Rama reviews face mask EO but urges respect for LGUs

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Rama reviews face mask EO but urges respect for LGUs

MASKS ON OR OFF? The controversy over Cebu City's optional mask-wearing policy is an urgent issue as students return to school after two years of distance learning.

Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler

Rama says national officials should listen to local governments that know the situation at the grassroots

Is Cebu’s optional face mask use policy ‘on hold’ or in place? 

Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama on Thursday, September 1, confirmed he was reviewing Executive Order No 5, on the request of Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos.

But Rama, in an interview with government-owned PTV4’s Laging Handa news program, insisted the EO, which mandates an optional face-mask policy for the Visayas’ premier City, simply reiterates existing policy.

He also echoed Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia’s earlier demand for the national government to respect local authority.

“I don’t like the DOH (Department of Health) saying we should consult them,” the mayor said. “The Local Government Code states that they should consult us.”

“Kami ineelect, kami nasa baba, alam namin nangyyari sa baba; dapat nirerespeto ’yung sitwasyon na yan,” Rama stressed. (We are the elected, we are the ones at the grassroots, we know what is happening down here; they should respect that situation.)

Abalos had earlier announced on the same day that Rama had agreed to put his EO “on hold” until the interagency task force weighs in on it.

The DILG chief also said he would recommend “to make Cebu City the pilot implementer of this measure since the city has always been first in espousing non-masking policies outdoors for the ease and benefit of its people amid the pandemic.”

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‘Self regulation’

The local chief executive said he was not lifting the national government’s face mask mandate.

But he insisted that the use of face masks within the territorial  jurisdiction is a “non obligatory”mission of individual self preservation and protection.

“Wala naman ako sinabi na wag kayo mag wear ng face mask. Non obligatory lang,” the mayor said. (I didn’t tell people not to wear face masks. Just that it’s non obligatory.)

“In open spaces, you’re not required to use face masks,” Rama said in a mix of Filipino and English.

He said the EO “empowers” administrators of establishments and allows them discretion to enforce their own rules. 

“This is clear; it’s self regulation,” he stressed.

In hospitals, Rama added, it’s clear that the use of face masks remains mandatory policy.

The mayor essentially repeated what he said on August 31 when he signed the order.

This order can apply both indoors and outdoors, but private institutions still have the discretion to require the wearing of face masks within their establishments. 

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‘One Cebu’

Responding to Abalos’ remarks of a pilot area, Rama said the IATF should not limit the pilot area for new policies to Cebu City.

“Hindi pwede Cebu City lang, dapat lahat One Cebu Island,” Rama said. (It can’t be only Cebu City; it should be the whole One Cebu.)

His statements echo an oft-repeated complaint of Cebu officials.

Before Rama’s EO, the Cebu provincial board unanimously passed an ordinance in June 2022 to adopt Governor Garcia’s Executive Order No. 16, also optional wearing of masks.

Law experts then warned that with the Philippines still under a national state of calamity, there are limits to local autonomy.

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In July, after leading a campaign that turned Cebu province, former opposition bailiwick and the country’s most vote-rich province into a source of the biggest votes for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. , Garcia asked the new administration to consult with local governments before appointing heads of regional agencies in the Central Visayas.

Garcia referenced the “difficult past three years of my previous term”, clearly referring to the times national government, including then-president Rodrigo Duterte had overturned her pandemic management policies.

Among these were the quarantine period for returning overseas workers and the wearing of face masks.

– Rappler.com

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