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Cebu City reinforces optional face mask policy, while Malacañang maintains masks remain mandatory

By AYIE LICSI Published Jun 14, 2022 6:47 pm

Cebu remains caught up in a bind between two conflicting policies, one issued by the local government, and one from the national government, over the use of face masks.

After the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) maintained that the mandatory wearing of face masks remains in effect, Cebu City dug in its heels to reinforce its earlier position as stated by its governor Gwen Garcia that face masks are now optional outdoors in the city.

The Cebu Provincial Board has now passed a resolution recognizing Garcia's executive order (EO) No. 16, titled "Rationalizing the Wearing of Face Masks" within Cebu, issued on June 8.

This EO doesn't "fully scrap" the face mask mandate as it will still be required in close and air-conditioned spaces, but makes wearing it optional in open and well-ventilated areas. Cebu province is currently under Alert Level 2, averaging 34 to 36 average daily COVID-19 cases.

Garcia said she would stand by her policy despite the controversy. She pointed to a provision of the Local Government Code of 1991, which grants local governments autonomy over issuing rules.

"Yung local government code that is the law. Hindi po yung guidelines ng IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Disease). Kaya tinatawag yun nga guidelines... Local governments should be given that due courtesy and respect," Gacia said in a TeleRadyo Interview on June 13.

Malacañang said it is supporting the DOJ's position that IATF policies remain in effect.

"We reiterate and support the legal opinion of the Justice Secretary that the IATF resolution on the mandatory wearing of face masks shall prevail over the executive orders by local government units, including the one issued by the provincial government of Cebu," acting Presidential spokesperson Sec. Martin Andanar said in a statement on June 14.

Confusion and mixed reactions

Andanar added that the directive is to continue wearing face masks and that the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has instructed the Philippine National Police to continue implementing the existing IATF resolution on mandatory wearing of face masks.

Netizens, on the other hand, have mixed reactions. Some are showing support for Garcia's decision, while others said national orders supersede local ordinances.

"Politicians should understand that no local ordinance can supercede national order which happens to be signed by the President. Just try not to wear masks and if apprehended, let the court decide," one user wrote on Facebook.

"How come IATF which is composed of appointed people are more powerful than elected officials as mandated by the people who voted for them? Might as well appoint people to run our government and no more election?" another said.

"Yung wearing of face mask has been ordered by the IATF, so therefore it is not a law which is passed by Congress. So the LGUs have the option either to adopt such order or may promulgate their own laws in addressing the covid problem within their respective jurisdiction. This is plainly an exercise of local autonomy as provided in the local government code, R.A.7160 of 1992 as amended," commented a user.

This confusion with mandates has also caused others to call for federalism, which would give gives smaller states and cities power to govern issues of local concern.

On a similar note, News5 reported that a group of provincial governors said they are also studying proposals on making wearing face masks in open spaces optional.

Senator Sonny Angara also questioned why wearing face masks is still mandatory outdoors.

"All over the world, masks are no longer required outdoors. Why do we still have such a policy to begin with? Doesn't science already support the proposition that there is much less risk of catching the virus in an indoor setting?" he said.