Marcos makes mask wearing outdoors voluntary; Rama eyes ‘united one Cebu Island Policy’

PRESIDENT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. issued on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, an executive order (EO) allowing the voluntary wearing of face masks in outdoor settings across the country amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

Under EO 3, which is “effective immediately,” wearing of masks is no longer mandatory in “open spaces and non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation.”

But the elderly, immunocompromised individuals and those who have not yet completed their Covid-19 vaccination are “highly encouraged” to continue wearing their masks in all public areas to ensure their protection.

Fully vaccinated individuals are those who have completed their primary series of Covid-19 vaccine.

Adopting EO 3 issued by Marcos, Mandaue City in Cebu will now allow the voluntary wearing of masks in outdoor settings.

Mayor Jonas C. Cortes has already talked to the City Council regarding Marcos' EO and the need to amend Mandaue City’s mask ordinance, said lawyer Eddu Ibañez, executive secretary of the mayor.

Under Mandaue’s City Ordinance 15-2020-1531, the wearing of masks amid the Covid-19 pandemic is required in public places, and violators pay a fine of P5,000.

In neighboring Lapu-Lapu City, however, Vice Mayor Celedonio “Celsi” Sitoy, a doctor, was more cautious.

"OK ra man, pero dako gihapon ang bintaha kon kanunay mogamit og face mask kay na pa sa atong palibot ang Covid virus and wearing a face mask is not a difficult thing to do.”

(The new policy is okay. But there is still great benefit to constantly wearing face masks because the Covid virus is still in our environment and wearing a face mask is not a difficult thing to do.”)

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan had yet to issue a statement concerning the development.

But Chan earlier welcomed the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to recommended to President Marcos the lifting of the mandatory wearing of masks in open spaces across the country.

“It’s a good development that face masks no longer need to be worn outdoors,” Chan told reporters Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022.

Because of Cebu City

Marcos’s EO 3 comes on the heels of the controversy that erupted after Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama issued his own EO 5 last Aug. 31 making mask wearing “non-obligatory” both outdoors and indoors in Cebu City, except in medical facilities at the discretion of its administrator, as well as by persons who are immunocompromised, sick and experiencing flu-like symptoms who go outside their homes.

Rama’s EO sparked a strong reaction from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Health (DOH), both of which were not consulted before the issuance of Rama’s EO that deviates from the national policy that masks be worn in public places.

Last June 8, however, Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia had already issued her own EO 16 making the wearing of masks in outdoor and well-ventilated areas optional in the Province of Cebu, a move that also raised the hackles of the DILG and the DOH.

Last Friday, Sept. 9, after learning that the IATF had recommended to Marcos the lifting of the mandatory wearing of masks in open spaces, Garcia said: “Well, I am just so grateful that finally, Cebu's policies are now being reaffirmed by the IATF. And I think however bumpy our relationship may have been in the past, I think we're in for smooth sailing under a new composition of the IATF.”

Amid the latest development, Rama now wants to sit down with Garcia, and the mayors of Mandaue City and Lapu-Lapu City to discuss a “united one Cebu Island Policy” on the wearing of masks and other pandemic mitigation efforts.

In a statement sent to reporters Monday, Cebu City Public Information Officer Cerwin Eviota said Rama wants a united policy for the entire Cebu now that Marcos Jr. has signed an executive order that relaxes the policy on the wearing of masks across the country.

Masking indoors

“Face masks shall continue to be worn in indoor private or public establishments, including in public transportation by land, air or sea and in outdoor settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained,” reads Marcos’ EO 3.

It also ordered the DOH to update the minimum public health standard guidelines to continue preventing and minimizing the spread of the new coronavirus.

In a press conference Monday, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the policy will regularly be reviewed.

“We are doing this in stages, in phases so that we can get feedback on whether or not these new policies are working and how to make them more efficient, so that hopefully by the end of the year, we might be able to be voluntary masked indoors as well,” she said.

Angeles said LGUs are given the discretion to adjust minimum health standards in their areas of jurisdiction in accordance with the new policy, as well as to identify the “open and well-ventilated spaces” in their areas.

“There is some discretion of the local governments to establish minimum standards for the imposition. However, in general what does good ventilation mean? There are opportunities for instance that are crowded, so even if it is outdoors, that’s not good ventilation and you’re in each other’s faces. So without the possibility of social distancing, then this will be considered also as part of the requirement because the requirement is it should not be too crowded,” she said.

As of Sept. 11, there were 25,684 active Covid-19 cases in the country, which has a total caseload of 3,906,269 with 62,304 deaths.

Over 72 million individuals have received complete Covid-19 vaccination, while over 18 million persons received booster doses. (with HIC, MKG, IRT)