Cebu City mayor agreed in principle to defer relaxed mask rule, says DILG chief

Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 31 2022 11:30 PM

MANILA - Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama has agreed in principle to defer the relaxation of the city's face mask mandate amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, Interior Secretary Benjur Abalos said Wednesday night.

In an interview on TeleRadyo, Abalos said he immediately called Rama upon hearing earlier in the day that he has signed an executive order making the wearing of face masks in Cebu City's open spaces non-obligatory.

"Pinakiusapan ko po si Mayor Mike Rama na baka puwede namang Mayor Mike, marami tayong batas na ganito, okay lang ba sa’yo baka pupwedeng i-defer natin muna tapos ito’y ire-refer ko sa IATF," Abalos said.

(I asked Mayor Mike Rama over the phone if he can defer the implementation of his new policy, as I refer it first to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.)

"Ang sabi ni Mayor, 'Okay ‘yan, Secretary.' Sabi ko, 'I guarantee you, ‘ka ko sa kanya, bibilisan ko ito'. Bibilisan ko lang ito," he added.

(The mayor said, 'That's okay, Secretary.' I told him, 'I guarantee you, I will prioritize this. I will make it fast.')

"Ako’y nakiusap po talaga sa kaniya para ‘wag namang magkalituhan," said Abalos.

(I pleaded with him so there won't be any confusion.)

"Napakabait naman ni Mayor Mike. Sinabi niya, 'Sige, Secretary'... Well, sabi niya sa akin, 'Benhur, kaibigan kita, kung ganoon.' Parang um-oo po siya sa akin," the DILG chief continued.

(Mayor Mike is very nice. He said, 'Sure, Secretary'... Well, he told me, 'Benhur, you're my friend, if that is the case.' He appeared to agree with me.)

Abalos said although he understands the reasons behind the relaxation of the mask-wearing policy, there are laws to be followed especially since the country is still in a state of public health emergency.

LINK TO: state of public health emergency -- https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/08/17/22/marcos-to-extend-covid-state-of-public-health-emergency-until-end-2022

He promised to raise the issue and discuss it with the other officials of the IATF. Until a decision is made, Abalos asked local chief executives to bear with it and defer their implementation of voluntary mask-wearing in outdoor and open spaces.

"Kaya ako’y nananawagan maski sa lahat ng mga lungsod ngayon, sa lahat ng mga munisipyo, para magkaroon naman tayo ng tamang proseso, bilang kalihim ng DILG, baka pupuwede po, itong Lunes, pinapa-convene ko na, sinabi ko na sa mga kasama ko," he said.

(I am appealing to all cities and municipalities, so that we can follow due process, as secretary of DILG, if possible, this Monday, I already asked for a meeting.)

"I assure them within 1 week or the most is 2 weeks, mayroon na kaagad sagot dito," he went on.

(I assure them within 1 week or the most is 2 weeks, we will have an answer to this.)

The DILG chief said he is also willing to pilot test the relaxed mask wearing mandate in Cebu City in order to see whether it can also be implemented nationwide.

"Mayroon tayong proseso. Mayroon tayong batas na susundin po dito. Pero ‘wag kayong mag-alala, ilalaban ko po at aking ii-sponsor-an ito sa IATF at puwede ko pong sabihin na gawin po kayong pilot tungkol po dito," said Abalos.

(We have a process. We have laws we need to follow. But don't worry, I will fight for this and I will sponsor this issue at the IATF. And I can even tell them to pilot test the policy in Cebu City.)

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Meanwhile, Dr. Maricar Limpin, the immediate past president of the Philippine College of Physicians, said local chief executives should be well prepared before making the wearing of face masks voluntary.

“Bago tayo mag-isip ng ganito, kailangan napaghandaan natin nang mabuti,” she told TeleRadyo in a separate interview.

(Before we think about the voluntary wearing of face masks, we should prepare for it adequately.)

“Kung gagayahin natin ito, dapat ginaya din natin ‘yung preparasyon. Eh ang problema, hindi nga natin ginagawa ‘yung preparation,” Limpin said, noting the improvements in ventilation in buildings and an increase in vaccination rates in other countries.

(If we’re going to imitate other countries, then we should have also imitated their preparations. But the problem is we didn’t even prepare.)

“I cannot understand kung bakit masyadong nagmamadali. Hintayin siguro natin na mas maganda ganda ‘yung preparation natin bago natin tuluyang, talagang we dance with the virus na wala ang face mask,” she said.

(I cannot understand why we are in a rush. We should maybe just wait until we have prepared well before we dance with the virus without wearing face masks.)

The Department of Health leadership said earlier in the day it was not consulted by the Cebu City government about its decision to lift the mandatory wearing of face masks in open spaces.

Limpin said doing away with face masks may trigger a rise in COVID-19 cases in the country, especially in light of the resumption of face-to-face classes.

"Marami tayong mga tao, lalo na yung mga vulnerable sector ng population natin, yung mga matatanda, yung may mga comorbid conditions katulad ng cancer, diabetes, maaaring this will lead to more severe cases. Hindi lang yung increase ng kaso ng COVID-19, kung hindi definitely mag-i-increase din ang kaso ng severe COVID natin, na alam naman nating siyang nagiging dahilan ng pagkamatay ng mga Pilipino," she said.

(This may lead to more severe cases among many people, especially those in the vulnerable sector of the population, such as the elderly and those with comorbidities like cancer and diabetes. So, it will not only cause a raise in COVID-19 cases, but also an increase in severe COVID-19 cases, which, as we know, causes death among Filipinos.)

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In his executive order signed Wednesday, Rama said individuals should "be granted discretion on the wearing of face mask".

"The use and wearing of face mask is hereby declared as non-obligatory within the territorial jurisdiction of the City of Cebu," the executive order read. 

Rama’s order comes a few months after national government officials pushed back on Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia’s order to lift mask mandates in the entire province.

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