PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday evening, June 21, 2021, warned the judiciary that he will not obey any order to stop the implementation of IATF arrival protocols in Cebu.
He also said he will leave the fate of Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, who has insisted on enforcing a provincial ordinance on Cebu’s testing and quarantine policy for returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
A lawyer by profession, Duterte said he respects the judiciary and assures that he will follow any court orders, but not during a national emergency such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
“At this time of a national emergency, I would just like to inform the courts that I will not follow them. I will insist on what is necessary to protect the people,” Duterte said.
The President was reacting to the petition filed on Monday by two Cebuano lawyers, who asked the Cebu Regional Trial Court (RTC) to stop the implementation of Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution 114, which lays down the arrival protocols for international passengers in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The petition also sought to declare the IATF resolution as “ineffective” in Cebu Province. It was filed by lawyers Clarence Paul Oaminal and Valentino Bacalso Jr. through Benjamin Cabrido Jr.
Duterte said a provincial ordinance cannot take precedence over a national policy. Proclamation 922, which Duterte issued on March 8, 2020, declared a state of public health emergency throughout the Philippines due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“An ordinance of a local government unit cannot be more...cannot be higher than a national policy. The policies that we are dishing out are guided by the proclamation and they are the laws (of the land). Because of the emergency, this is how we do it,” Duterte said.
The proclamation enjoins all local government units (LGUs) to render full assistance and cooperation, authorizes the Department of Health Secretary to call upon the police to provide assistance in addressing the Covid-19 threat, and urges all citizens to “act within the bounds of the law and to comply with the lawful directives and advisories to be issued by appropriate government agencies” to prevent Covid-19 transmission and “ensure the safety and well-being of all.”
Read: Philippines under state of public health emergency
“The courts are put to notice that what we have here is a national emergency, that’s why we came up with a proclamation declaring this pandemic is of national interest,” Duterte said.
He said he will not obey any injunction that a court will issue to stop the implementation of the IATF protocols. The IATF is the government’s policy-making body for Covid-19 response.
“‘Yung mga korte, huwag na lang ninyong ipalabas kasi magkakaroon tayo ng impasse. And I do not want to lock horns with the judiciary. I said nirerespeto ko. There is a time for the courts to function normally and grant injunctions. But this time, I said they are put to notice ...I will not obey the courts in the matter of management (of) the pandemic,” Duterte said.
“I do not want anybody from any government agency or department messing up with a situation which, I said, is being managed because it is very dangerous for the country,” he said.
Duterte said the issue is “not a question of justice and equity.”
“This is a question of survival of the nation. I will not allow any court, for that matter...I’m putting notice...Hindi ako susunod. If you want to... well, I’m sorry. You know the stakes. Kayo. Basta, ito ang posisyon ko,” the President added.
This was the first time that Duterte directly addressed the conflict since the Office of the Executive Secretary, on his instructions, issued a memorandum diverting the international flights bound for Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in a bid to force the Cebu Provincial Government to comply with the IATF protocols.
The flights were diverted to NAIA on May 29 to June 5, with an extension until June 12.
DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said the President’s statement will assuage the fears of the implementing units in Cebu that they will be haled to court if they don’t follow the Cebu protocols.
Earlier Monday, Governor Garcia issued Executive Order 23 reminding the implementing units that Provincial Ordinance 2021-04 is “an existing and valid law” and “non-compliance...will merit the filing of criminal and administrative cases against violators.”
This was directed at the DOH, Bureau of Quarantine, Department of Tourism, Philippine National Police, MCIA and other concerned agencies.
The executive order was issued two days after DOH officials directed the regional directors of these government agencies to enforce the IATF protocols.
Read: Conflict over arrival rules in Cebu simmers
Under IATF Resolution 114, arriving international passengers must go into facility-based quarantine for 10 days and undergo a swab test for Sars-CoV-2 on the seventh day.
Even with a negative test result, the passenger must complete 10 days in facility-based quarantine and spend another four days on home quarantine.
Exempted from this rule effective June 22, 2021 are individuals who were fully vaccinated in the Philippines. They will go into facility-based quarantine for only seven days and undergo a swab test only if they develop Covid-19 symptoms. Otherwise, they will be released and urged to self-monitor.
Since March 31, 2021, however, Cebu has been implementing a swab on arrival policy based on Garcia’s Executive Order 17.
Under EO 17, which was strengthened by Provincial Ordinance 2021-04 on May 10, ROFs and OFWs are swabbed upon arrival for a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for Sars-CoV-2.
They are to stay in a hotel quarantine while waiting for the test result and are released, if the test is negative, after a maximum of three days. No other requirements will be imposed on them.
A memorandum that Garcia issued on May 13 specified the arrival protocols for transiting OFWs and ROFs, and reiterated the testing and quarantine policies under EO 17 and Provincial Ordinance 2021-04 for Cebu residents.
Another memorandum on May 20 amended the May 13 memorandum to require OFWs and ROFs to be swabbed twice, upon arrival and on the seventh day.
If their swab test upon arrival yields a negative result, they will be allowed to proceed to their destinations. Their LGU will conduct the second swab test on the seventh day.
Those who are Cebu residents will be required to undergo facility or home quarantine for the remainder of a 14-day period from arrival.
Provincial Ordinance 2021-04 was amended on June 11 to include these revised requirements.
Garcia, together with Secretary Michael Dino of the Office of the President in the Visayas, went to see Duterte in Malacañang on May 31 to defend Cebu’s protocols and emphasize that she had merely innovated on the IATF policy to make it more humane and reduce the financial burden on arriving Filipinos.
The testing and quarantine expenses of OFWs are shouldered by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. ROFs, on the other hand, have to fend for themselves.
Duterte said he had told Garcia during their meeting that he saw the wisdom in her view and assured her that the government is fair.
But the national government and the medical community “simply do not agree with her,” Duterte said.
“I leave the fate of Governor Garcia with the DILG...to compel obedience, not because we want to be ‘mas marunong,’ but remember, I said that all our decisions are based on what medical people say,” he added. (Marites Villamor-Ilano / SunStar Philippines)