MANILA (UPDATE) — Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia said Monday there was "no legal basis" for authorities to apprehend persons who don't wear face masks outdoors in the province.
Garcia, in an executive order issued last week, said face masks were optional in open and well-ventilated areas, and required only in closed and air-conditioned spaces.
Persons who violate health protocols such as wearing of face masks may be arrested "if necessary," according to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año as he said his agency does not recognize Garcia's EO.
"There's no legal basis and I will stand for that...There's no legal basis for apprehending people (who) are outside in open, well-ventilated areas not wearing face masks. If they wish to continue wearing face masks, that is their choice," Garcia told ANC's Headstart.
People who don't wear face masks cannot be apprehended in Cebu province, Garcia said.
"I had long ago issued a statement do not apprehend these people, give them face masks. Let’s not make this punitive," she said.
Garcia added that President Rodrigo Duterte, who said he would not lift the face mask rule until the end of his term, took off his face mask during the Independence Day rites in Manila.
"The President says one thing and does another thing. Sa 'kin lang let’s not be hypocrites here. Bakit pa magmamaang-maangan pa tayo," she said.
(For me, let's not be hypocrites here. Why are we pretending we do not know this?)
"There are certain regulations that are unimplementable. Let's put some sense."
Garcia also said that under Section 5 of the latest Inter-Agency Task Force resolution issued June 4, the task force "recognizes the autonomy of local government units."
"It's very clear, 'provided further there is no objection from local government unit where these activities take place,'" she said.
"This specifically recognizes the autonomy of local government units. This IATF task force must at all times consult with local government unit."
Garcia also cited Section 105 of the Local Government Code which states the health secretary may assume direct supervision and control of health operations in any LGU for 6 months.
The period may be extended with the concurrence of the LGU, the governor said.
"Let us temper our reaction and our way of addressing the challenge. Let’s not bring this to unimplementable levels," she said.
When asked about the province's vaccination rate, Garcia said she doesn't "closely monitor" it as she has "more important" concerns. The province, however, has "strongly supported" the vaccination program, she said.
The Department of Health earlier said it was not consulted by the Cebu local government prior to the governor's EO.
Duterte and the IATF have several times urged the province to follow national mandates in its COVID-19 response.
'THERE WILL BE ANARCHY'
The League of Provinces of the Philippines on Monday warned that "anarchy" could ensue if COVID-19 rules were flouted.
"We have to follow the law. Otherwise, if you do not follow the law, there will be anarchy," LPP president and Marinduque Governor Presbitero Velasco Jr. said.
"There might be breakdown of peace and order because there has to be rules to be followed, especially there is still a big problem with COVID," he told ANC's "Rundown".
Under Section 4 of the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, all local government units are obliged to follow the directives of the government's pandemic task force, Velasco noted.
"Since the IATF has issued a resolution, requiring the mandatory wearing of face masks even outdoors with certain exemptions, then the local government unit has to follow the directive of the IATF," he added.
Velasco said LGUs could still exercise their autonomy in matters undefined by the national government, but COVID-19 interventions are "a matter of national concern and interest and it is best we follow the law."
He said anybody who would like to "contest it would have to go to the courts to determine whether these are within the bounds of the law."
"I think there are good reasons behind the directive of IATF because there's an increase in the number of [COVID-19] infections," he said.