CEBU

EXPLAINER: Guv Gwen's blast at Cebu City's Garganera highlights crossing lines of authority in Covid-19 campaign. 'We won't meddle in your affairs. Don't meddle in ours.'

File photos

THE SITUATION. Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia in a span of four days publicized two complaints involving the campaign against Covid-19:

[1] Last January 29, the governor corrected Octa Research Group's assessment of the health crisis in Cebu, which tagged the island in its January 28 report "an area of serious concern," predicting that unless the trend is contained, the number of positive cases would hit 400 this week and next week. She disputed Octa figures, showing the figures -- minus the numbers from Cebu City and two other cities -- to show that the province still had low positivity rate and adequate preparedness to cope with any increase.

Octa in its January 30 report shifted from the province to the "upward trend" in Cebu City. Obviously, in its assessment of Cebu, the research group included the highly urbanized cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu in Metro Cebu, comprising what they call the tri-cities.

[2] Tuesday, February 2, the governor criticized the acts of Cebu City's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in setting up a booth at the Mactan Cebu International Airport in Lapu-Lapu City that screened incoming passengers bound for the towns and cities in the province.

She accused EOC of imposing requirements on province-bound travelers that Capitol has not imposed, namely, clearances from the governor and the mayor of the city or town of destination.

She specified Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera, deputy implementer of IATF at the city's Emergency Operations Center, as having set up the booth that was handled by EOC personnel. The booth staff was scheduled to meet with the governor last Tuesday afternoon.

'CEBU CITY IS NOT CEBU PROVINCE.' What the Octa case involved: In the research group's January 28 advisory, there was (a) an apparent confusion over what comprises Cebu province and (b) ignorance or disregard of the fact that chief executives of local governments in the island may not be coordinating or even talking with another on their respective anti-Covid operations.

In her February 2 press-con, Governor Garcia lamented that even some Cebuanos think that she also governs Cebu City (she does not) or Cebu City residents vote for the governor (they cannot).

That's even an extreme example for the Octa slip. The research group put the qualifier "including Cebu City" immediately after the word "Cebu." Yet it still erred in placing the burden on the province.

Nowadays, having high numbers of positive cases and deaths in one's LGU is some kind of stigma the chief executive would not want. In her last two press-cons, the governor stressed, "Cebu City is not Cebu Province and Cebu Province is not Cebu City." A news media site in Manila uses, repeatedly to the edge of nausea, the same photo of the façade of the Capitol for every Covid story coming from anywhere in Cebu. Many Manilans simply don't bother to segregate the cities of Cebu from the province. Researchers at Octa though should have taken the trouble to check and distinguish; it was part of the job.

'DI KO MANGHILABOT NINYO.' A fact of life is that the LGUs have been taking care of their own problems in their respective territories or jurisdictions.

Inevitably, conflicts in rules and enforcing them arise, as they did last year on border control regulations, when the province was already GCQ and Cebu City was ECQ and the governor didn't want Cebu City transmitting the virus in the province.

And as they do now when Octa included Cebu City numbers in assessing the province, and some people from Cebu City allegedly intruded into province management of the crisis.

Governor Gwen said she won't meddle with Cebu City affairs, "sama sab nga kining uban ninyo di manghilabot diri namo" (as some of you shouldn't meddle with our affars.)

The city, through EOC, is accused of a lot of things involving that airport booth: unauthorized rules, which were not submitted to DILG as required by IATF guidelines, false representation that they were imposed by the governor, and misrepresentation by the booth personnel that they were Capitol employees.

If half of them is true, that could qualify as "panghilabot," the meddling that the governor condemns.

WHAT IF LABELLA DIDN'T KNOW? Still not ascertained was whether Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella knew and approved the move of EOC. The letter that EOC sent to the airport was reportedly signed by Garganera, as IATF deputy implementer at EOC, "by authority of" Melquiades Feliciano, Visayas deputy chief implementer of the national task force against Covid.

If it didn't have the mayor's sanction, it could not be deemed the act of the City Government.

ACTING FOR IATF. Councilor Garganera might not have been acting for Cebu City or EOC, whose jurisdictions cannot spill over to the province.

But what if he was representing Melquiades of the national task force? That would justify the meddling. The national task force or IATF would have the authority to jump in and change the process: recall how retired generals, on President Rodrigo Duterte's order of June 23 last year, parachuted into the ECQ'd city and called the shots. Still, the governor deserved being informed, if not for courtesy, at least to coordinate the respective thrusts of the LGU and the national task force.

Lines of authority and responsibility, blurred as they already are in pandemic times, can intersect and upset the order of things.


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