DILG’s Año: Arrest unmasked; Gwen: No

THE Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) will not recognize the executive order issued by Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia last June 8 making the wearing of face masks in well-ventilated and open spaces in the province no longer mandatory amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.DILG Secretary Eduardo Año has ordered the police to continue to “confront, apprehend and arrest” all violators of minimum public health standards (MPHS) which includes the mandatory wearing of face masks in public places as set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), whose guidelines had been approved by President Rodrigo Duterte.Governor Garcia responded by standing pat on the implementation of her executive order and calling on the police not to apprehend those not wearing masks in open and well-ventilated spaces.“I’m calling on the PNP (Philippine National Police) to make no such apprehensions. If you recall, there is operational control of the local government unit over the police,” Garcia said in a press conference in Cebu City Friday, June 10, 2022.Garcia said local chief executives had the right to decide what was appropriate and good for their constituents.The Cebu Provincial Board will pass a resolution on Monday, June 13, in support of the governor’s EO making mask wearing optional.President’s directiveIn a statement early Friday, Año cited the IATF guidelines on the observance of MPHS especially in public areas which had been approved by President Duterte.“The President has directed that we will continue to wear face masks except under circumstances defined by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases Current IATF protocols allow only for specific instances when masks can be taken off, such as when eating or during certain well-ventilated sports and activities,” Año said in the statement.“The Department wishes to remind the public and all Local Government Units that the Covid-19 virus is still present and the pandemic is not yet over. Individuals can still catch the virus, most especially our senior citizens and vulnerable population. We should therefore be vigilant and continue our adherence to all minimum public health standards, get vaccinated or boosted immediately,” he added.Año said the MPHS along with the country’s vaccination program had helped keep Covid-19 cases low despite the detection of new subvariants. He said the wearing of face masks reduces the transmission not only of Covid-19 but also of other infectious and respiratory diseases including Monkeypox.Under Garcia’s EO 16, issued Wednesday but made known to the public only on Thursday, mask wearing would be 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.Cebu Province is the first local government to impose such a protocol while the entire country, as ordered by the IATF and President Duterte himself, continues to adhere to the mandatory face-mask rule amid the prevailing pandemic.In a virtual press briefing Friday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Department of Health disagrees with Garcia’s policy as it goes against its position that wearing face masks must remain mandatory as part of the minimum public health standards.“The national government has authority to issue protocols. And these protocols should be complied with by all sectors, including local governments,” said Vergeire.She said they hope the provincial government will reconsider its new policy.“It will be a small sacrifice in order to protect our countrymen. Let us not oppose the policies. Let us take it slowly and we will ultimately be able to reach the new normal with no more restrictions,” said Vergeire.Sick and tiredHowever, Garcia told reporters that her EO does not force those who wish to continue wearing masks to drop them.“We are not saying you cannot use a face mask. It’s optional. Those that would wish to breathe in pure oxygen, the more beneficial sea air, then please. Let’s not bring the wearing of face masks to ridiculous levels,” she said.“We are just formalizing what is actually already happening. People are taking off their masks,” Garcia said.She cited the grand rallies during the campaign period for the May 9 elections when the DILG did not issue an order to apprehend participants not observing the MPHS.“The public is sick and tired of this face mask, especially when it’s already unreasonable to be wearing it in wide open ventilated areas. Why did you not insist? Why did the DILG not instruct the police to apprehend all those that attended rallies who were not wearing face masks or all those who stood by the roadsides in hundreds of thousands for the caravans not wearing face masks? And now you ask the PNP to apprehend those not wearing face masks because of my executive order? Were they sleeping during the time of the campaign? And now they’ve suddenly awakened kay mana ang election (because the election is over)?” she added.PNP orderMeanwhile, the PNP leadership has ordered the Cebu Police Provincial Office (CPPO) to follow the order of Secretary Año against the violators of the minimum public health standards in the province, PNP spokesperson Colonel Jean Fajardo said on Friday.However, at 8 p.m. Friday, Police Col. Engelbert Soriano, CPPO director, said he would implement Garcia’s order and not the DILG’s.“The PNP is mandated to enforce the law. Hence, Cebu PPO will support whatever is legal and supported by existing laws. EO 16 of Cebu signed by Hon Governor Gwendolyn F Garcia remains the law as far as Cebu province is concerned and we recognize that, unless it is later on invalidated by proper authority,” Soriano said in a statement.5 mayorsGarcia’s EO has also drawn the support of five municipal mayors in Cebu Province.Medellin Mayor Benjun Mondigo told SunStar Cebu Friday that it was high time to make such MPHS optional since majority of the public have already been vaccinated against Covid-19.He said his town has also not had active Covid-19 cases for quite a while now.Borbon Mayor Noel Dotillos also expressed no concern about people no longer using masks as long as they are in an open area.The mayor, however, said the presentation of vaccination cards when attending socio-cultural activities in his town is still mandatory.San Remigio Mayor Mariano Martinez said it was already a practice in the province, citing farmers and fisherfolk no longer wearing masks when they work.“There are also no sanctions on people not wearing masks outdoors,” said Martinez.Pinamungajan Mayor Glenn Baricuatro said it was time to do away with masks in open spaces, stressing the need for the economy to recover.“If someone gets sick, he is treated. But our economy deserves to be treated too. The people suffer more because of the restrictions,” Baricuatro said in Cebuano.Dumanjug Mayor Efren Guntrano Gica said he trusts the wisdom of the governor just like the over 1.4 million Cebuanos who voted for her reelection last May.Gica said he himself no longer wears a mask.The Province of Cebu remains on Alert Level 2 until June 15, except for Talisay City, and the towns of Alcoy, Borbon, Oslob, Pilar, Santander and Tudela, which are under the less restrictive Alert Level 1. (TPT, HDT / SUNSTAR PHILIPPINES)