MANILA — Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia on Tuesday said that "in deference" to President Rodrigo Duterte, she was "setting aside" her province's COVID-19 quarantine protocols which differ from rules that the national government approved.
Duterte on late Monday said he understood the "plight" of the governor, but he "cannot make an exception" for Cebu and that policies he has approved "remain to be obeyed."
This, after Garcia issued Executive Order No. 23, reminding Cebu officials of possible criminal and administrative charges they might face if they do not enforce the province's own COVID-19 protocols.
"This executive order, I am now setting aside in deference to the President," the governor said in a taped message posted by Sugbo News on Facebook.
Cebu tests inbound travelers upon their arrival. They are then required to stay for 2 or 3 days at a hotel isolation facility, take a COVID-19 test on the seventh day after their arrival, and complete the rest of a 14-day quarantine at home.
However, the national government requires travelers from abroad to stay for 10 days at a quarantine facility and another 4 days in home quarantine, as they undergo COVID-19 screening on the seventh day.
Garcia said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and technical experts who advise Duterte would meet on June 28 with Cebu authorities.
The provincial government "will continue to keep a open mind [and] listen to these technical experts, even as we hope that Secretary Duque and these technical experts will also keep an open mind once they come to Cebu, observe what is happening in Cebu, and listen as well, as we would closely listen to them," said Garcia.
She thanked Duterte for ensuring that the national government would shoulder the cost of hotel quarantine of travelers arriving in Cebu.
She said, however, that the province will continue to test travelers upon arrival "at no cost" to them because this "gives us better control" of coronavirus infections.
Malacañang earlier this month temporarily diverted to the capital flights originally bound for Cebu, as it reminded all local governments to follow COVID-19 rules from the inter-agency task force leading the country's pandemic response.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque earlier in the day said it was up to the interior department to order the Cebu government to obey IATF rules.
Roque, who calls Garcia his "BFF" or "best friend forever", said that the governor is not disobedient, and that Duterte himself admires Cebu's innovative measures to respond to the lack of quarantine hotels in the province.
"The President appreciates the concern of Governor Garcia from a humanitarian perspective on the plight of our OFWs," he said.
Duque during Monday's televised meeting told Duterte that IATF implementing units in Cebu were fearful that Garcia would bring them to court for following guidelines from the national government, as opposed to her order.
"I understand that they are really eager to go home," Duterte had said, referring to returning overseas Filipino workers. "Once the plane lands dito sa Pilipinas, ang ano nila (what they want) is really to go home directly."
"But the problem is, there are rules now to be followed because of the pandemic, the crisis... They have to subjugate them, their desires, anuman ‘yan (whatever that is), for the national interest of the country," he added.
Garcia last year also made pronouncements that differed from the national government's directives.
She endorsed the practice of "tuob" or steam inhalation against COVID-19. The health department said this does not prevent or cure the respiratory disease.
In June last year, Duterte banned motorcycle backrides in Cebu, after Garcia issued an executive order allowing it.
– With reports from Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News; and Annie Perez