THE Cebu Provincial Board (PB) has passed an ordinance adopting Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia’s controversial Executive Order (EO) 16 that makes face mask wearing in open and well-ventilated spaces optional.

“An ordinance rationalizing the wearing of face masks within the Province of Cebu” was passed during the PB’s special session on Tuesday, June 14, 2022.

The passage of the local law was done in defiance of the Department of the Interior and Local Department’s (DILG) request Monday for Garcia to make changes to her EO or risk getting a show cause order for instituting a policy that deviated from the national policy on dealing with the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

On receiving the threat, Garcia had called late Monday for Tuesday’s special session to pass the ordinance to give more teeth to her disputed executive order.

Only 11 of 18 PB members were present to vote on the measure on Tuesday.

The PB members who were present during the session were Yolanda Daan and Raul Bacaltos of Cebu’s First District; Jose “Tata” Salvador of the Second District; John Ismael “Jiembo” Borgonia and Victoria Corominas Toribio of the Third District; Kerrie Keane Shimura of the Fourth District; Andrei “Red” Duterte of the Fifth District; Jerome Librando and Christopher “Dong” Baricuatro of the Seventh District; and ex-officio members Caroline Bacaltos, who represents the Philippine Councilors’ League-Cebu Province, and Jerico Rubio, who represents the Sangguniang Kabataan Federation-Cebu Province.

Seven PB members were not present as they were still enjoying their post-election leaves.

Based on the ordinance, face mask wearing will be required only for those who are in closed, air-conditioned spaces; and at all times for those who have symptoms of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) like fever, cough and runny nose whenever they leave their homes.

Borgonia, who chairs the committee on laws, told reporters that the passage of the ordinance means members of the public can no longer be arrested for not wearing face masks in well-ventilated areas.

“Well, people go out of their respective homes, and they no longer need to fear arrest by law enforcers in their respective barangays and municipalities because there is already an ordinance on this,” Borgonia said in a mix of English and Cebuano.

Shimura, who chairs the committee on health, said she fully supported the governor’s EO and the newly passed ordinance.

“The measure is not an abolition (of the wearing of face masks), but rather, it provided options for individuals in Cebu province with certain conditions,” Shimura said.

IATF prevails

On Tuesday, Presidential Communications Secretary and Acting Presidential Spokesperson Martin Andanar said the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases’ resolution on the mandatory wearing of face masks shall prevail.

“We reiterate and support the legal opinion of the Justice Secretary that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) resolution on the mandatory wearing of face masks shall prevail over the executive orders by local government units, including the one issued by the provincial government of Cebu,” Andanar said in a statement.

“The Chief Executive’s directive is clear: Continue wearing face masks; and the Department of the Interior and Local Government has instructed the Philippine National Police to implement the existing IATF resolution on wearing of face masks accordingly,” Andanar added.

Earlier Tuesday, DILG spokesperson Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya reminded local government units of EO 151, which adopts the guidelines for the implementation of the Alert Level System in the country amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

EO 151, which approves the nationwide implementation of the Alert Level System for Covid-19 response, was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Nov. 11, 2021.

Highlight of the IATF resolution on the implementation of Alert Level System is the public’s adherence to minimum public health standards (MPHS) consistent with the DOH Administrative Order 2021-0043, which includes the mandatory wearing of face masks especially in public areas in places under Alert Levels 1 to 5.

“Although it is true that IATF resolutions are primarily recommendatory, when adopted by the President through an executive order then it becomes the law of the land,” Malaya said in an interview with CNN Philippines. (ANV / JKV, TPM / SunStar Philippines)