Cebu

Masks now optional outdoors in Cebu province

Ryan Macasero
Masks now optional outdoors in Cebu province

FACE HSIELDS. Cebu residents wear face shields and face masks while waiting to register to vote.

Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler file photo

(1st UPDATE) The Department of the Interior and Local Government orders local police to disregard Gwen Garcia's memo, but the governor asserts the autonomy of the local government
Masks now optional outdoors in Cebu province

CEBU CITY, Philippines – Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia made wearing masks optional in open spaces in the province via Executive Order 16, signed on Thursday, June 9. 

“[T]he use of face masks shall be optional in well-ventilated and open spaces,” the EO read. “However, persons are highly encouraged to wear their masks especially in crowded outdoor areas,” it added.

Masks are still required in closed, air-conditioned spaces, and residents are encouraged to still wear masks in crowded outdoor places.

Why it matters

Cebu province is still under Alert Level 2, only the second lowest quarantine status.

Meanwhile its independent cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu are under Alert Level 1, the lowest quarantine, and have not yet tweaked their mask mandates.

Garcia is known for advocating for less-restrictive COVID-19 measures.

Even early on in the pandemic, she was vocal against lockdowns, for the purpose of economic recovery. She challenged the national government on its quarantine policy on international travelers by shortening the facility quarantine period for Cebu residents.

She eventually acceded to the national government’s policy.

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What the Department of Health says

When asked by reporters if the Department of Health (DOH) was consulted prior to Garcia’s order, the DOH did not answer directly.

But it said that taking off masks is only allowed under certain circumstances, according to IATF guidelines. 

“Current IATF protocols allow only for specific instances when masks can be taken off, such as when eating or during certain well-ventilated sports activities,” the DOH said in a Viber message to reporters.

The IATF has not yet issued a statement on the province’s new policy.

No more reporting local COVID-19 numbers

The DOH Central no longer reports daily COVID-19 numbers. The regional center of Cebu City though reports low COVID-19 critical care occupancy. 

In private hospitals, 1.29% COVID-19 critical care beds are occupied, while .59% of beds in private hospitals are occupied.

What the DILG says

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) ordered local police to disregard Garcia’s memo in a statement released on Friday, June 10.

“Hence, this department does not recognize the executive order issued by Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia because we have the IATF guidelines approved by the President. The Philippine National Police will continue to confront, apprehend, and arrest, if necessary, all violators of IATF guidelines and MPHS in the province of Cebu,” the statement read.

Garcia later reacted to this statement during a press conference on Friday afternoon, asserting the autonomy of the local government.

Cebu City keeps mask mandate

The independent capital of Cebu City, however, is not scrapping its mask mandate.

“The province is big and wide, which means they have the freedom to liberate themselves from face masks. The city isn’t as huge, so we have to be more careful,” Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama said.

Rama added that he would only adapt Garcia’s policy if the IATF and DOH give the go-signal. – with reports from Dwight de Leon and John Sitchon/Rappler.com

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.