DEPARTMENT of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said Tuesday, June 14, 2022 that the ordinance passed by the Cebu Provincial Council which makes the wearing of face masks optional in open and well-ventilated areas in the province has “no legal basis and considered defective.”

Año said he is consulting his legal team for the course of legal action against Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and her order lifting the mandatory wearing of face masks in the province.

The Cebu Provincial Government was unfazed, however, and on Wednesday, June 15, said it would uphold its rule on the optional use of masks in open and well-ventilated spaces.

Later Wednesday, the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) Cebu Chapter, led by the governor’s daughter, Liloan Mayor Christina Garcia Frasco, also passed a resolution supporting and adopting the ordinance.

“The EO (Executive Order) 151 of PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) and IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) Guidelines shall prevail over the EO of [Governor] Garcia and the ordinance passed by the Cebu Provincial Council,” Año said in a Viber message to SunStar late Tuesday evening, June 14, 2022.

“The Ordinance has no legal basis and considered defective because it is not only consistent but also contradicts the national policies embodied in EO 151, EO 168 and IATF Guidelines,” he added.

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

The IATF resolution highlighted the maintenance of Minimum Public Health Standards (MPHS), consistent with the Department of Health Administrative Order 2021-0043 which includes the mandatory wearing of face masks, especially in public areas in places under Alert Levels one to five.

EO 168, on the other hand, was signed by the late President Benigno Aquino III in 2014 to institutionalize the creation of an IATF for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) in anticipation of any epidemic and pandemic in the country.

Among the functions of the IATF based on EO 168 is to adopt measures to strengthen the Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases Program of the DOH or its equivalent in other local health units and to formulate, develop, implement, and oversee the EID Preparedness Manual for the prevention and control of EID.

No longer mandatory

On Tuesday, the Cebu Provincial Board had passed an ordinance adopting Garcia’s EO 16 which makes the wearing of masks in open and well-ventilated areas in the province no longer mandatory, contrary to the protocols the IATF set to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Garcia stood her ground despite criticisms from concerned government officials as well as the risk of getting reprimanded by the DILG.

Following the issuance of Garcia’s EO 16 on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, Año ordered police personnel to continue to apprehend and arrest, if necessary, those not wearing face masks in public spaces in the province.

The DOH earlier said it is not yet time for the country to lift the mandatory wearing of face masks especially since several cases of the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant have been detected in the country which may result in the resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

Basis

On Wednesday, however, lawyer Rory Jon Sepulveda, Capitol consultant, said Governor Garcia’s EO 16 had sufficient basis to be enforced through the recently passed ordinance entitled “Rationalizing the wearing of face masks within the Province of Cebu.”

“We will stand strong behind that... to repeat, our Provincial Ordinance and the EO are anchored on the Local Government Code which was passed pursuant to a Constitutional mandate,” Sepulveda said on Wednesday, June 15.

“The guidelines is not a law. Even the highest office (in government) is beneath the law,” he added.

Sepulveda stressed it would be better for Año to show basis for releasing the statement, just like what the Province is doing.

“Ang among tubag Republic Act No. 7160. Kung wa siya masayod ana... balikon ko, naa man mi legal basis. Ang amo lang sad pangutana... unsa man sab ang basis sa statement nga superior ang iyang guidelines to a provincial ordinance and an executive order? That’s our legal basis ang RA 7160),” he said.

(Our answer is Republic Act No. 7160. If he doesn’t know that... I’ll repeat, we have legal basis. And our only question is ... What is the basis for his statement that his guidelines are superior to a provincial ordinance and an executive order? That’s our legal basis, RA 7160).

Governor Garcia also said that now that the optional use of masks in open and well-ventilated areas has become a law, she needs to implement it.

“All of our acts – my EO or Provincial Ordinance -- are anchored upon the law. These are not our own personal judgments, our own personal orders, feelings or positions since when we were elected and took our oath, we took an oath to uphold the laws,” Garcia said on Tuesday.

The ordinance was passed in a special session of the Provincial Board last Tuesday that Garcia called for late Monday following the DILG’s threat earlier in the day to issue her a show cause order if she refused to make changes in her EO 16.

League

In its Resolution 2022-1 supporting and adopting EO 16, LMP Cebu, composed of the 44 municipalities of the Province of Cebu, said other countries, including the neighboring Southeast Asian nations of Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia, had already made mask wearing optional in outdoor settings due to the global improvement in the Covid-19 situation. (TPT, SunStar Philippines)