Cebu City drops mask wearing; Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue to follow

TWO months after Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia courted controversy by making the wearing of face masks in outdoor and well-ventilated areas optional in Cebu Province, the Cebu City Government has now also made mask wearing optional, with the two other independent cities in Cebu looking to do the same.But the Cebu City Government has gone further than what the governor did, as it has declared the wearing of masks within its territorial jurisdiction “non-obligatory” whether in open spaces or not.This, after Mayor Michael Rama issued Executive Order (EO) 5 on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022.Malacañang declined to comment on the move. The Department of Health (DOH) said it had not been consulted on the matter, while a party-list group in Cebu slammed the move outright.DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said no area in the country should implement a measure in contrast to the national policy, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.During a press briefing Wednesday, Rama said the high vaccination rate and the downward trend in coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases were among the factors behind the decision to drop the mask wearing requirement for people going outside of their residence.As of Aug. 31, the City Health Department had recorded a total of 850,351 vaccinated individuals, while 177,570 persons had received their first booster shot.The mayor also said consultation was made during a multi-sectoral convergence before he decided not to require the wearing of masks in the city.“Such executive order did not come up out of thin air but (is) based on circumstances,” said Rama.Under EO 5, private establishments have the discretion to allow individuals not to wear masks inside their premises.The management of businesses and establishments is mandated to craft a reasonable policy on the wearing of masks.Rama also said that when riding a public utility vehicle, mask wearing is at the discretion of the drivers and operators of the vehicles.In schools, Rama said the decision to drop the wearing of masks is up to the Department of Education and the parents of the students.ExceptionsThe EO provided exceptions to the rule as mask wearing in health facilities such as hospitals, clinics and diagnostic facilities remains mandatory, though the EO said this was a general rule that was “subject to the policy” of the medical facility or its administrator.Persons suffering from flu-like symptoms should also always wear masks outside their residence.“As a general rule, the City of Cebu adheres to the non-obligatory use of face masks within its territorial jurisdiction but respects the rights of individual persons for self-preservation and protection. Subject to the aforementioned exceptions, wearing of face mask is not mandatory,” the EO says.Towards the end of the Duterte administration last June 8, Governor Garcia issued EO 16 that made the wearing of masks in outdoor and well-ventilated areas optional in the Province of Cebu, raising warnings from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and protests from the DOH, for deviating from the Inter-Agency Task Force protocol that mandates the wearing of masks in public places.When asked whether he had consulted the DOH or DILG, the mayor said it was not necessary since local government units have autonomy, especially in health matters.Rama said he would send a copy of the EO to DILG Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr., not for approval but for the secretary to know the contents of the order once the press asks questions about it.Rama also said he had talked to other mayors in Cebu about dropping the mask requirement.‘Risky’ for studentsKabataan Party-list Cebu said Rama’s EO “puts returning youth to schools in unnecessary risks.”“This local legislation by the City Government at a time when young students, including children, and teachers have gone back to school for face-to-face classes only puts them at risk, especially when local monkeypox cases have been reported in the country. Making face masks non-mandatory to wear runs contrary to our call for the safe reopening of schools,” said Kyle Enero, chairperson of Kabataan Party-list Cebu, in a statement released hours after Rama signed the EO.Lapu-Lapu, MandaueOfficials of the two remaining local government units in Cebu that have not yet dropped the mask requirement, however, indicated Wednesday that they would also move in this direction.Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan said he would adopt the EO of Mayor Rama, which makes the wearing of masks in open spaces in the city “non-obligatory.”Chan told SunStar Cebu Wednesday that he would issue an EO as soon as he received a copy of Rama’s EO.Last June 15, Chan had already said he was “in favor” of making mask wearing outdoors optional.Chan pointed out that Singapore no longer requires the wearing of masks outdoors but that the island-nation strictly requires its use indoors.As of Tuesday, Aug. 30, the DOH 7 recorded 1,523 active Covid-19 cases in Central Visayas.Of that number, Cebu City had 518 cases, while Lapu-Lapu City recorded 68 cases.Mandaue City is also in favor of lifting the mask requirement in open spaces.John Eddu Ibañez, executive secretary to Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes, told SunStar Cebu Wednesday, that the mayor is set to recommend to the City Council to amend the city’s face mask Ordinance 15-2020-1531 that imposes a fine of P5,000 on those not wearing masks in public places.Ibañez said it was high time the ordinance was amended because Mandaue had not seen an increase in its Covid-19 cases.On Aug. 31, the city had only 88 active Covid cases.Not consultedDOH officer-in-charge Vergeire said Wednesday that the Cebu City Government had not consulted them on Rama’s plan to make mask wearing optional.She said the matter is under the jurisdiction of the DILG, which should be able to implement policies among all local government units across the country without exception.Vergeire said no area in the country should implement a measure in contrast to the national policy.“Because we know we have porous borders. We know that people all over the country travel to and from these different areas of the country, and we know that Covid-19 crosses borders. So if we are preventing infections in most of the areas in the country and one area in the country will not have that kind of safeguard, then therefore the possibility or the risk of infections will be higher in these areas because the safeguards are not there,” she said.“Therefore people who are going there or people from that place going out might have that higher risk of infecting other people also from the other areas,” she added.MalacañangPresident Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has not commented on Rama’s move so far.“We respect the mandate of local governments over their own jurisdiction,” Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a press conference on Wednesday.“The President has no reaction to this as of yet,” she added.Covid-19 has infected nearly 600 million people, of whom 6.4 million have died, worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. (IRT, MKG, HIC, HBL, TPM / SunStar Philippines)