Seares: Central government flexes muscles with DOJ threat of ‘show-cause’ order vs Gwen, PNP sacking of police chief. PB rallies with ordinance but showdown will be in court.

·3 min read

THAT ORDINANCE. They’ve tapped the Cebu Provincial Board to pass an ordinance that adopts the optional policy on face masks as anti-Covid protocol, as opposed to the “at-all-times” mandate of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and Department of Health.

It’s aimed to strengthen the controversial Executive Order (EO) No. 16 of June 8, 2022 that Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia issued. The Provincial Board (PB) made a similar attempt to show support in June last year when the governor also resisted the IATF protocol on quarantine of passengers returning from abroad. The opposition collapsed.

Would it be different this time, with Capitol facing the opposition of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Health and Philippine National Police (PNP)?

The new ordinance to “beef up” EO No. 16 has been branded by DILG as defective and by DOJ as superseded by the president’s executive orders that approved IATF policies.

SACKED? OF COURSE. Police Colonel Engelbert Soriano has been relieved of his post as Cebu province police chief and transferred to Camp Crame. The order took effect last June 12, just after he expressed support for Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia’s stand on face masks.

One news site headlined it as a sacking. The PNP said it was administrative. Soriano was overstaying in Cebu. A purported PNP memo said a police chief holding the rank of colonel in a province or city can stay only for a year, extendible by three months.

A coincidence? Very unlikely. The timing sucked. Governor Gwen was publicly trading arguments with Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año on the face mask protocol. Then Soriano, who publicly said he’d enforce the governor’s order, was quickly yanked out from his Cebu post to Camp Crame: from a plum post to a virtual limbo in assignments.

NATIONAL VS LOCAL. The pullout of Soriano is being viewed, unavoidably, as a strong and loud message to all police officers: toe the line and, with a snap salute, obey the command from high up, not from any local chief executive. Who’d now contradict PNP Officer-in-Charge Lieutenant General Vicente Danao Jr. who told the nation’s police “to obey the mandate of the national government” as he publicly shamed the subordinate officer?

Soriano might explain what he actually said but in the context of the DILG/PNP quarrel with the Cebu governor, it became “we national authority versus they local authority.”

Governor’s executive order and provincial legislature’s ordinance vs. IATF fiat approved by the president.

Local policy vs. national policy, never mind the good sense, practicality and logic.

Local authority under the Local Government Code vs. centralized authority, forget decentralization.

JUMP IN OR PULL BACK. Only the courts, all the way to the Supreme Court, can resolve the issue.

Lovers of the law want jurisprudence enriched. Other local officials watch with bated breath Governor Gwen dip her toes into the water, if she’d jump in or, as before, pull back.

SORIANO’S QUALIFIER DIDN’T MATTER. When Colonel Soriano announced his purported support for Guv Gwen, the Gwen-Ed feud was just emitting sparks, no explosion yet. Soriano, though, if he were a skillful communicator with sharp eye for potential land mines ahead, should’ve (a) just kept quiet or (b) used careful language.

Soriano didn’t dodge the risk of putting a foot in his mouth, saying a mouthful instead. Worse, he wrongly located the key phrases. Soriano said he’d obey the executive order as it is “the law” in Cebu province, “unless it is later on invalidated by proper authority.”

The qualifier, starting with “unless,” should’ve been placed ahead of the “obey” part. The public tended to focus on Soriano’s support for the governor, forgetting his qualifier. Did any news headline or lead stress the condition?

‘POLITICKING.’ PNP acting head Danao said Colonel Soriano was politicking. The OIC must have expanded the word’s meaning to include flattery to secure favor: after all politicians make “sipsip” to voters.

That would make Danao’s offensive a kind of politicking too.

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