EXPLAINER: Guv Gwen tells DILG: Capitol face mask policy stands until court of law rules it is illegal. 7 takeaways, which include why interior chief Año won’t ‘let go’: how dare an LGU question central government

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KEY POINTS. [] Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia did not “ignore” the threat of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año to “correct” in three days, or until the weekend, the alleged defects of Cebu Province’s executive order of the governor and ordinance of the Provincial Board on optional face masks. She specifically rejected the threat and declared anew that the Capitol policy remains as is, hammering on the reasons as directly as her lawyer did.

[] The governor, herself and through Capitol consultant Atty. Jon Sepulveda, at press-con Friday, June 17, said they found a “flaw” in Secretary Año’s attack on Capitol’s legal position, which made them conclude the president’s executive order on face mask health protocol from IATF, “illegal.”

[] The governor’s catalogue of arguments on the DILG moves against the Capitol initiative also covered beefs against contradictions and quirks of national officials in coping with the pandemic as a national emergency.

1. THREAT, RESPONSE. Secretary Año’s threat was clear enough: failure of Capitol to correct the errors of the governor’s EO (#16 of June 8, 2022) and the PB’s ordinance of June 14, 2022 could lead to the issuance of a “show-cause” order against Capitol officials and, impliedly, administrative and court action.

His threat was preceded by a resolution of the Department of Justice that (a) the president’s EO approving the IATF rule prevails over the governor’s EO and (b) local health mandates must adhere to national health mandates. Plus the order from PNP top officials for the police to enforce IATF regulations, propped up with the news of the Cebu province police chief being sacked for “supporting” Capitol.

Perhaps Año didn’t expect Capitol’s response, having seen Governor Gwen end past clashes with expression of respect for the president, who approved the IATF orders. Each time, Gwen was on the verge of actually defying the central government but stopped short.

2. LEGAL FACE-OFF INEVITABLE, that is, if DILG chief Año will insist on a punitive course against the governor and legislators, which necessarily must go through the courts. Espousing rule of law -- “not knee-jerk reaction” that, she said, was Secretary Año’s response -- Gwen is in effect saying, Sue us.

But Año is pressed for time, his term ends on June 30. Atty. Sepulveda and Governor Gwen more than once referred to Año as outgoing secretary, which is true. No one, of course, will expect the court to resolve the issue quickly enough but he might leave his office with guns blazing: Issue show-cause order and, before June 30, file the case in court.

In any case, it’s a situation where Capitol, supposed offender, leaves it to DILG to take the next move. For now, Gwen and company aren’t expressly saying, “Bring it on,” but the declaration that “The EO and ordinance will stay” says as much.

3. THE CONSULTATION THING. The “flaw” that Atty. Sepulveda and Governor Gwen said they discovered in Año’s legal basis for the assault on Capitol concerns a question of fact: There was no consultation by the Department of Health with its “local counterparts,” referring to DOH health offices in cities, provinces and towns. That’s fatal and m made the president’s EO 151 illegal, they said.

So Capitol’s legal position is that the president’s order cannot be superior to the local EO and ordinance because the EO President Duterte signed “violated” Republic Act #11332, the order’s legal support. Presidential EOs, Sepulveda said, implement and execute what the law and the Constitution provide. Duterte’s EO violated the law, ergo it was illegal.

That assumes Capitol can prove DOH national didn’t consult with DOH local before IATF drafted them and the president signed the IATF resolutions. DOH national, IATF and office of the president are expected to insist each with its set of evidence, that consultation was done.

4. ‘WE’RE ELECTED’ CARD; OPTIONAL, ONLY CEBU. Governor Garcia has questioned why unelected officials in Manila called the shots in drafting the guidelines without consulting local leaders on the ground. Año and the others in Manila may say that’s not true, they listen to what LGU chief executives say.

Last Friday, she was more blunt. “Magbuot-buot” when they were not elected, she said, citing that she was reelected for “an unprecedented fifth term” with 1.4 million votes, “historic and unprecedented.”

She also argued that the Capitol policy is for Cebu province only, excluding non-component cities. It does not scrap face masks totally. It merely makes wearing optional in settings declared safe by experts and -- she finally said it last Friday more explicitly, in humor or not -- for those “mga bati og nawong” who’d prefer to hide their face.

The system may be what ails: leaders who supervise local governments and people comprising the IATF are not elected. The president though is elected and is supposed to take care of the interest of the nation without forgetting the interest of the locals, which must include some form of autonomy despite the lockdowns and other forms of repression.

5. UNDERLYING PRINCIPLE IN COVID WAR has been a centralized policy on measures regarding vaccines, quarantines, lockdowns, alert levels, and ordinary health protocols such as face masks and distancing. That assumes the central government must issue the orders and local governments just follow.

The laws and implementing rules haven’t always hewed to that basic policy but most everyone recognized and accepted it during the first two years of the health crisis.

Officials like Año have used that as near-biblical principle: don’t quibble over any discrepancy when it doesn’t exactly fit into the mold of the Constitution and the laws. And obviously national leaders have brandishe that authority to cow local leaders to grudging

submission.

6. INCONSISTENCY IN ENFORCEMENT. While they’d arrest lowly violators of the mask mandate, they wouldn’t touch high officials such as the PNP officer-in-charge or Secretary Año exposing their faces in high-profile moments? Governor Gwen seized on the AIATF listing of occasions, only three, when masks may be dropped and they don’t include taking photos.

She also harped on the “ridiculous” length police enforcement could go. Would cops spy on people eating and drinking in establishments open to the public, watch when they’re not eating or drinking but their masks are off? The zeal and intensity the police could use in going after true crime.

7. WHY ANO, OTHERS WON’T ‘LET GO.’ Governor Gwen described Año more than once as “outgoing,” whose days of power are numbered (11 days from Sunday, June 18). And compared to the economic and health problems of the country, the face mask issue would be petty, she said. Why won’t Año “let go” or, that scorned cliché, “move on”?

The governor, when asked by a reporter, said she has no “bad blood” with the – yes, outgoing -- DILG secretary. She cited though past incidents when she publicly argued with Ano, including the bans on processed pork and motorcycle back-riding.

What wasn’t pointed out was this: the hurt and anger of a national official when a local official, in public and with intense media attention, speaks out, talks back, or rejects central authority. He won’t say he’s personally offended; it’s not hubris, it’s the national institution or the national policy he’s protecting, he’ll say.

That could be the reason Secretary Año won’t “let go” even if you think he’s lamer than most lame-ducks in an administration with less than two weeks to finally waddle away.

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