Malilong: Barking up the wrong tree

Frank Malilong

I WAS aghast when I read that the first batch of violators of the mayor’s executive order enforcing the Expanded Community Quarantine in Cebu suffered nothing more than being gathered in breezy Plaza Independencia, lectured on good manners and right conduct and made to pray the rosary. Why were they not jailed?

Then it dawned upon me, is there a legal basis to imprison them?

So I reviewed Executive Order No. 82 that Mayor Edgardo Labella issued last Tuesday, June 16, and found that it does have a penalty clause. Section 5 says: “Violation of any provision of this order or other earlier executive orders issued in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic shall be subject to penalties pursuant to existing national laws or local ordinances.”

In other words, any act that violates the executive order can be penalized only if there is a law or ordinance that punishes it. The reason is simple: the mayor is not authorized to impose penal sanctions; that power belongs to the City Council. That is what the the Local Government Code states.

The next question is, do we have a law or ordinance that penalizes anyone who does not wear a mask or practice social distancing? The answer is no, there is none.

So is Labella weak for not imposing discipline on the Cebuanos? Should he have ordered the police to handcuff those who did not wear masks or practice social distancing and put them in jail in order to show the people that he meant business?

That’s what most people say because they do not know that if the police or anyone acting upon the mayor’s order put the irresponsible to jail, they would be guilty of illegal or arbitrary detention. Labella himself would be liable for usurpation.

But why didn’t the mayor ask the City Council to pass an ordinance that would have given teeth to any Covid-related executive order that he had issued or would issue?

In fact, he did, according to a source who requested that his name be withheld because he is not authorized to speak on the matter. He said that as early as April, the mayor’s office drafted an ordinance that would punish those who do not wear a mask or violate the rule in social distancing and asked a councilor to sponsor it in the city legislature.

Unfortunately, the Council has not even started deliberations on the proposed measure until now, my source said. I hope that this is not true. Or that if it is, that the councilors would appreciate the urgent need for the ordinance being sought by the chief executive.

Until then, anyone who faults and sometimes even curses the mayor for not dragging ECQ violators to jail is barking up the wrong tree.