Seares: Can Guv Gwen improve IATF guidelines on quarantine? Am not sure. But she did.

News Sense

WHAT the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (AITF-EID) in its May 15 omnibus guidelines for quarantine has not thought out well and left a crack on the floor is being covered by Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia's May 19 executive order on the general quarantine in Cebu province.

The guidelines of the governor decidedly improve on guidelines of IATF. Can an LGU do that with national fiat?

Offering a stark example are the provisions on religious gatherings.

Comparing rules

Under the IATF-EID guidelines on GCQ, or general community quarantine, like that in Cebu Province and Lapu-Lapu City, social and religious gatherings and other "non-essential" activities shall not be more than 10 persons. (The number goes smaller, reduced to five persons, if the local government is under a modified enhanced community quarantine, or MECQ, like that in Talisay City).

Cebu Capitol's EO prohibits religious and similar activities "that would result to close person-to-person contacts."

Capitol's guideline specifies no absolute number, as the IATF rule does, which Manila Archdiocese chancellor Bishop Broderick Fabillo called "impractical," even ludicrous, given the physical dimensions of Catholic churches. Pabillo said the IATF rule is a fit-all-sizes standard which, relevantly, the IATF does not apply to other establishments that reopen, using it only on churches.

The governor's EO #17, series of 2020, just uses the number 10 to define "gathering" and provides instead the reasonable yardstick: no "close person-to-person contacts."

Conforming to the IATF prohibition of religious gatherings under a GCQ, Capitol has stuck to the online masses rule, at least until May 31, allowing before then only church visits and Blessed Sacrament adoration subject to health protocol and limit on the size of the gathering.

Who calls the shots

The governor must be aware of the policy spelled out by President Rodrigo Duterte and laid down in the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act that the national government, through IATF and the president's office, sets the policies on Covid-related matters.

We call the shots, Duterte in effect said, with the LGUs taking and following orders.

The Bayanihan law (Republic Act #11469) is explicit about (a) LGUs according to orders of the national government and (b) local governments still allowed "to exercise their autonomy in situations not defined by the national government."

Two legal bases

There are at least two legal bases for a local government official, such as the governor or anyone of the Metro Cebu mayors, to act unilaterally, even without IATF go-signal or beyond IATF parameter, on certain matters. They are:

[1] the general welfare clause and the duty of the local chief executive in the Local Government Code to lead in case of epidemic or other public health emergency;

[2] the authority under the Bayanihan law for local officials to decide and act, in the spirit of local autonomy, on matters where the national government does not decide or act.

Gaps and cracks

In sum, as local chief executives, the governor and the mayors take cue from the IATF and the president's office but they wield authority in their respective territories to formulate rules that support and are in synch with the national strategy. And, particularly or especially in case of vacuum, in filling gaps and papering over cracks not seen or not attended to by national authority.

The Capitol EO expects a possible clash with national authority over the rules.

'Harmonization clause'

That's obviously the reason for Section 13, called "Harmonization Clause," which says that "as far as practicable, all laws, orders, rules, and regulations issued by duly constituted authorities of the Republic of the Philippines..." shall be "read and interpreted in harmony with this Executive Order."

Capitol is waving some flag, which says, like, "Look, any difference or discrepancy with the IATF guidelines is more apparent than real. Just harmonize those guidelines with ours."

Expecting the waves

Atty. Frank Dinsay, the governor's chief-of-staff who saw to it that the EO was what Guv Gwen wanted, didn't say as much but he indicated, in a phone talk Wednesday, May 20, that the LGU here in effect is testing the waters and won't be surprised if there would be some waves. He indicated that Capitol's advantage is being on the ground and the one enforcing the rules, not the task force based in Manila.

Can the governor improve guidelines issued by the National Government through IATF? No one here is sure. But she did -- for the better, the public can hope and ascertain from the results. If nobody complains, the IATF may not mind.


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