Garcia moves to make wearing of masks indoors optional

·4 min read

CEBU Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia is contemplating on further relaxing the face mask policy in the province by making the wearing of face masks optional indoors.

In an ABS-CBN News report on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, Garcia said she wants to follow Singapore’s mask guidelines, which makes face mask-wearing optional even indoors.

The plan is a follow-up of her Executive Order (EO) 16, which made the use of face masks optional in open and well-ventilated areas. National government officials had opposed the EO, including those in the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Diseases (IATF).

“I do plan to take consideration even indoors. We are now closely studying this. We are consulting other sectors, including the local Department of Health, Department of Tourism, DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), all other sectors because the wheels of government are not centered on the Department of Health (DOH) alone,” Garcia said.

“Let Cebu be a model. Since this pandemic began, we have so far always initiated ‘forward-looking’ measures which, after all, in hindsight, have been proven right. But, of course, there are some of those who wanted to cling on to their outdated relevance,” she said.

Garcia said her office is still drafting the executive order.

Garcia said she wants to make optional the wearing of face masks indoors as a way to move on from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The economy has been devastated for too long because of their restrictive policies that have been crafted by those who have not seen the actual situation right here on the ground,” Garcia said.

Last month, Singapore’s Health Ministry eased its mask policy by making face mask-wearing optional in most indoor settings after its Covid-19 situation improved, with the number of daily cases falling to just over 3,000 from 15,000 in July.

Garcia reiterated her call to concerned government officials to respect local autonomy.

Garcia’s plan to further loosen Cebu’s face mask policy came after Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama signed his EO 5 on Wednesday, Aug. 31, which makes mask-wearing in the city “non-obligatory.”

Rama’s EO 5 was also met with opposition not only from the DOH but also from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

The DOH expressed concern over the possibility of Cebu City setting a bad precedent in refusing to adhere to the protocols set by the national government following the issuance of the EO.

But Rama clarified that EO 5 does not completely abolish the requirement to wear face masks since it is still mandatory inside health facilities, such as hospitals and clinics. The EO also mandates persons with flu-like symptoms to wear face masks when going outside.

It also allows establishments, schools and public utility vehicles to craft their own policies on whether or not they will allow the optional wearing of face masks.

Rama said among the factors considered when he issued the EO was the high percentage of vaccination rate and the downward trend of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in the city. On Thursday morning, Sept. 1, DILG Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr. announced that Rama agreed to temporarily put on hold EO 5’s implementation. On the same day, though, Rama said EO 5 would remain in effect since he already signed it.

Abalos had committed to bring the matter to the IATF for deliberation and suggested making Cebu City a pilot area for the initiative.

In Malacañang, the press secretary said the President has not commented on Rama’s order.

“We respect the mandate of local governments over their own jurisdiction,” Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a press conference on Wednesday, Aug. 31. “The President has no reaction to this as of yet,” she added.

Status quo

In Lapu-Lapu City, wearing of masks in open spaces is still mandated.

On Saturday, Mayor Junard Chan said he is yet to issue an EO making it optional to wear masks in open spaces in the city.

He earlier said he would adopt the EO of Rama once he gets a copy. But on Friday, Sept. 2, he said he didn’t have time to convene his health team to discuss the matter due to the ongoing evaluation of the DILG for the Seal of Good Local Governance for fiscal year 2022.

“We don’t have time to discuss the face mask. So it’s status quo,” he said.As of Friday, the DOH 7 recorded 60 active Covid-19 cases in Lapu-Lapu City, 576 cases in Cebu City and 90 cases in Mandaue City. (MKG / TPM / SunStar Philippines)