DOJ chief tells Cebu gov: Don’t clash with IATF over mask mandate; make a proposal

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 15 2022 07:11 PM

This composite image shows Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia. Alberto Alcain, Presidential Photo/Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
This composite image shows Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia. Alberto Alcain, Presidential Photo/Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — In the face of a clash between national authorities and the Cebu provincial government over Governor Gwen Garcia’s optional mask policy in outdoor settings, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said local executives should reach out to the COVID-19 task force instead of opposing it.

“Huwag mo na banggain diretso. Ang gawin mo, lumapit ka na lang sa IATF and make a proposal and that's it,” he said during a Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum on Wednesday.

(Don't go directly against it. Instead, approach the IATF, and make a proposal, and that's it.) 

“Ang kailangan lang naman gawin dyan ni Governor Gwen or any local government official who feels na pwede nang mag-alis ng mask sa kanilang LGU ay lumapit sa IATF, sabihin sa IATF na maybe it’s time to modify the existing rule natin,” he added.

(All that should be done by Governor Gwen or any local official who feels that the mask could be removed in the LGU is approach the IATF and tell it that maybe it's time to modify our existing rules.) 

The inter-agency task force on COVID-19 is "very reasonable" in these matters, Guevarra said. 

Garcia last week issued an executive order making the use of face masks optional in open and well-ventilated places.

The interior department rejected the move and warned that non-wearing of face masks is a violation of IATF resolutions that could result in arrests.

But Garcia on Monday told ANC’s Headstart that there was no legal basis to arrest those who don’t wear face masks outdoors.

Guevarra on the same day said IATF resolutions are incorporated in the executive orders issued by the President, which prevail over those issued by local governments.

Garcia on Tuesday countered Guevarra’s position, telling CNN Philippines that IATF resolutions were merely “recommendatory in nature” and do not rise to the level of the President’s executive orders.

MASK MANDATE: WITH OR WITHOUT LEGAL BASIS? 

Guevarra on Wednesday acknowledged Garcia’s point but stuck to his position.

“Tama naman si Gov. Gwen na 'yan ay guidelines. IATF ay inter-agency committee 'yan, wala 'yang sariling legal personality," said the justice secretary. 

"During IATF meetings, I strongly explained sa IATF na ang ini-issue natin ay guidelines, kelangan magkaroon ng force of law 'yan, kelangan ma-backup 'yan ng EOs signed by the President. And that's what the President exactly did,” he continued. 

(Gov. Gwen is right, those are guidelines. The IATF is an inter-agency committee and lacks its own legal personality. During IATF meetings, I strongly explained that we issue guidelines which need force of law and should be backed up by EOs signed by the President.) 

Duterte issued executive orders “authorizing the IATF to take emergency measures to deal with the pandemic,” Guevarra said. 

“One of the most fundamental measures by the IATF and adopted by the President ay 'yung (is the) mandatory wearing of face mask,” he added.

Guevarra also cited as legal bases the constitution that gives the President general supervision over local governments, and laws such as the Notifiable Diseases Act and the Bayanihan to Heal As One which gave him the power to ensure that all LGUs observe the pandemic policies set by the national government. 

CEBU AS A PILOT TEST AREA 

Guevarra said that the IATF could consider using Cebu province as a test case for easing mask rules. 

“Pwede i-pilot test sa Cebu… The IATF sa next meeting may probably consider that suggestion, sige i-test muna sa Cebu kung walang magiging upsurge ng cases d'yan, kahit optional ang face mask. Maybe it’s a good time para baguhin ang rule on mandatory wearing of face mask. We can try that. Hindi kailangan ang direct confrontation,” he said.

(It could be pilot tested in Cebu. The next IATF meeting may probably consider that suggestion to test it out in Cebu, if there would be no upsurge of cases even if face masks are optional. Maybe it’s a good time to change the rule on mandatory wearing of face mask. Direct confrontation is unnecessary.) 

“Madaling mag-adjust ang IATF. Pag naipakita na may scientific basis to take a particular action, mabilis kumilos ang IATF, very dynamic kaya nga madalas nag-iiba ang rules ng IATF because the IATF is coping up with changes in the environment, in the developments in the control of the pandemic,” he added.

(It's easy for the IATF to adjust. Once there is scientific basis to take a particular action, the IATF moves quickly, it's very dynamic and that is why its rules change often.) 

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