be relieved of duty.
“We cannot play around with the laws of the land. Even with the passage of a provincial ordinance by Cebu province making the wearing of face masks optional, such ordinance is void and legally infirm and incapable of superseding EOs of the President of the Philippines,” he said.
Año added that the Office of the President ordered the DILG to exhaust all legal remedies if the Cebu provincial government refused to comply with the mask mandate.
“We emphasize that these EOs are superior to LGU ordinances. Local governments are merely agents of the national government and local sanggunians (councils) exercise only delegated powers conferred by the national government.
We cannot allow a situation where LGUs prevail over the national government). Obviously, the delegate cannot exercise powers superior to its principal,” Año said.
Citing data from DILG provincial office in Cebu, Año said at least 20 local government units in the province already have existing ordinances on mandatory wearing of face masks and observance of minimum public health standards (MPHS), including Alegria, Aloguinsan, Badia, Carmen, Compostela, Medellin, Talisay City, and Tuburan.
He said the enforcement of the mask mandate is critical in ensuring that other LGUs will not follow Cebu’s act.
“We do not want to set a precedent for other LGUs. We are still in apandemic and more transmissible variants are still arising, hence we must abide by the MPHS, including wearing face masks in order to finally defeat this pandemic,” he said.
The Department of Health earlier rejected calls to lift the mask mandate, especially since several cases of the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant have been detected in the country.
The Cebu provincial board earlier passed the ordinance on third and final reading in a special session on Tuesday, following Garcia’s issuance of Executive Order No. 16 that the wearing of face masks shall be required only in closed and air-conditioned spaces.
Garcia earlier said she does not recognize the resolution of the IATF on the mandatory wearing of face masks, claiming the task force’s guidelines “doesn’t carry the force of law, not enacted by Congress, nor is that an Order signed by the President.”
But Año refuted this, saying local government officials may face charges if they violate the orders of the national government.
Cebu was placed by the IATF under Alert Level 2 from June 16 to June 30. Under this COVID level, certain establishments and activities are allowed at 50% capacity indoors for fully vaccinated adults (and minors, even if unvaccinated), and 70% capacity outdoors.