EXPLAINER: Controversy over IATF protocol: How Guv Gwen comes out smelling like roses. And Cebu in the politics of it. Plus other takeaways.

·6 min read

TOP story of the week was the rerouting of international flights for Mactan-Cebu International Airport to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in response to Governor Gwen Garcia's insistence to keep her executive order providing for Capitol's own anti-Covid-19 protocol on returning Filipinos.

That set off talk of sanctioning the governor, on the purported instigation of two Cabinet officials, which led to speculation about the politics influencing the governor-IATF quarrel.

Governor Gwen, with a few other officials and Project Balik Buhay leaders, met with President Rodrigo Duterte Monday night, May 31. Duterte listened to the explanation why OFWs or overseas Filipino workers and other Filipinos returning from abroad are required shorter quarantine by Capitol, not the period and procedure prescribed by national task force IATF-MEID.

Here, along with other things you want or need to know, is how the story has played out and what it can mean:

[1] GWEN IN, OUT OF HOT WATER... Before Guv Gwen left Cebu for the Malacañang meeting, there was media chatter about the prospect of the governor being sued administratively over her EO #17, purportedly planned by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. It wasn't dismissed as plain rumor since the tip, Garcia said, came from the text message of League of Governors chief, Marinduque Governor Presbitero Velasco Jr.

The outcome: Rumor of possible charges and suspension was spiked. No word about any reprimand or even gentle scolding. Instead, the President ordered Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to study Cebu's management of the health crisis and see if the response of the province can be applied nationwide. Which suggests that the IATF hates instead will be studied as possible model to other provinces and LGUs.

[2] ... AND SMELLS LIKE ROSES. President Duterte, "overall chairperson" of IATF-MEID, did give a reminder for local government chief executives to follow national policies about Covid. It was couched though in general language and not specifically aimed at the governor. And "in the same breath," Duterte told the conferees he recognized the help of LGU leaders in implementing the policies since "it it the local chief executives who are on the ground."

The Cebu personalities deemed their visit a success because, they said, they were able to give directly to the president their side of the issue.

They shot down DILG Secretary Eduardo Año's theory that Central Visayas and Cebu "have contributed to the rising infections in other regions" and qualified as Covid sources. In counter-thrust, the Cebu visitors focused on the province's ability to manage the outbreak. Harry Roque asked, "Why is Cebu in MGCQ for 10 months now and NCR was not able to do it?" Maybe it's time, the senatorial wannabe said, to study "what Cebu is doing." Coming from an identified detractor though a wanting-hard candidate in 2022, his message packed a wallop for Cebu.

[3] NO CHARGES TO BE FILED. No charges will be filed against Guv Gwen. Not from Harry Roque, who said he is "Gwen's BFF (best friend forever") and if anyone will sue Gwen, it won't be he.

Not from Malacañang, or so assured Secretary Michael Dino, presidential assistant for the Visayas, who said he talked with the president, Senator Bong Go and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who "told him no one would be filing a case against the Cebu governor." Dino also announced he and the local chief executives support her protocol for returning Filipinos.

[4] FATE OF DISPUTED RULE HANGS. While Guv Gwen looks like she's already out of the woods, safe and triumphant and, to her supporters, smelling like roses, the question over protocol for Pinoys returning from abroad and when the international flights to Cebu are restored are not yet settled. One can suppose that the orders stay, for now.

Diversion of flights is only until next Saturday, June 5. Unless extended or earlier revoked, the ban has to be endured by Cebu.

Complications may arise if employees of national agencies -- such as Department of Health, CAB and immigration -- involved in implementing the protocol will insist on the IATF procedure following Malacañang's order about the Cebu-bound flights.

[5] 'PDP-LABAN STORM STARTED HERE.' That could very well be the sign for Cebu as marker for developments on the road to Elections 2022.

A March 10 meeting of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi in Cebu with local PDP-Laban politicians produced a petition urging President Duterte to run for vice president, following a "consultative meeting" in Manila two days earlier. Cusi is vice chairman of the party. Senator Manny Pacquiao, PDP-Laban president, said the meetings were unauthorized and scolded Cusi for "politicking amid a pandemic."

Monday, May 31, a PDP-Laban national council meeting in Cebu, convened and presided by Cusi, passed a resolution "to convince" President Duterte to seek the vice presidency and choose the party's presidential candidate in the 2022 elections. Pacquiao and other party leaders questioned legitimacy of the moves, assailing Cusi's "lack of authority" and the manner of calling it. Pacquiao did not attend. In a May 25 circular, the boxing champion cum legislator "strongly" advised party members not to heed Cusi's invitation, citing again the timing.

Cebu was chosen for the controversial activities, which has already set off a storm within PDP-Laban and most likely will influence the 2022 elections. It must be no coincidence that Cebu has been picked as hub of national politics in this campaign season.

[6] DID IT INFLUENCE ACTION ON GWEN CASE? The question cannot be avoided. The hearing of Capitol's side on the allegedly violated IATF protocol on returning Filipinos was held Monday night, May 31, on the same day the PDP-Laban national council caucus was held in Cebu. Political considerations must have influenced scheduling of the Palace audience with Cebu leaders. Duterte met with them just hours after the party meeting in Cebu.

Earlier, that line of thinking already surfaced publicly. Would Malacañang be so imprudent as to anger or displease Governor Garcia when her support is needed now in the face of a possible revolt within the ruling party and later during the campaign for the election of Duterte and his running mate?

Malacañang has vast powers inherent in the office of the president. Governor Gwen has hers too, with her influence if not command over PDP-Laban members of Cebu and their respective electorates. As she told the PDP-Laban meeting, "You have underscored the importance of Cebu in the coming national elections."

[7] CEBU MIGHT DELIVER AGAIN FOR DUTERTE. Governor Gwen was confident. She said in Monday's PDP-Laban gathering at Montebello Villa Hotel, "judging from how Cebu can deliver, perhaps it might not be too much to say that where Cebu goes, so will the rest of the country."

In the 2016 race, Duterte won in 47 out of 51 towns and cities in Cebu province, getting 1.1 million plus against Mar Roxas's 579,000 plus. In Cebu City, Duterte got 296,000 plus. (The final total numbers were not reported by media.)

Would Cebu deliver again for Duterte? The issues and personalities have changed and may still change, going into the homestretch of the campaign. Past performance can provide only glimpses, not the total picture. Cebu might go again for Duterte. Or not: The "Aquino magic" didn't rub on Roxas in 2016. But then again, persons and circumstances, in comparing 2016 and 2022, are also different.

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