EXPLAINER: For Cebu City and Cebu Province, ECQ ends May 15, unless reset in new review

THE SITUATION. The inter-agency task force has decided for Cebu City and Cebu Province -- with seven other cities and provinces in Visayas and Mindanao -- on when to lift the lockdown in their areas. It's until May 15, unless sooner ended after a reassessment before April 28. That surely affects the decision or plan of some local government leaders. Here's how and why.

WHAT HAPPENED. In a recorded public address aired Friday, April 24, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the National Government declared an "enhanced community quarantine" (ECQ) in cities and provinces in Visayas and Mindanao, which it considers to be "at high risk" in the spread of Covid-19.

The cities that the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (AITF-EID) declared under ECQ or lockdown include Cebu City. And the provinces include Cebu Province. The seven others in the Vis-Min list do not include any other city in Cebu. Iloilo, Antique, Capiz, and Davao del Norte, Davao de Oro and Davao City are in it.

First time affecting VisMin

What's significant is that for the first time, the National Government, through the AITF and the office of the president, has decided for Vis-Min LGUs on the matter of declaring quarantines.

IATF has declared an enhanced quarantine in Cebu City and Cebu Province. Both LGUs already did, much earlier, and the ECQ or lockdown is still on: until May 30 for Cebu City and open-ended for Cebu Province ("not in the near future," said Governor Gwen Garcia).

Before this new order from IATF, LGUs south of Luzon were the ones making the quarantine declarations, including the shift from "general" to "enhanced."

IATF decides, unless...

What does the new announcement mean? IATF is obviously looking now beyond Luzon in guiding the battle against coronavirus. It must be because the crisis is being re-framed as a nationwide problem and the National Government deems it more effective to centralize decision-making.

For now, IATF designation of the selected Vis-Min areas may be "re-checked" and assessment could change before April 30. The May 30 ending date set by Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella is now superseded by IATF's May 15 schedule unless revised before April 28. The date Cebu Province has not set will now have to conform to the May 15 deadline or whatever IATF ultimately fixes.

LGUs may offer, or ATF may ask for, the conditions on the ground in Cebu but the National Government decides. Unless the LGUs are left alone again, in which case the governor and the mayors make the call, given the pro-active leadership in the local scene.

What Bayanihan law says

The rule of thumb, it appears, is for local governments to decide in matters where the central authority does not decide.

The legal basis for that rule is the provision in Republic Act 11469 or Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, (in letter "g," section 4, headed "Authorized powers"). The law says, in effect, that the National Government through the IATF and the office of the president shall be the final authority on strategies and counter-measures against an infectious disease, "while allowing LGUs to continue exercising their autonomy in those matters undefined by the National Government. "

In sum, central authority calls the shots, except on things it does not or has failed to specify.


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