CEBU City Mayor Edgardo Labella at least twice said on Thursday (April 9) that violators of his April 1 executive order requiring the wearing of face masks in all public places and public utility vehicles in the city are not punished with a fine, they are just told to go home.
That should put to rest the issue and remove anxieties caused by reports in social media that a fine of at least P20,000 is being slapped by a City Hall agency through citations on those who don't wear the required face mask.
In one news report, Labella said the jitters were caused by Grace Luardo, chief of the City Environmental and Sanitation Enforcement Team (Ceset). It was ordered by the mayor to impose violators with a fine. She "went beyond and tried scaring people to obey," Labella said, "I did not order, I even scolded her." His EO, said the mayor, doesn't carry a penalty. It's not an ordinance; besides, the city cannot impose a fine of more than P5,000.
In another news report, the mayor said he had not directed any penalty for those not wearing masks outside (their homes). Racquel Arce, chief of the Probe (prevention, restoration, order, beautification and enhancement) Team, which watches entry at public markets, said they bar people with no face mask but do not "apprehend" them.
So, was it case of a false order, as one news site headlined it?
Check out the documents, the best evidence of what the mayor actually ordered. At least two digital sites reproduced Mayor Labella's EO #66 dated April 1: (1) the government-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) and (2) City Hall's own, www.cebucity.gov.ph. PNA ran the EO along with a news story. The City Hall site didn't have a story but headlined in bold type the two-page EO.
What the E.O. says
The fourth paragraph of Section 2, sub-headed "MANDATORY WEARING OF MASKS," reads thus:
"Those who violate the order shall be punishable in accordance with the provision provided under Section 10 of Republic Act No. 11332 or the Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act."
In Section 3, the police, barangay officials and "other force multipliers" are "mandated to enforce the full extent of this Order."
The news stories in SunStar and PNA, run on the same day as the mayor's order, both mentioned the fine and jail term. So did the April 2 Bzzzzz section of SunStar. And the mayor's correction came out more than a week later, after the "false" report already had gone the rounds of social media.
The reader of the EO will assume that the penalties of RA 11332 or Reporting of Notifiable Diseases Law are adopted as penalties for violation of the face mask EO.
But as the mayor said, his was an EO, not an ordinance, and the penalty was higher than what a local government could impose. So that must have slipped the drafters of the EO -- plus the limit on the mayor's and LGU's authority on sanctions.
City residents don't have to worry about punishment although the Inter-Agency Task Force, in issuing the order on face masks on April 2 (one day after Cebu City issued its own), said an LGU may enact an ordinance or the mayor may issue and EO with "appropriate" sanctions. The City Council may as well tackle the issue and decide to punish or not to punish non-wearing of face masks.