PRO 7, CPPO chiefs clash over face mask rule

TWO high-ranking police officials in Central Visayas have opposing views on the executive order issued by Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia that makes the wearing of face masks in open and well-ventilated spaces in Cebu Province optional.Brigadier Gen. Roque Eduardo Vega, chief of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO 7), issued a statement on Saturday, June 11, 2022, urging his personnel to enforce the mandatory wearing of face masks in public places as set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF).Vega issued the statement a day after Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año ordered 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 IATF.Vega’s statement came a day after Lt. Col. Engelbert Soriano, chief of the Cebu Police Provincial Office (CPPO), sided with Garcia on the implementation of Executive Order (EO) 16.Vega also reminded the public that the responsibility of curbing the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases is not solely the police’s and other frontliners’.“Hindi lang to responsibilidad ng mga frontliners kundi responsibilidad rin nating lahat. Huwag pa rin maging kampante sa ngayon at siguraduhin palaging mapagmatyag sa lahat ng oras dahil ang Covid-19 ay nandito pa rin (Preventing the spread of Covid is everybody’s responsibility, not just the frontliners’. We should not let our guard down and we should continue to be vigilant because Covid-19 is still around),” Vega said.Soriano said in a statement on Friday night, June 10, that he would follow Garcia’s lead in implementing EO 16, despite Año’s order to the police to arrest those who don’t follow MPHS, including the wearing of face masks in public places.“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.SunStar Cebu tried calling Soriano to get his comment on Vega’s statement, but calls and texts to his cellular phone remained unanswered as of press time.After Año’s orders to police not to recognize EO 16, 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, citing local autonomy.Garcia said local chief executives have the right to decide what is appropriate and good for their constituents.The Cebu Provincial Board is expected to pass a resolution on Monday, June 13, in support of the governor’s EO making mask wearing optional.Under Garcia’s EO 16, which was 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.Garcia issued the EO even though Cebu Province 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. / GDC, JKV