Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia could face charges should her new Executive Order cause a surge in COVID-19 cases in her province, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Monday.
According to Año, Garcia's executive order to drop the mandatory use of anti-coronavirus masks in open spaces in the province has no legal basis, since there is no existing national policy or issuance to support it.
"'Yung executive order na in-issue ni Governor Gwen Garcia is considered to be defective kasi it does not have any legal basis. It does not implement or interpret an existing national law, or even a provincial ordinance. Contradictory din ito sa national government issuances, like mga executive order, (EO) 1218, placing the country under a state of calamity from September 13, 2021 to September 12, 2022, and also contrary sa guidelines ng nationwide implementation ng Alert Level System for COVID-19 Response," he told Teleradyo.
(The executive order issued by Governor Gwen Garcia is considered defective because it does not have any legal basis. It does not implement or interpret an existing national law, or even a provincial ordinance. It is also contradictory to national government issuances, like executive orders, [EO] 1218, placing the country under a state of calamity from September 13, 2021 to September 12, 2022, and also contrary with guidelines on the nationwide implementation of the Alert Level System for COVID-19 Response.)
"Kailangan kasi ang isang executive order, mayroong legal basis na pinanggagalingan. Kung nagkaroon ng national policy, issuance ang government, existing law, pwede mong gagawing executive order 'yan. Hindi pwedeng naisip mo lang, gusto mo lang baguhin, executive order ko na 'yan. So kailangan talaga ang isang executive order ay consistent sa batas, sa national rules, sa regulations, sa policy. Hindi puwedeng gusto mo lang," Año added.
(An executive order has to have legal basis. If there is a national policy, government issuance, existing law, then you can create an executive order based on that. You cannot just create an executive order because you want to change something. An executive order should be consistent with the law, national rules, regulations and policy. You cannot make it just because you want to.)
Año also said the Local Government Code does not apply to this situation.
"Hindi pupwede na sabihin mo, ah sabi sa Local Government Code, autonomous kami. 'Di nagkanya-kanyang republic na 'yung ating mga probinsya at mga cities. That was not the intent of the Constitution and the law," he added.
(You cannot say that the Local Government Code gives you autonomy. Then cities and provinces should just do things on their own. That was not the intent of the Constitution and the law.)
Should Garcia's order cause a spike in Cebu province, Año said she might face charges before the Office of the Ombudsman.
"Alam mo, kapag sumipa bigla (ang kaso) dahil sa ganyang klaseng executive order, 'yan ang tinatawag nating causing injury to the government and to the people of Cebu, mapipilitan talaga na magsampa tayo ng kaso niyan," he said.
(You know, if cases suddenly increase because of the executive order, that is what we call as causing injury to the government and to the people of Cebu, we might be forced to file a case against her.)
"Kaya hindi pa naman tapos 'yung pandemic eh, and ang mga experts natin ang nagsasabi na 'yung combination ng minimum public health standard, 'yung pagsunod, at saka vaccination, are the best weapon to prevent any spike or any surge. Health expert ang nagsasabi noon, hindi kung sino lang," Año added.
(The pandemic is not yet over, and experts themselves say that the combination of minimum public health standards and vaccination are the best weapon to prevent any spike or any surge. Health experts say that, not just anyone.)
Año said he does not understand what's the big deal in wearing face masks, when Cebu province is still under Alert Level 2, since it has yet to reach the vaccination requirement for the elderly and those living with comorbidities.
Should a case be filed against Garcia, Año said she may face suspension, fines and even permanent disqualification from public office.
"Ito kasing kaso na ito ay pwedeng ihain sa Ombudsman, at ang pwedeng ipataw diyan ay suspension, o kaya ay fine, or even permanent disqualification from public office, depende na sa magiging pananaw at pag-usisa, pag-investigate ng Office of the Ombudsman kasi papasok 'yan sa anti-graft and corrupt practices," he explained.
(This case may be filed before the Office of the Ombudsman, and the penalty may be suspension, or fine, or even permanent disqualification from public office, depending on the investigation of the Office of the Ombudsman because this may fall under anti-graft and corrupt practices.)
In an executive order issued last week, Garcia said face masks are optional in open and well-ventilated areas and required only in closed and air-conditioned areas.
President Rodrigo Duterte's order to continue wearing masks in indoor and outdoor settings remains valid, and will still be implemented by police officers and local officials as part of their jobs, Department of the Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III earlier said.
Garcia invoked Section 105 of the Local Government Code to defend her EO, which stipulates that "in cases of epidemics, pestilence, and other widespread public health dangers, the Secretary of Health may, upon the direction of the President and in consultation with the local government unit concerned, temporarily assume direct supervision and control over health operations in any local government unit for the duration of the emergency."
Densing clarified that no such consultation occurred: "Never nag-take over ng health operations ang ating national government sa local government health operations."
(The national government never took over the health operations of local governments.)
This is not the first time Garcia made headlines in her COVID-19 protocols and responses. In 2020, Garcia called out doctors who criticized "tuob" or steam inhalation as therapy for COVID-19, a recommendation made by the Cebu Provincial Government for its employees.
Garcia also drew flak from the online community after she revealed in a Facebook comment in 2020 that she refuses to wear a mask because it causes her to "inhale back" carbon dioxide she exhales, which she said "causes exhaustion, lowers her immune system, and affects her brain."
The Department of Health has since clarified that steam inhalation may actually cause further irritation to the throat and is not recommended as treatment or prevention for COVID-19.