CEBU Fifth District Rep. Vincent Franco “Duke” Frasco plans to endorse a resolution that would support Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia’s controversial policy allowing the optional wearing of face masks in open and well-ventilated spaces in Cebu province, when the 19th Congress opens in July.

The reelected representative and son-in-law of Garcia said it is only appropriate to make such a move since coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in the province continue to decline and the vaccination rate throughout the country is high.

The House of Representatives adjourned its third and final session of the 18th Congress last June 1.

Garcia issued Executive Order (EO) 16 on June 8, 2022, allowing the optional wearing of masks in open and well-ventilated areas in the province, raising warnings from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and protests from the Department of Health, for deviating from the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) protocol that mandates the wearing of masks in public places.

The National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19 said on Saturday, June 18, 2022, that the national government had reached its target of fully vaccinating 70 million individuals against Covid-19.

The NTF said that as of Friday, June 17, there were 70,005,247 fully vaccinated individuals in the country or 77.78 percent of the target population.

“Easing up on the mask mandate corresponds to the call of times, with our general population being vaccinated, hospitalization due to Covid-19 at very low levels, and our economy being in dire need of resuscitation,” Frasco said in a statement Monday, June 20, 2022.

“This can only happen if we rationalize the mandates that convey our openness to move forward like other recovering economies have done post-pandemic such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Thailand,” he added.

After the DILG said that it would not recognize EO 16 and requested her to make changes to her EO or risk getting a show cause order, Garcia called for a special session of the Provincial Board last June 14 to pass Provincial Ordinance 2022-03, “Rationalizing the wearing of face masks within the Province of Cebu,” adopting EO 16.

Three days

This prompted DILG Secretary Eduardo Año last Thursday to give the Cebu Provincial Government three days to “amend, rectify or adjust” the newly passed ordinance to align this with President Rodrigo Duterte’s EO 151, which adopts the guidelines on the implementation of the Alert Level system in the country amid the Covid-19 pandemic as recommended by the IATF.

The IATF guidelines highlight the continuous observance of minimum public health standards, including the mandatory wearing of masks in all areas under any alert level.

Año said they could pursue legal action if the Provincial Government refused to comply by this week.

Garcia’s brother, Deputy Speaker Pablo John Garcia, responded to the ultimatum by saying: “Secretary Año: We give you three days to rectify your statement.”

In a statement Saturday, June 18, Deputy Speaker Garcia said: “How can you order a legislative body to rectify or even amend an ordinance? These are elected legislators and NOT YOUR SOLDIERS. Sanggunians are independent bodies not under your control. Go to court if you have a problem with the ordinance.”

“Your statement is either malicious, in evident bad faith and motivated by prejudice, or born out of ignorance. I hope it is just ignorance. But with topnotch lawyers like my brod Usec. Jonathan Malaya in your team, I find it hard to believe that it is ignorance,” the congressman of Cebu’s third district continued in the statement posted on his Facebook page.

“Leave Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and Cebu alone. Your ego is not welcome here,” the reelected congressman said.

Last week, reelected Vice Gov. Hilario Davide III, who presided over the special session that passed the ordinance, said Garcia’s EO 16 had become legal as it was now supported by an ordinance and that the IATF should just go to court if it wants to question the validity of the ordinance.

Towns

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

SunStar spoke with the mayors of at least three municipalities in Cebu Province that have adopted the controversial EO despite the unresolved dispute between Garcia and outgoing DILG Secretary Año over the EO.

Medellin Mayor Benjun Mondigo told SunStar Cebu Friday, June 17, that the Municipal Council had already passed the resolution adopting the ordinance of the Provincial Board.

The ordinance adopts Garcia’s EO 16 that drops the mask requirement in open and well-ventilated spaces in the province, and makes mask wearing required only in closed and/or air-conditioned spaces. Persons with Covid-19 symptoms would also still be required to wear a mask at all times when they leave their homes.

Tuburan Mayor Danny Diamante also confirmed through a text message that the town had already adopted the face mask policy of the province.

As for Daanbantayan Mayor Sun Shimura, he said: “Daanbantayan is part of the province of Cebu and as governor, Gwen is our leader and our chief executive in the province of Cebu. We are bound to follow the executive order and now the ordinance within the province of Cebu and the municipality of Daanbantayan.”

He told SunStar Friday that Garcia’s policy is the most logical way of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shimura noted that his town had been Covid-free for almost a month already despite the 2022 election campaign period and their recent fiesta celebration.

He said, though, that it recorded one Covid-19 case last week but the patient was admitted in a hospital in Cebu City.

Shimura said the town has popular beaches, particularly those in Malapascua and Carnaza Islands, and it is logical for the public to take off their masks outdoors and when they have no flu-like symptoms.

Shimura said apprehending those who are not wearing masks as ordered by Año is very anti-poor.

“With all due respect to secretary of DILG, we must respect the local autonomy of each province and municipality because we know the terrain, we know the situation on the ground,” he said.

“It’s very dangerous to some people to always wear a mask, especially when it is very hot these days,” Shimura added.

The mayor urged the National Government to be humane enough to understand the situation on the ground, stressing that people have no clear and stable jobs.

The province of Cebu covers 44 towns and six component cities.

Año has not said what he will do now that Garcia has ignored his three-day ultimatum. (TPT)