LAST February 19, Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia publicly served notice on IATF-MEID, the national task force leading the response against the pandemic, with this tough warning: “Don’t mess with us. We can take care of ourselves. I will not and never again accept a lockdown. I will fight for Cebu and the Cebuanos because Cebu is moving on and moving forward.”
It was directed at three consultants who recommended to Health Secretary Duque to have Cebu province placed under a severe community quarantine.
Yet by the tenor of her warning, she was risking confrontation with IATF and, by necessary ties, President Duterte, approving authority of national policies on Covid-19. The chance of a fight was clear and imminent unless, not known to the public, she was sure it wouldn’t erupt into one.
SunStar asked the governor then, on February 20, how she’d wage the fight. She had vowed not to accept the lockdown and thus expectedly wouldn’t implement the lockdown order. Premature to go into specifics now, she told SunStar, “let’s not go into speculations,” as if that kind of thrust wouldn’t first consider the effects, the backlash. She probably meant she had studied the probabilities but wouldn’t telegraph her punches.
RULE ON RETURNEES. On the more recent dispute – over quarantine rules for arriving overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) -- Guv Gwen last May 3 said she wouldn’t “heed the call of IATF for the province to align its quarantine policies to the national program.”
Cebu Province laid down its policy by the governor’s Executive Order #17 and the Cebu Provincial Board’s Ordinance #2021-04. IAFT said the province policy is not “aligned” with the national guideline under IATF Resolution #14.
What’s the major difference?
IAFT policy requires all international arrivals, regardless of having been vaccinated or not, to undergo quarantine for 14 days, with the first 10 days in a designated quarantine facility. And regardless of the swab test result on the seventh day, all arrivals must complete 10 days of facility-based quarantine. If found negative, they are allowed to undergo home quarantine for the remaining four days.
Under the Capitol policy, ROFs are required to quarantine in a hotel only while waiting for the test result, which if found negative would allow the traveler to go home.
The Capitol rule departs from the IATF policy on the length of the quarantine (from at least 10 days to only three days) and on release requirements (three-day hotel stay, instead of the mandatory confinement for 10 days in a designated facility).
JUSTIFICATION. The Capitol procedure requires a swab test
on the seventh day of quarantine while the IATF guideline requires it on arrival of the overseas worker or the non-OFW.
It is not defiance or disrespect by the LGU, Guv Gwen contended.
There is a big change though. Thus, it can be deemed a violation.
Capitol sends home the returning worker or resident if after three days, when the swab test results are available, he is found negative. IATF would’ve the returnee stay at the designated quarantine site for 10 days, whatever the test finding. He serves the remaining four days of the quarantine at home only after 10th day.
Governor Garcia said that burdens the OFW or ROF financially, a great inconvenience and takes up more time than necessary. Cebu City Councilor and chief of the city’s Emergency Operations Center Joel Garganera, who supports the Capitol modification, said most of the returning residents are already vaccinated abroad anyway and the two swab tests here are more than enough precaution.
LGC AS DEFENSE. Guv Gwen has set up as legal defense the provision of section 105, Local Government Code. The law authorizes the health secretary to assume supervision and control over health operations in an LGU “in case of a pandemic, pestilence and other widespread public health danger, upon direction of the president and in consultation with the local government.” But such grant of power shall be temporary and in no case for more than three months.
Aside from claiming that her policy is not a violation of the IATF rules or disrespect to the national agency and the president, the governor alleges that she has supervision and control of the health operations anyway.
How about the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act? That law expressly provided superiority of the office of the president and the IATF over LGUs as regards health operations. But Bayanihan 1 already expired on June 24, 2020. Effectivity of Bayanihan 2 – assuming it grants similar control over LGUs -- has been extended, at the House committee level, from December 18, 2020 to June 30, 2021, but it doesn’t have yet the force of law.
DILG CAN STILL SUE. Here’s the thing though. DILG can file a case of, say, disobedience to presidential order and national policy with the ombudsman or, more conveniently, the office of the president.
The interior and government secretary may not need a Bayanihan law to sue a maverick local politico. And the DOH chief doesn’t have to take over health operations at Capitol to make the governor and town mayors toe the line, emergency or none.
Has any local government official gone to the ombudsman or the court, since the pandemic broke out in early 2020, to complain of illegal use of authority by national leaders?
THEY’D BE CAUTIOUS too, those two Cabinet secretaries who are reportedly planning to sue Governor Garcia. One has long wanted to run for senator and will need the support of vote-rich Cebu. The other knows the president and family will seek the alliance of One Cebu Party to help retain control of Malacanang.
Other leaders of LGUs would be watching the Capitol case as Guv Gwen must be testing the waters controlled by IATF. Other local government leaders obviously want to know how far they can depart from an anti-Covid guideline imposed by IATF and the president.