EXPLAINER: Is face-mask wearing in Cebu City over? Still voluntary. In schools, businesses, most public spaces, with owner/manager/head of office as decider on rule and enforcement. No official declaration of end to anti-Covid masks although Mayor Mike’s EO expired last December 31.

File photos
File photos

IF YOU'RE wondering whether Cebu City is still enforcing its regulation on face-mask wearing, it is not. We learn instead that the City Government has tossed the discretion to decide and the duty to enforce policy to the owner, manager or the public space or private establishment.

The last regulation on face masks against Covid-19 -- which used to alternately rage and subside in the city for two years, up to much of the third quarter of 2022 -- was Mayor Mike Rama’s Executive Order (EO) No. 5, which was to take effect from September 1 to December 31, 2022.

The period was supposed to be an experiment, reportedly with approval of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) or local government secretary. The test must have succeeded for that policy reportedly is still in force to this day. Asked about the city’s current policy on masks, Councilor Joel C. Garganera, chief of the anti-Covid EOC (Emergency Operations Center), told me last January 20, 2023, the mayor’s “latest EO” would still apply.

EXISTING OFFICIAL RULES. By auto-revival or what other power resurrects an expired EO, these rules shall continue to be observed in Cebu City:

[1] Wearing masks shall be voluntary, except in hospitals, clinics and medical facilities.

[2] Immunocompromised persons and those who are sick or have flu-like symptoms are still required to wear mask outdoors but are directed to stay home if they can.

ENFORCEMENT of the mask policy in Cebu City is left to the persons managing spaces or places open to the public: schools, by supervisors, principals or teachers; private establishments, by owners or managers. Councilor Garganera said, “in effect we have transferred enforcement... to private establishments. It will be up to them to impose, within their vicinity, the (rule on) wearing of masks.”

As early as last September, City Hall knew that more and more people were not wearing masks anymore. “Let’s not be naïve,” Mayor Rama said when he announced EO No. 5 on August 31. “People in Pasil don’t wear mask.” Mayor Mike likened it to being free, saying that way back in February of that year, he had been talking about “freedom.” “We’re rising up and moving forward.”

THE DECIDERS this time, it seems, are the persons overseeing the public spaces and each individual who’s given the choice to wear or not to wear mask. There’s freedom to take risk and be reckless or, as the mayor puts it, take the “measure of self-preservation.”

It’s obvious that Government -- national and local governments -- may have already shelved the Covid problem, though not officially. No more edicts from the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force); the EOC spoke out only because it was asked. Generally, it looks like they don’t see Covid as an affliction anymore. No new surge this time, particularly in Cebu City, where a number of “super-spreader” events were held recently, such as Christmas and New Year holidays and Piyesta Senyor and Sinulog festival.

“We have fewer cases,” Garganera said, though “not all infected individuals are being tested” as many opt to self-test. Yet there has been so much sign or indication lately of a fresh assault by the virus.

While Garganera made the usual caution on “not to be complacent,” he won’t say if the epidemic is over; that’s for the Department of Health, not the EOC, to say.

‘IF YOU’RE UGLY...’ The fact is there’s hardly any authority in the city enforcing mask-wearing, even at places listed as exception to the “voluntary mask” rule. There will be fewer once managers and heads of office are reminded that the mayor’s EO expired last December 30.

On the question of to wear or not to wear a mask, each adult person in the city may as well be told, “Your call.” Need some tips? Here’s one: Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, a “no-mask” advocate long before it became fashionable, once quipped during a live-streamed press briefing: If you’re ugly, wear a mask. []


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