IN EXECUTIVE Order 16 issued in September 2019, Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia imposed in the province the ban on live hogs, pork-related products and boar semen from Luzon. She did an act of leadership that local officials as a rule do not directly take part in: Tackling a problem that’s primarily of national concern.
Threat of an epidemic such as the African swine flu (ASF) is traditionally handled by national agencies under the direction of the president. Those agencies have the work force and equipment to deal with it: departments of health, immigration, trade and industry, and the like.
Governors and mayors usually take the role of executing, on the local level, directions from the central government through their regional offices.
Thus, when Governor Gwen led the charge on the AFS threat by imposing the ban in Cebu, it was unusual. And disconcerting to national officials, particularly when they disagreed with the governor on strategies. The extension of the AFS ban in EO 16 until June must have caused some friction between local and national authorities.
If it has, it’s a good thing it has not yet exploded in the open. Nobody has publicly questioned the governor’s power to impose the ban. But it must have been asked, as some sectors now ask if Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella has the power to ban tourists from China because of the threat of coronavirus or 2019-nCoV.
Provision in LGC
There is some furor over his statements: He was initially reported to have said there is no ban on Chinese tourists, which he later clarified. He didn’t say there is no ban. The ban is being “mulled” or considered and he is ready for it.
Does he have such power, when it involves a national policy on health and immigration?
Under the Local Government Code, “in cases of epidemic, pestilence, and other widespread public health dangers, the secretary of health may, upon direction of the president and in consultation with the local government unit may assume direct supervision and control over health operations” for a period not exceeding six months.
That assumes that the local health board, led by the city mayor, as chairman has direct supervision and control of health operations until the health secretary takes over for a limited period.
Matter of boundaries
But would that supervision and control of health operations include banning people who enter the jurisdiction of Cebu City?
There’s also the matter of boundaries of the ban. If the mayor imposes it, the prohibition must consider other areas in Cebu that will be affected. The ban cannot be effectively enforced if the traveler is allowed in other cities and towns of the province. It involves not only national policy, which requires national decision-making, but also the policy of other LGUs affected by how the Cebu City mayor decides.
It was not done before. Now two local leaders are doing it. It decidedly expands the limits of local autonomy--and exhilarating for the community they serve.