MANILA (UPDATE) — President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has issued an executive order making the use of face masks optional outdoors all over the country, Malacañang said on Monday, some two years after government required masks to curb the spread of COVID-19.
"The voluntary wearing of face masks in open spaces and non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation, is hereby allowed," reads Marcos' EO No. 3, which takes effect immediately.
It said though that face masks should still be worn in the following places:
- Indoor private or public establishments
- Public transportation
- Outdoor settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained
The same order said individuals who are not fully vaccinated, senior citizens, and the immunocompromised are "highly encouraged to wear their masks."
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the order is implemented "immediately" after its publication Tuesday in the government journal Official Gazette.
She said Marcos eased the mask mandate because the country has almost attained a so-called "wall of immunity" against the virus. The Philippines is "6 percent away from that," she said.
"We are doing this in stages so we can have feedback on whether or not this new policy is working and how to make them more efficient. So that, hopefully, by the end of the year, we might be able to have... voluntary mask [wearing] in indoors as well," she added.
Video from PTV
With the issuance of Marcos' EO No. 3, the trial period of the voluntary face mask wearing outdoors in Cebu City is now scrapped, Mayor Michael Rama said.
“It (Marcos' EO No. 3) precedes it (Cebu City EO Nos. 5 and 6), especially if it is an executive order. It is respected with much respect because it comes from the President,” said Rama, whose initiative late last month to make mask wearing outdoors non-obligatory in the locality prompted the COVID-19 task force to tackle the policy.
Rama thanked Marcos for the swift decision. "I was told it was his birthday gift for the Philippines," the mayor said.
Marcos is celebrating his 65th birthday Tuesday.
“There is so much economic challenge of this administration. And if we don’t balance economy and health, then how can we have our country promote tourism?” Rama said.
In neighboring Mandaue City, voluntary wearing of face masks outdoors is also now adopted as a policy following Marcos' EO No. 3, according to Edu Ibañez, executive secretary of Mayor Jonas Cortes.
It is the same for Davao City, said Ashley Lopez, acting head of the City Health Office.
"We will follow the EO as directed. But we are still waiting for the amendment from IATF on the guidelines for MPHS (minimum public health standards). Right now, gipa-hold na ang C.O. on mandatory wearing of face mask, including apprehensions, but limited to outdoors and other stated conditions," Lopez said in a text message to ABS-CBN News.
(Right now, the city's order on the mandatory wearing of face mask is put on hold, including apprehensions, but it's only limited to outdoors and other stated conditions.)
Mayor Sebastian Duterte recently said he was going to wait until December this year to see the number of COVID-19 cases in areas that initially relaxed their mask-wearing policy.
But with Marcos' EO No. 3, the Davao City government is expected to release a new executive order amending the existing policy that strictly mandates the wearing of face masks wherever in the city.
The city's COVID-19 task force spokesperson, Michelle Schlosser, reiterated the new rule will be for outdoor settings only.
A penalty will still be imposed for those who will be removing their masks indoors, in crowded, and improperly ventilated places.
Quirino Governor Dakila Cua, who heads the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), said he is in favor of the decision to lift mask mandates in outdoor areas.
"In fact, malaking pasasalamat natin sa IATF, at siyempre sa (Department of Health) at (Department of the Interior and Local Government) na medyo pinakikinggan din yung panawagan natin na iconsider itong pagluluwag dito sa face mask mandate outdoors.
(In fact, we are grateful to the IATF, DOH, and DILG that they listened to our call to consider the easing of mask mandates in outdoor areas.)
He said local government units shall work closely with national government to ensure the proper implementation of the optional use of face masks.
Last week, DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said easing the face mask mandate depended on the improvement of COVID-19 booster uptake, with agencies and local governments directed to implement interventions on this.
Some 18.5 million individuals have received their booster shots out of the 72.7 million people who completed the primary series for COVID-19.
Vergeire said outdoor areas where the mask rule could be eased included parks, roads, and places that "do not have a lot of people."
Local governments have "some discretion... to establish minimum standards" for the eased mask rule, said Cruz-Angeles.
"In general... may opportunities minsan na crowded even if it is outdoors, hindi good ventilation 'yon and you are in each others' faces. So without the possibility of social distancing, then this will be considered," the Palace official said.
"Normally, things like these are determined by the local government," she added.
Some health experts earlier said it is premature to lift the mask mandate given an uptick in COVID-19 cases, the presence of more transmissible coronavirus variants, and the relatively low booster coverage.
But EO No. 3 noted that other countries "liberalized mask mandates without a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases."
The Philippines recorded 2,230 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, raising the country's total to 3,906,269, according to the DOH. Active cases stood at 25,684, it said.
- with reports from Annie Perez and Chrislen Bulosan