MANILA – The Department of Health said Wednesday it was "never consulted" on Cebu City's decision to loosen its mask mandate.
According to DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire, the matter is now in the Department of the Interior and Local Government's jurisdiction.
"We were never consulted on this matter, regarding this removal of face masks outdoors and this executive order that they're going to issue," she said in a press briefing.
But Vergeire asserted that a "city within a country cannot act on its own".
"Hindi po puwede na may isang lugar sa ating bansa na nagpapatupad ng kanilang [sariling] protocol, samantalang the rest of the country are implementing the other side of the protocols or magkaiba," she said.
(There shouldn't be any area that implements its own protocols, while the rest of the country is implementing different rules.)
Given the country's porous borders, the optional use of face mask may increase the risk of infection, not only among those living in Cebu City but those travelling as well, Vergeire said.
While she understands that many want to ditch the mask, she said the country's COVID-19 response should be a "one-nation approach".
"Let us do this with a one-nation approach na hindi po tayo magkakaniya-kaniya. Let us try to follow our protocols right now. We will further study after this kung maaari na kapag nakita natin na nakapagbigay na tayo ng adequate protection to our population through our vaccinations," she said.
(Let us do this with a one-nation approach instead of going our own way... We will study further if this is feasible, if we could give adequate protection to our population through our vaccinations.)
On Wednesday, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama issued an executive order declaring the "non-obligatory" use of face mask.
The EO states that residents are not required to use mask in outdoor and open spaces, while businesses have the discretion to set their respective mask policies.
But indoor mask mandate remains inside hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities, the city government said.
The use of mask is also mandatory for those who are immunocompromised, sick or experiencing flu-like symptoms.
In June, Cebu province also made the use of face masks in open and well-ventilated spaces optional, which the national government opposed.
— With a report from Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News