Optional wearing of mask outdoors verbally approved by Marcos but public told to wait for EO

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 07 2022 02:31 PM | Updated as of Sep 08 2022 01:13 PM

People wearing face masks as a precaution against COVID-19 fall in line at the Monumento bus stop in Caloocan on January 3, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN New
People wearing face masks as a precaution against COVID-19 fall in line at the Monumento bus stop in Caloocan on January 3, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (2nd UPDATE)— President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. has verbally approved the recommendation of the country's COVID-19 task force to make wearing of face masks nationwide optional or voluntary, but the public has to wait for his executive order on the new policy, the country's interim health chief said Wednesday.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases made the recommendation to the president after a recent meeting in light of Cebu City's adoption of said policy.

"The very reason why we are having this presscon and initially informing the public of this was because there was this verbal approval from the President when they talked with Sec. Benhur (Abalos) from DILG," health department officer-in-charge Ma. Rosario Vergeire told reporters in Malacanang.

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"But, it's stated in the IATF Resolution No. 1, Series of 2022... that the IATF has resolved to recommend to the president, and that the president will issue an executive order regarding this policy," she added.

Cruz-Angeles, who attended the press conference virtually, said the recommendation is specifically to make mask-wearing optional in open spaces with ventilation, but senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals are still encouraged to wear the protective gear outdoors.

"Ayon sa IATF, ang kanilang rekomendasyon (ay) sa pag-liberalize ng ating mask-wearing mandate and make mask-wearing outdoors voluntary across the country. Ulitin natin na outdoors ito. Ito ay nagiging optional in open spaces or non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation," she said.

Once finalized, the lifting of the mandatory mask mandate will be implemented during the last quarter of the year, Cruz-Angeles said, adding it is important to improve the COVID-19 vaccination coverage.

"Kailangan i-improve natin ang statistics natin ng nagpapa-booster na para by the end of the year, magpa-pilot test na ng lifting ng mandatory mask mandate," she said.
Each government agency and locality must implement interventions to improve the uptake of COVID-19 boosters, Vergeire said.

Lifting the mask mandate in indoor settings is currently being studied by the IATF and experts, the official said.

Authorities are making a concept paper on the pilot testing in select areas "para makita natin kung kakayanin na ng sistema natin or hindi," she added. 

"[This is] so that we can determine kung kakayanin na ng ating health sector ang pagli-lift ng indoor masking towards the end of the year if booster coverage will improve in our country," said Vergeire. 

"We need to do this in phases to ensure our population is protected from COVID-19. So ang gagawin natin, tayo ngayon ay kumakalap na ng iba't ibang ebidensya."


Public transportation will not be covered by the proposed policy because of the crowd and poor ventilation, Vergeire said. 

"It's a crowded setting. Pag nakita natin 'yan, hindi dapat natin isama. Nonetheless, kasi 'pag tiningnan natin, parang indoor siya, especially MRT, LRT. Siguro 'yan ay magiging exempted from that voluntary nature," she explained.

"We expect that public transportation areas or 'yung sinasakyan nating pampubliko ay laging siksikan." 

Vergeire said outdoor areas include those that are open such as parks, pavements, roads, and places that "do not have a lot of people." 

It will also depend on local governments, the health official said, to release guidelines on the matter. 

"Ang kailangan nating tingnan ay outdoor places where mayroong crowding, maraming tao, at saka pangit ang bentilasyon. Minsan may outdoor na puno ng tao tapos mayroon pang structure, although bukas sa sides, hindi 'yon well-ventilated," she said. 

The resolution of the IATF came amid controversy regarding Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama's Executive Order Nos. 5 and 6, making the wearing of face masks in open areas voluntary in the locality until the end of the year for trial purposes.

The "non-obligatory" policy would be automatically lifted should there be a surge in COVID-19 cases, one of the EOs stated.

Following Cebu City's action, many localities contacted the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to have their own mask mandate, with some wanting to lift it, Abalos said in the same press conference.

With the IATF's recommendation and Marcos' verbal approval, the relaxed mask policy issue in Cebu City is now "moot and academic", said Abalos. 

"Tapos na ito. May IATF na, kailangan natin ng iisang body nagbibigay ng polisiya. We are archipelagic. Hindi puwedeng magkakaniya-kaniya tayo at magkakagulo tayo dito," he said.

Rama and the Cebu City government have no immediate statement yet on the development.


Cebu City Michael Rama said he is glad that national officials have finally discussed and recommended to make optional the use of the face mask.

“I’m just glad that it had brought attention to the national level,” said Rama in a phone interview.

He, however, refused to add more details pending the official order from the Palace.

“It would be better if there will be an official written policy then we will sit down as One Cebu Island presided by Governor Gwen Garcia,” added Rama.

The mayor stressed that although the discussion at the IATF stemmed from his executive orders on making the use of face masks non-obligatory within Cebu City, he said this does not feel like a victory.

The executive order, he said, was not made so officials from the national and local levels will "fight or compete," noting that local autonomy will still prevail. 

“We’ve been very clear in our handling with COVID, vaccination, Typhoon Odette. We are always in a convergence, participatory and consultative. They should not forget, local governance and autonomy which is in the Constitution,” said Rama.

Cebu City is currently on a "trial period" for its new face mask rule, where the use of the gear was made optional in all settings except in medical facilities.

Meanwhile, senators Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito agreed with the IATF's proposal but noted the importance of boosters. 

Estrada said since it is the task force's recommendation, it means that "it’s already safe to go outside without wearing face masks."

"As long as we are fully vaxxed, there might be no need to wear facemasks outdoor," he said in a statement.

Ejercito said wearing masks should only be in closed settings.

"I believe we only need to wear masks indoors or if there's is a big crowd, so its up to every individual’s (discretion)," he said.

— With a report from Annie Perez, Sherrie Ann Torres